COMMENTARY | For the Chicago Bears and their fans, the Week 8 bye couldn't have come at a better time. Since starting 3-0, the Bears have stumbled in 3 of their last 4 games and enter the break at 4-3 overall. Even the victory over the then-winless New York Giants was fraught with peril, as Chicago had to hold on for dear life, scoring only 3 points in the second half.
When I say that the Bears have stumbled, I mean that literally. Funky missteps by Nate Collins and Jay Cutler resulted in a torn ACL and groin respectively. Henry Melton, playing under the franchise tag, was also lost to a torn ACL, and Stephen Paea is battling turf toe. And Peanut Tillman had an issue with his hamstring before injuring his knee in Week 7.
Defensive stalwart Lance Briggs seems to be the only one dealing with issues above the waist, as his shoulder injury figures to sideline him until near the end of the season. So with no Bears game to watch this weekend, where do we turn our attention?
Here are five things to watch during the bye, not all of which involve the goings-on at Halas Hall.
Mel Tucker's job status
Until recently, the Bears' defense was their trademark. The Monsters of the Midway held their opponents down and often scored more than their teammates on the other side of the ball. But after surrendering 391 yards and 29.4 points per game so far, things have changed in the Windy City.
As one of my colleagues wrote yesterday, Tucker came to Chicago and maintained the Bears' system, rather than switching to the 3-4 scheme he was known for. It's interesting to note that Brian Urlacher, a master practitioner of the Cover-2, stated recently that underperforming Bears DE Shea McClellin would actually be a better fit as an OLB in the 3-4.
It's true that injuries have left the Bears looking like a MASH unit, but even when fully healthy they were serviceable at best. If a change is going to be made, the bye week is the time to do it. And with a date with the Green Bay Packers looming next Monday, things don't figure to get any easier for Tucker and the Bears D.
Who replaces Lance Briggs?
When #55 went down in Week 7 vs. the Washington Redskins, Blake Costanzo took a bulk of the reps as his replacement. In 18 snaps, he recorded 1 tackle, and that came on an assist. Most of Costanzo's playing time in seven seasons has come on special teams though, and he has only 68 total tackles on his resume.
The Bears took Khaseem Greene in the 4th round of the 2013 draft, presumably as Briggs' heir. However, he saw only one snap in the Redskins game, during which he was able to draw a personal foul. In 7 games this season, Greene has just 1 tackle; but hey, it was a solo.
So why on Earth is this even an issue? Well, given Costanzo's importance on special teams, the Bears may not want him to get too many snaps on D. And with Briggs out for at least 6 weeks, now is the time to see if Greene really has what it takes.
How many times will we hear "next man up?"
Among the clichés favored by NFL coaches and GMs, this one is really in vogue and is going to be repeated ad nauseum in the days leading up to the Packers game. And as Marc Trestman's players continue to give new meaning to "Bear down," its (over)use isn't likely to taper off soon.
I'll put the over/under on the utterances of "next man up" at 1,001. With the two times I've just used it, that just leaves 999 more. Anyone care to take the under?
Since the Bears aren't playing, you've got 3 more hours in your weekend. What better way to spend them than with what is perhaps the greatest invention in television history: the RedZone.
According to the channel's website, "The NFL RedZone [is] an out-of-body, all encompassing, died-and-woke-up-in-football-heaven experience." A little hyperbolic, even for me, but pretty accurate nonetheless.
When I first got Sunday Ticket, I remember feeling exhausted by the end of the day after trying to follow games on the television and iPad while staying updated on my fantasy teams on the computer. Thankfully, RedZone boils all the scoring down to one channel, leaving you free to indulge in all sorts of other frivolity.
The World Series, Blackhawks, and Bulls
This is that rare and beautiful time of year when all of America's major pro sports are being played at the same time. And while baseball in Chicago effectively ended in the summer, the Fall Classic is shaping up to be a great series.
The Bulls will have their final preseason game on Friday night and the return of Derrick Rose will surely help ease the symptoms of football withdrawal. If any athlete in Chicago can compare to Devin Hester in terms of pure excitement, it's D-Rose.
And the 'Hawks, of course, are trying to raise Lord Stanley's Cup for the second consecutive season and third time in five years. Their Saturday night tilt with the Minnesota Wild can get you primed up for a Sunday devoid of Bears football.
There are sure to be plenty of reports about how the injured players are coming along, ideally from more credible sources than Brandon Marshall. Given the way they've played over the past few games, maybe it's a good thing fans can't watch the Bears this week.
Oh, and if you're looking for a little comic relief, check out NBC at 8:30pm on Sunday. Christian Ponder will be back under center for the Minnesota Vikings and Adrian Peterson reportedly has a balky hamstring.
So what will you be watching during the bye?
Evan Altman is a freelance sportswriter with a wealth of trivial pop culture knowledge. He grew up in Northwest Indiana, where the Bears reign supreme. While he now lives in the heart of Colts country, you can hear his kids singing "Bear Down, Chicago Bears" every gameday.
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