The Bears were handed an ugly loss at MetLife Stadium when the Jets beat them handily 31-10, but the biggest loss wasn’t in the standings, it was in the depth chart. The Bears entered Sunday’s game pretty banged up, with Justin Fields, Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon all ruled out before the coin toss. They exited the game with many more injuries, to more key players.
It’s hard to argue about one injury being more impactful or more serious than another yet, because we still don’t know the specifics of any of the ailments. That won’t come until Monday at the earliest, or more likely until Wednesday when the team releases its first injury report of the week. At first glance however, there could be a big hole at right tackle. The trouble began when Riley Reiff exited with a shoulder injury. Reiff won the starting job when he played in relief of Larry Borom, who suffered a concussion last month, and Borom struggled when he came in against the Jets. Then Borom injured himself again, forcing the team to turn to swing guard Michael Schofield at right tackle. The Bears have already shut down Lucas Patrick for the season, so the only remaining offensive linemen on the bench are Alex Leatherwood, Dieter Eiselen and Ja’Tyre Carter. Among those players, not only is Leatherwood the only one with experience at tackle, he’s the only one with significant NFL playing experience. Carter is a seventh-round rookie who has only played four special teams snaps. Eiselen is a three-year vet with 25 special teams snaps and six snaps on offense.
The back end of the Bears defense is equally thin. Backup safety Dane Cruikshank went down early in the game with a hamstring injury and never returned. The biggest blow came with five minutes left in the second half when Eddie Jackson suffered a non-contact injury while backpedaling. Jackson was carted off the field and ruled out for the rest of the game nearly immediately, which typically indicates an injury skews towards the severe end of the spectrum. That left a massive hole in the defense, as Jackson had been on pace to finish as the team’s defensive MVP. Not only was Jackson leading the team with 80 tackles, he had gotten his groove back as a ball hawk. Jackson entered the game tied for third in the NFL with four interceptions. Jackson and Cruikshank’s absences left the Bears with only two healthy safeties: DeAndre Houson-Carson and Elijah Hicks. Ryan Poles selected Hicks with the No. 254 overall pick of the draft this year and he’s made some good plays on special teams. It’s clear he’s not quite ready to play defense, though.
Then there was the slew of injuries to the wide receivers. Darnell Mooney left with an ankle injury and never returned. Both Chase Claypool and Equanimeous St. Brown were slow to get up on occasions, though official injury designations were never made about either player. It wouldn’t be surprising if all three made it onto the injury report next week. This is a position group that has lacked consistent production all season, even when at full health. The team has looked for big playmakers to help Justin Fields, and will still be looking this offseason. If any of these guys misses time, it could open up additional opportunities for players like N’Keal Harry and Velus Jones Jr., but it would also make things harder for the offense as a whole.
The Bears can say “next man up” all they want, but if things don’t improve they may run out of men. Of course practice squad players will be called up, and guys further down the roster will be given additional playing time, but at a certain point all these injuries add up and it becomes increasingly more difficult for the team to overcome. It makes evaluating the surrounding players on the roster more difficult too. How can the Bears properly evaluate Fields, for instance, if he’s playing behind a backup center, third-string right tackle, and with a slew of reserve pass catchers?
The Bears won’t make excuses for any poor play when they’re short-handed, and they didn’t on Sunday. If they don’t get some good news regarding their injured players soon, it will be hard for them to compete on Sundays, let alone win.