Monday 18th December, 2017
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Bears O-line hurting without Long

Sports Xchange - Thursday 7th December, 2017

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears center Cody Whitehair noticed how difficult football had become for injured teammate Kyle Long as the season progressed, and so did others.

"You could definitely tell he's been playing through some pain," Whitehair said. "It seems like after every block he's grabbing something."

They will also notice the effect Sunday when they begin playing without their injured offensive line leader and three-time Pro-Bowl player for the rest of the season.

It's not the kind of pressure a team with a five-game losing streak and a stagnant offense needs.

"It's tough," Whitehair said. "Kyle is one of our leaders. Any time you lose a leader on the field it's tough."

Long, a guard, fought through ankle and shoulder injuries that dated back to last year, then suffered a hand injury. The shoulder flared up and the Bears put him on injured reserve Tuesday. They will replace him either with Tom Compton or by moving center Whitehair to guard and using Hroniss Grasu at center.

"You know he's a tough guy," Whitehair said. "He's what the Bears are all about: tough guys that are fighting through certain injuries."

There have been plenty of those, on both sides of the ball for the Bears. The pass rush has been devastated with season-ending injuries to outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Willie Young, and now Pernell McPhee hasn't practiced this week due to a shoulder injury suffered last week.

The offense's situation at receiver hasn't improved, and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky continues to struggle finding wide receivers downfield other than trade acquisition Dontrelle Inman. It's led to smaller chunks of yardage for the Bears' offense and fewer points.

The result is a six-game losing streak, which matches the longest by the Bears in any single season since 2002.

The offense is last in the NFL in yardage, passing yards, first downs and trips inside the red zone. The Bears are 31st in plays from scrimmage. And they have had only 19 passes go 20 yards or longer, next to last in the league.

"More big plays," was Trubisky's answer, when asked what they needed. "Be better on first and second down so we're not always in third-and-longer situations. We want to be in third-and-manageable.

"Or just go first down, second down, first down with the explosive plays. Just need to get the ball into our playmakers' hands, stay efficient and be good with the football."

It isn't that simple, with the running game also struggling. And now they have to face defensive tackle Geno Atkins and Cincinnati's physical front.

"They're really good up front," Trubisky said. "They don't have to blitz a lot because they've got really active guys up front. They're deep and they're playing well and they play aggressive."

Trubisky's passer rating of 74.6 remains lower than Mike Glennon's was (76.9), and his 297-yard passing day against Detroit was the only time he's been over 179 yards in eight starts.

"I think Mitch has been outstanding," head coach John Fox said. "In fact, he even moved up a couple of spots. He's seventh in the league in third-down passer rating.

"I think he has moved up a little bit as far as rookie quarterbacks go. I think both our staff and him have done a good job."

By any measure, the task can only become more difficult without Long. Trubisky is trying to stay positive.

"People have gone through a lot worse, a lot worse seasons and come out on the other side," Trubisky said. "You try to look at those success stories. You can just always believe you'll beat the odds.

"I've done things throughout my life that said that couldn't be done and I'm standing here today as a rookie in the NFL. Anything's possible with hard work and dedication. If you love the game you're playing, which we do, it can only get better here."

After six straight losses, and one last week to 2-10 San Francisco, it's hard to see how it could get worse.

SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Bengals lead series, 6-4. The Bears won the last matchup in 2013 at Soldier Field, 24-21. Cincinnati won the last game in Cincinnati, 45-10 in 2009 behind 189 rushing yards and a touchdown from former Bears first-round draft pick Cedric Benson.

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