Early season optimism of the 2012 Chicago Bears season has been replaced with questions about the future of this season and the future.
During camp, this team looked to be one of the top performers in the NFL. Starting with a 7-1 record and now fighting for a playoff spot at 8-5, the Bears are looking for all the problems that have been shackling the offense and defense.
Whether the snags are caused by injuries is one aspect that needs to be put under a microscope.
Injury bugs plague all rosters. The real difficulty lies in finding a replacement, especially late in the season.
Brian Urlacher has been fighting injuries since training camp and it has taken a toll. He still has the experience to quarterback the defense, but his lateral speed will most likely never come back. While he is not the player of old, his leadership on the field made for a more confident defense. Players like Urlacher can’t be replaced no matter who they find on the waiver wire.
There are big questions if Brian will even come back this regular season.
Ball hawk Tim Jennings is also sidelined. He was a catalyst for many of the takeaways Chicago recovered and was looking to have a Pro Bowl year. When Charles Tillman and Jennings are on the field together, the chance for scoring by the defense was raised immensely. Jennings alone racked up eight interceptions before the injury while Tillman had nine forced fumbles and two interceptions.
The Bears are fifth in the NFL in defense, letting teams put up 314.2 yards per game. Looking at the past few weeks, it seems as if that ranking will decrease.
Early in the week, the special teams put multiple players on injured reserve.
The major loss is kicker Robbie Gould, who strained his calf in warmups prior to last week's loss to the Minnesota Vikings. He is joined by safeties Craig Steltz and Sherrick McManis, two significant members of the coverage teams. Steltz was a key blocker for Devin Hester in the return game and was an unsung backup in the secondary. The secondary will have to deal with a pass-happy Green Bay Packers team who is starting to develop a run game which makes them much more dangerous.
The Bears defense will have to adapt their game to keep the Packers from lighting up the scoreboard.
The Bears picked up kicker Orlindo Mare Tuesday. While he was perfect from inside 30 yards last season, he is not known for kicking long field goals. Soldier Field can be a tricky place to throw and kick, so only time will tell if Mare is the best solution to losing the most accurate kicker in NFL history.
If the Bears are in any close games, the kicking game could really miss a player like Robbie Gould. If they lose games by three-to-six points because of missed kicks, only then will Gould’s loss be felt heavily.
Injuries are no excuse for Lovie Smith. He has the mentality that when a player goes down, it is time for the next guy to step up and do his best to supplant usually a higher skilled player.
Unless the Bears find a multitude of Wally Pips, Chicago Bears’ fans will look to make injuries a major reason why the team does not make the 2012 playoffs.