Chicago Bears Facing Uphill Climb Without Lance Briggs, Jay Cutler

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | It has become an all too familiar tune for the Chicago Bears this season, as a season marred with injuries to key regulars continued.

All-Pro LB Lance Briggs is expected to miss at least four-six weeks with a small fracture in his shoulder, while starting QB Jay Cutler has a torn groin muscle and will miss a minimum of four weeks. Both injuries were sustained in Sunday's 45-41 loss to the Washington Redskins and, as of Monday afternoon, neither was expected to placed on Injured-Reserve.

The more significant of the two losses appears to be Briggs, as he is the signal-caller on a suddenly inexperienced and underachieving defense. Prior to Briggs' injury, the Bears had already lost DTs Henry Melton and Nate Collins and MLB D.J. Williams for the season and have seen fellow DT Stephen Paea and CB Charles Tillman battle nagging injuries of their own.

A franchise who preached defensive excellence in the past under former head coach Lovie Smith, the Bears now find themselves 25th in the NFL in yards allowed/game at 391. Their 6.2 yards allowed/play ranks third worst, and their 3rd down percentage allowed (44%, meaning 44% of the time a team converts on third down) ranks fifth worst.

Replacing the seven-time Pro-Bowler will not be an easy task, but Blake Costanzo appears to be the man who will be tasked with the job. Costanzo has primarily played special teams since joining Chicago in 2012, but does have an understanding of the scheme after being with the team all of last season.

As for the play-calling duties, expect either rookie MLB Jon Bostic or SLB James Anderson to be the man pressed with that task. Both of whom, by the way, are in their first seasons in Chicago.

As for Cutler, Chicago fans know what life is like when he isn't on the field.

In the 2011 NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers, Cutler suffered a sprained MCL in the first half of that game. The Bears were forced to turn to Todd Collins and, eventually, Caleb Hanie before suffering a devastating 24-14 loss.

The following season, Chicago started the season 7-3 before Cutler fractured his throwing-hand thumb in week 11 against the San Diego Chargers. The loss started a tailspin for the Bears that saw them lose their next five games before salvaging a week 17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings to finish 8-8.

In 2012, Cutler led the Bears to a 7-1 first half entering a showdown with the then 7-1 Houston Texans. In that 13-6 loss to Houston, Cutler suffered a concussion that forced him out of action for the remainder of that game and the following week, a 32-7 drubbing to the San Francisco 49ers.

The Bears finished the regular season 10-6, but missed the playoffs. The results of that season eventually cost Smith his job as head coach.

Clearly, Cutler gives Chicago their best chance to win. His chemistry with the receivers, specifically WR Brandon Marshall, can't be replicated or built between now and their next game (Nov. 4 at the Green Bay).

But anytime you have a guy like the Bears do calling plays in Marc Trestman, you have to think your team has a chance. Expect a much heavier dose of RB Matt Forte and more quick throws to WRs Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Earl Bennett and TE Martellus Bennett.

In Cutler's place will be Josh McCown, the journeyman QB who will be given his first chance to be a starting QB since 2011 when he started in place of Cutler in the season finale against the Vikings.

McCown, a 2002 3rd-round pick out of Sam Houston State by the Arizona Cardinals, is an exceptional athlete. He ran a 4.57 40-yard dash and recorded a 38 1/2 vertical at the NFL Combine. In relief of Cutler on Sunday, he completed 14 of 20 passes for 204 yards and one touchdown while showing great scrambling ability.

But he isn't Cutler, the big armed QB who was playing for a new contract this season after GM Phil Emery refused to negotiate one this offseason. In order for Cutler to prove he has what it takes on the big stage to get it done, he'll need McCown, Costanzo, and the rest of the healthy Chicago Bears to keep the season going in the right direction until he and Briggs can return.

Billy Grayson is a Yahoo contributor from Chicago and diehard Chicago sports follower. He is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

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