Suspect offensive line could cost Bears down the stretch

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com
Even 49ers defenders were helping beleaguered Jason Campbell off the turf. (US Presswire)

We've seen this movie before, back in Week 2 when the Bears were embarrassed by the Packers, 23-10. This time, though, Chicago was without franchise quarterback Jay Cutler, who suffered a concussion in last week's loss to the Texans, and backup Jason Campbell was served up as the sacrificial lamb to the 49ers' defense.

Things got out of hand early and the game was over by halftime.

But because there is no mercy rule in the NFL, the Bears had to play the final 30 minutes. And it almost cost them their backup quarterback too. San Francisco's second-year linebacker Aldon Smith abused J'Marcus Webb in much the same way Packers linebacker Clay Matthews had two months before. He ended the night with 4.5 sacks, countless pressures, and almost sent Campbell to the sidelines for good on at least three occasions.

If it had come to that, Josh McCown, who has been with the team a grand total of five days after being cut in the preseason, would've been the Bears' quarterback. Not that it matters in the middle of a blowout, but it becomes a concern if Cutler and Campbell were sidelined beyond this week.

So what does this mean going forward?

The last time Chicago was blown out in a primetime game they went on a six-game winning streak. And all the questions about Cutler's perpetual sour face, the suspect offensive line, and offensive coordinator Mike Tice's play-calling suddenly seemed inconsequential. Piling up a bunch of victories can have that effect.

But now Chicago has lost two in a row, find themselves at 7-3 and tied atop the NFC North with the Packers. Assuming Cutler returns in Week 12, the Bears remain well-positioned for a playoff run. (The rest of their schedule looks like this: Minnesota, Seattle, at Minnesota, Green Bay, at Arizona, at Detroit.)

Split the final six games and Chicago is 10-6. That should be enough for a spot in the postseason but it leaves virtually no margin for error -- or the unforeseen (like, say, a concussion to your franchise QB).

None of this magically fixes the issues along the offensive line. Aldon and Justin Smith took turns embarrassing Webb and Bears right tackle Gabe Carimi Monday night at Campbell's expense. There's no reason to think that suddenly changes when Cutler returns (he's been sacked 28 times this season).

Which means that for Chicago to have a chance in the coming weeks their defense has to dominate. Because anything less and the Bears could find themselves lost in the playoff mix along with the other slightly better than average teams looking to backdoor their way into a wild-card spot (see, for example: the Seahawks, Bucs, Vikes, Saints and Cowboys).

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to the Pick-6 Podcast on iTunes. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter here: @ryanwilson_07.

 
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