If Bears RB Cedric Benson (3.1 yards per carry) can't pummel a Raiders defense allowing an absurd 5.1 yards per carry, all hope might be lost. QB Brian Griese has been very sporadic, but opportunity could be there downfield with the Raiders' starting corners both battling injury.
RB Justin Fargas has earned the starting job -- and the responsibility of keeping the Raiders in manageable situations. QB Josh McCown is more effective when Oakland is able to bootleg or move the pocket. Asking him to drop back and exposing him to the Bears' pass rush is also asking for trouble.
FAST FACTS: Bears RS/WR Devin Hester has five catches for 141 yards (28.2-yard average) in his last three games. ... Raiders LBs Thomas Howard (four) and Kirk Morrison (three) have seven of the team's 11 INTs.
--CB Nate Vasher (groin) will not play Sunday. The Bears had hoped he would return after the bye, but Vasher has yet to practice this week and has only done some half-speed individual work on the side
--LG Ruben Brown was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury that will require surgery and likely end the 13-year career of the nine-time Pro Bowl player who will turn 36 in February.
--OG Terrence Metcalf will replace Ruben Brown (shoulder, I.R.) in the starting lineup on the left side. The six-year veteran has had opportunities in the past, starting 20 games, but he's been hindered by inconsistency.
--DT Tommie Harris (knee) missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, but coach Lovie Smith said he should practice Friday and play Sunday.
--RS/WR Devin Hester returned to participate fully in practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's work with an illness.
--RB LaMont Jordan has 15 runs of 10 or more yards, but only one in the last four games, during which he has 97 yards on 45 carries and lost the starting job to Justin Fargas.
--WR Ronald Curry has had 23 of his 31 receptions result in first downs, a team-leading 74.2 percent.
--RB Justin Fargas is averaging 6.1 yards per carry on first down (34 carries, 208 yards), the fifth best figure in the NFL.
--DT Warren Sapp missed his second day of practice with a knee injury but is expected to face Chicago.
--CB Chris Johnson may be active and play defensively for the first time in two weeks if either Nnamdi Asomugha (knee) or Fabian Washington (calf) can't play. Asomugha and Washington both missed practice for the second straight day.
The Bears have a golden opportunity to get their feeble running game going this week against an Oakland Raiders defense that has been trampled all season by ground attacks.
But they'll have to do it without nine-time Pro Bowl guard Ruben Brown, who was placed on injured reserve Thursday with a nagging right shoulder injury that has bothered him for much of the season. Brown, who started the first eight games this season but was unable to finish the last one, will miss the remainder of the season and have surgery soon. It's doubtful that the 6-foot-3, 300-pound 13-year veteran, who turns 36 next February, will play in the NFL again, but he's a likely Hall of Famer down the road.
Brown will be replaced at left guard by six-year veteran Terrence Metcalf, who has played in 62 games and started 20 since being drafted by the Bears in the third round in 2002. Metcalf started 13 games at right guard on the Bears' 11-5 playoff team in 2005 but suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him late in the season. He was beaten out for the starting job last season by Roberto Garza and since then has worked mostly as the backup at left guard but hasn't started any games.
Since the Bears' offensive line hasn't played very well all season with Brown playing hurt much of the time, there isn't expected to be much, if any, drop-off in performance. Brown made his ninth Pro Bowl after last season but only as a replacement.
"I'm pretty comfortable with it," Metcalf said of the promotion. "I've been at the left guard for two years now. I know the plays, and I know what to do. As long as you know what to do, you know the angles and what the running back's doing, what the rest of your offensive line is doing, you're OK. If you don't know what you're doing, then you'll be uncomfortable."
Metcalf's knowledge and prowess will be tested immediately. In his first start since 2005, he will have to deal with the Raiders' 13-year veteran and potential Hall of Famer Warren Sapp and seven-year veteran Gerard Warren, who flip-flop in their scheme. Sapp (knee) has not practiced yet this week, but he hasn't missed a game all season.
"Sapp is a beast, man," Metcalf said. "But I've got four other guys beside me, and we all work together, and we practice, and we know what we're doing, so I'm just going to go out and play football."
Playing hurt this season, Brown's performance, along with that of the entire offensive line, slipped.
"(He) definitely was playing hurt," said center Olin Kreutz. "It's just what kind of guy he is; he's a warrior. He was playing hurt; couldn't even use his arm most of the time in the fourth quarter, but he was just going anyway. I don't know if you could see him out there. Sometimes in the fourth quarter he would have to rest his arm on somebody; he couldn't really use it."
The 6-foot-4, 318-pound Metcalf is the heaviest player on the Bears' roster, and he's expected to help get the ground game going Sunday against one of the NFL's worst run defenses.
"That's what Terrence Metcalf is here for," Kreutz said. "We have a lot of faith in Metcalf. We think he's going to be a good player, and he is a good player. He started for us about two years ago and did a (heck) of a job, and we expect him to play at that level."
Metcalf said he's learned a lot from Brown and is thankful for the opportunity but disappointed to see a teammate go down.
"Ruben's a friend of mine, and you never want to see him injured," Metcalf said. "We'll be praying for him during surgery. (But) if you get a chance to play, however it comes, you go out and just do your job. It's just a blessing."
Quarterback meetings are among the most crowded in the NFL in Oakland, the only team in the league which carries as many signal callers as wide receivers.
If McCown continues to struggle as he did against Houston, it's conceivable Culpepper or Russell could get some action against the Bears.
Culpepper would be the likely call should McCown be injured, while coach Lane Kiffin has hinted that when Russell plays it will be planned in advance with a specific group of plays which the rookie is comfortable with.
McCown's presence will bring another chorus of boos from a sold-out McAfee Coliseum crowd. The booing for McCown started in Week 1, and intensified until he was hurt in Week 3 and replaced by Culpepper, who was at that time the people's choice.
When Culpepper struggled, the focus shifted to Russell, and fans were chanting his name during a 24-17 loss to Houston.
"I say that every week, it doesn't bother me," McCown said. "It's not something that concerns me, like I say all time. They pay their money, they can do what they want to do coming to the game and being fans."
Russell, meanwhile, is careful not to create a distraction as he learns his trade after missing all of training camp and the preseason.
"I'm very anxious but I have to wait my turn," Russell said. "No matter what, whatever coach has in mind for the team I'm here for that. I'm a team player, not selfish."
Through it all, Walter has remained on the roster despite getting no snaps in practice and having virtually no chance of playing.
Once the Raiders quarterback of the future until the Raiders fell apart under Art Shell last season, Walter is a favorite of owner Al Davis and could be around next year. Kiffin said. "If you release Andrew, as soon as the season is over JaMarcus is going to be the only one on the roster that's been exposed to your system."
"It is a possibility that you keep him the whole year because you do have him under contract and (McCown and Culpepper) are not under contract next year."
PREDICTION: Raiders 30-24