Defensive tackle Stephen Paea is just one of a long list of Bears playing… (Brian Cassella / Chicago…)
"I don't look around and see [backups]," Lance Briggs told reporters after last week's win over the N.Y. Giants. "I look around and see Chicago Bears out there."
That's the spirit, Lance! While that might be the greatest teamwork-related quote ever, it's also one of the most depressing of 2013. Because by the end of the Giants game, the Bears defense had—ahem—backups playing on the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary.
The Bears get a bye after their game against Washington, so they'll have time to get healthy. They'll need it. RedEye presents the Bears Injury Threat Level Scale—a look at the players in danger of missing time, and what happens if they do.
RED LEVEL ALERT (out for season)
DT Henry Melton, DT Nate Collins, LB D.J. Williams, DB Kelvin Hayden, DB Brandon Hardin
Next up: DT Landon Cohen, LB Jon Bostic, DB Isaiah Frey
The most pressing injury problem for the Bears is on the defensive line. With Melton and Collins out and starting defensive tackle Stephen Paea returning from injury after missing two games, will Bears fans be hearing the names Landon Cohen, Zach Minter, David Bass and Christian Tupou. Who's next, Mitchell Friedman?
At linebacker, Williams came out of last week's game with a chest injury and is done for the year. And don't forget about Hayden, a special teams standout who should be the team's starting nickel back, and fellow defensive back Hardin, also out for the year. Not good.
ORANGE LEVEL ALERT (missed N.Y. Giants game)
CB Charles Tillman, DT Stephen Paea, S Anthony Walters
Next up: CB Zach Bowman, DT Landon Cohen
In his first start since 2011, Bowman made a sweet interception and gave up only one significant play. But obviously the Bears want Tillman, their All-Pro cornerback, in the game. As for Walters, his absence was felt on special teams, particularly on a 46-yard Giants kick return that led to a sideline squabble between Devin Hester and Robbie Gould.
YELLOW LEVEL ALERT (left Giants game with injury)
LB James Anderson
Next up: LB Blake Costanzo
By the end of the Giants game, the Bears were missing two starting linebackers (Anderson and Williams), with only Lance Briggs—"questionable" before the game—playing every snap. The issue with defensive injuries is not just about having less talented players on defense. It's also about the toll taken on special teams, with special teams standouts such as Costanzo, Bowman and Bostic taking either fewer or no snaps on coverage teams.
BLUE LEVEL ALERT (veterans slowed or displaced)
LB Lance Briggs, DE Julius Peppers, DE Corey Wootton
Next up: LB Blake Costanzo, LB Khaseem Greene, DT Landon Cohen, DE David Bass, DT Zach Minter
The effect of injuries isn't just about missing games. Briggs was a game-time decision for the Giants game, and though he played all 54 defensive snaps, his sore hip got no downtime. Meanwhile, three of the Bears' top four healthy defensive linemen are ends: Peppers, Wootton and Shea McClellin. Wootton is now starting at defensive tackle, which can't be easy for a 270-pounder. (For comparison, Paea weighs 300, Collins 296 and Melton 295.)
GREEN LEVEL ALERT (special teams injuries and displacements)
Kelvin Hayden, Brandon Hardin, Anthony Walters, Zach Bowman, Jon Bostic, Blake Costanzo, Craig Steltz
While looking at special teams injuries, don't forget Costanzo played five snaps for James Anderson and Craig Steltz played two for Major Wright. Why does that matter? Well, in their recent 10-plus-win seasons (2005, 2006, 2010, 2012), the Bears have excelled on special teams, both as blockers for returners like Hester, and covering kicks.
This year, the team has allowed its longest punt return of the Adam Podlesh era (57 yards to Detroit) and was gashed again last week on a 46-yard kickoff return. That's why defensive injuries can be collectively more devastating than offensive injuries: when a defensive player goes down, he is replaced by a guy on special teams, who now must either play double duty or relinquish his special teams role.
Get ready to see plenty of new names against Washington.
Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. @readjack
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