The Chicago Bears are bracing to be without inside linebacker Roquan Smith for Sunday’s wild-card round playoff game against the New Orleans Saints.
Smith left last Sunday’s 35-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers with a left elbow injury in the first quarter and did not return to the game. A source said afterward the team feared Smith suffered a dislocated elbow and All-22 video of the play shows his arm bending improperly as he went into a pile of players.
The Bears are planning to be without Smith for this week’s game, a separate source told the Tribune. This would be a considerable loss against the high-powered Saints, who are hopeful to have the services of Alvin Kamara, the best dual-threat running back in the league. Smith was not present for Wednesday’s walk-through practice inside the Walter Payton Center at Halas Hall, according to a pool report.
Bears coach Matt Nagy didn’t offer an update on Smith on Wednesday afternoon and said the club will provide a game designation for the linebacker and wide receiver Darnell Mooney on Friday. Mooney (ankle) was injured in the loss to the Packers and his status remains a significant question mark. Cornerback Buster Skrine (concussion) did not participate in the walk-through and kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson (personal) was also absent. Nagy said the hope is Patterson will return on Thursday.
Good news for the Bears is that rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson — sidelined since the Week 14 win over the Houston Texans with a shoulder injury — did return and was listed as limited on the estimated injury report.
Kamara, who had 1,688 yards from scrimmage this season (career-high 932 yards rushing, 756 yards receiving) and scored 21 total touchdowns, is on the reserve/COVID-19 list after testing positive last week. The soonest Kamara could be cleared to return, provided he passes all protocols, is Sunday. But while that means he will not practice all week, the Bears will certainly prepare as if they have to face Kamara, who totaled 163 yards from scrimmage in New Orleans’ 26-23 overtime win in Week 8 at Soldier Field.
Losing Smith will be a huge blow to the Bears as he led the defense with 139 tackles, including 99 solos and 18 tackles for loss. He added four sacks, two interceptions, seven passes defended, six quarterback hits, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Smith has been given speaker access to coaches in his headset and designated as the player who communicates calls to the defense. Who the Bears select to/ fill that role will be interesting.
Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan has taken on the responsibility in the past, but the Bears have pulled him off the field in certain sub packages this season. For instance, Trevathan was on the field for 57 of the 74 defensive plays (77%) in the meeting with the Saints. Trevathan was on the field for 45 of the 46 snaps against the Packers last week — perhaps a necessity after Smith went out — but his playing time was below 80% in 11 of 16 regular-season games. Trevathan’s been a liability at times in coverage and got caught in a bad matchup when Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 72-yard touchdown on a third-and-4 play, delivering the go-ahead score in the second quarter.
With less than a week to prepare, it’s unknown how the Bears will react and what adjustments will be made both from a personnel and schematic standpoint to handle Kamara and Saints quarterback Drew Brees. The Bears called on Josh Woods, a former undrafted free agent, to replace Smith against Green Bay, but it’s worth wondering if the team would lean on an inexperienced player to handle the responsibility of lining up the defense.