Posted November 25, 2012

Lance Louis, Chris Spencer injuries leave thin Bears’ O-line hurting

Chicago Bears

Lance Louis has started 23 of the Bears’ last 26 games. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

The Chicago Bears snapped a two-game losing streak Sunday with a much-needed 28-10 win over Minnesota — a victory that again puts the Bears in position for an NFC North title, a first-round playoff bye and, potentially, even the top seed in the conference.

That is, of course, if they even have enough players left to finish out the season.

On a day in which QB Jay Cutler returned to the lineup after sitting out Week 11, Chicago lost five starters to injury. Devin Hester started the march to the infirmary when he suffered a concussion early, then RB Matt Forte (ankle), defensive MVP candidate Charles Tillman (ankle), guard Lance Louis (knee) and guard Chris Spencer (knee) all followed.

With the Chicago defense forcing three more turnovers and generally making life miserable for Vikings QB Christian Ponder, those injuries hardly fazed the Bears on Sunday. But there has to be a limit to how much a team can withstand.

And for the Bears, that breaking point might be along the offensive line.

Hester has been a bit player in Chicago’s offense this year and has had one of his least productive seasons a kick/punt returner; Forte is a superstar, but the Bears have Michael Bush available to pick up carries; and even the loss of Tillman, in the midst of a sensational year, could be masked some if Chicago’s defensive unit as a whole plays as it did Sunday.

The offensive line, though, has been and continues to be the chink in Chicago’s armor. That susceptibility was at the forefront during the Bears’ loss to San Francisco in Week 11, and lengthy injuries to Louis and Spencer might be devastating.

Earlier in the week, the Bears placed backup guard Chilo Rachal on the reserve list after he left the team for personal reasons. So, after Edwin Williams replaced the injured Spencer in the third quarter, the Bears had no interior linemen left on the roster.

When Louis fell later, on a brutal hit from Minnesota’s Jared Allen, the Bears had to push Gabe Carimi inside — the same Gabe Carimi that was benched at left tackle in favor of Jonathan Scott pre-Week 12.

Over their first 10 games, the Bears allowed more sacks (34) than every team in the league but the Cardinals (44). The struggle to protect Cutler (and then Campbell) came despite a fairly consistent front — Louis, Carimi, center Roberto Garza and left tackle J’Marcus Webb each started in games one through 10, with Rachal starting eight.

Maybe you could argue that things cannot get worse, no matter what Plan B is along the line. On the other hand, if the Bears struggled that much with their first-team O-line out there … well …

Not to push the panic button for the Bears, either, but in addition to having another game left with Minnesota and its top-10 pass rush, Chicago also has to deal with Seattle, Green Bay, Arizona and Detroit, all of which are in the top half of the league in sacks.

The Bears will know more about their increasingly desperate situation on Monday, when Spencer and Louis reportedly will undergo MRIs.

Chicago needs Tillman, Forte and, to a lesser extent, Hester healthy to turn a solid start into more meaningful success in December and beyond. Perhaps even more so, however, the Bears have to cross their fingers and hope that a shaky situation along the offensive line does not become an unmanageable one.

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