In the wake of Jay Cutler’s inopportune Bennett’s fracture in his throwing-hand thumb, the Bears will now have to conquer adversity first against a team that knows well the impact of losing a starting quarterback, albeit not as valuable as Cutler.
“Inopportune” may seem a poor a poor choice of words—losing a franchise quarterback is never opportunistic—but the timing of Cutler’s injury couldn’t be worse after his best game as a Bear (+8.6) boosted him to 12th overall in our PFF cumulative quarterback rankings. After losing out on Kyle Orton due to the Chiefs’ waiver priority, Chicago will now ask fourth-year quarterback Caleb Hanie to conjure memories of his near-comeback effort in the NFC Championship game last season and lead the team back to the postseason. The Bears have scored no less than 24 points in any game during their current five-game winning streak, so Hanie will have to demonstrate proficiency in Mike Martz’s system to replicate their recent success.
While Hanie and Bears try to do just enough to hold onto their wild-card spot until Cutler can return in the postseason, the Raiders will try to set the example for winning with a quarterback other than your opening-day starter. Despite losing an effective Jason Campbell (+13.6) in Week 6 and losing their first two games with Carson Palmer (+9.9) convincingly to division rivals, the Raiders have mostly controlled the AFC West all year and are in control of their own destiny now. They’ve won their last two despite injuries to key offensive players, and they’ll have to continue persevering, through injury issues, to maintain their slim lead in the division and make the postseason for the first time since 2002.
Raiders’ Wide Receivers vs. Bears Secondary
Are the Raiders going to have to start offering extra incentives for receivers to be willing to play in Oakland? The Raiders wide receivers have been an injury-plagued group for years now, no matter who they put out there, and talented young Raiders such as Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore (+6.5) can’t seem to reverse the trend. Oakland will likely be without both against the Bears, and with Darrius Heyward-Bey unlikely to be available as well, the Raiders need production out of some less-heralded players. Chaz Schilens (-1.7) and Louis Murphy (-2.4) look to start with 34-year-old T.J. Houshmandzadeh providing relief. It will be interesting to see if the Raiders are confident playing all three together or if they will cut back on three-receiver sets.
Charles Tillman (+4.8) has had a strong influence on the outcome of the last two games, allowing only six receptions in 17 targets while returning an interception for a touchdown two weeks ago and forcing a fumble by Ryan Mathews last week despite some shaky coverage. If Tillman plays to the level he defended Calvin Johnson two weeks ago, it will be difficult for Schilens, Murphy, or anybody else in the league to be much of a factor when he’s lined up across them.
Raiders’ Running Game vs. Bears Run Defense
Michael Bush (+10.2) has another opportunity to shine with Darren McFadden still recovering, but first and foremost he needs to hang on to the ball, after his fumble last week partially allowed the Vikings to stay in the game. Bush has rushed for over 95 yards in each of his last four games and forced nine missed tackles in that span. Two weeks ago he picked up 97 yards after contact alone. The heavier workload has been kind to Bush, but to keep his recent success going against the Bears he will need to be as elusive as his surprisingly nimble 245-pound frame provides as well as get some help from his offensive line. Only LT Jared Veldheer (+3.1) and center Samson Satele (+1.9) have positive cumulative run-blocking grades on that line, but every player on the Raiders’ offensive line has had at least one bright spot in the run game this season.
It wouldn’t hurt to be at their best to contend with one of the best pair of linebackers in the league in Brian Urlacher (+7.6) and Lance Briggs (+8.3), who is fourth amongst 4-3 OLBs in defensive stops with 37. Up front, only Amobi Okoye (-4.5 run-blocking grade) sticks out as a glaring weakness against the run. With only three healthy, experienced receivers available, the Raiders need to find a way to get production out of their running game despite stiff competition.
Bears’ Offensive Line vs. Raiders’ Defensive Line
The much-maligned Chicago offensive line faces a less than ideal matchup against an imposing Raiders’ defensive line featuring multiple players having career years. Matt Forte (+17.9) has played like a man possessed this year in his pursuit of a pleasing contract but one man can do only so much and the Raiders’ defensive front is more than capable of disrupting plays if the offensive line doesn’t contain them. Hanie could use the comfort of good pass protection to ease him into his first start, but the Bears’ offensive line can rarely be counted on for that—every single player that has taken a snap on the Chicago line has a negative cumulative pass-blocking grade—so he could be in for a difficult challenge in merely staying upright against a pass rush like the Raiders are capable of generating. Every starter on the Raiders’ defensive line has a positive cumulative grade overall, with the veteran Pro-Bowler Richard Seymour leading the group with a +14.2 overall grade. Kamerion Wimbley (+29.9) will be a threat rushing from either end in nickel situations, as always. Even rotational guys like John Henderson (+11.5) have made plenty of plays for the Raiders in the run game this season. If ever there was a time for the Bears offensive line to pull together and turn their play around, it’s now with Hanie stepping into his first start against a defense that can feast on poor offensive line play. On the bright side, the Raiders defense has a tendency to give up big plays on the ground when they do get beat.
Be sure to follow our main Twitter feed @ProFootbalFocus