Impact of Late-Breaking Injuries in Bears and Saints Game

Injuries always affect the dynamic of teams, both with players no longer available on the field and also how the backups blend in with the others, and this situation is especially true in the Bears-Saints matchup with many injuries in play
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The next-man-up philosophy in the NFL prevails in case of injuries.

Over the last week, Bears coach Matt Nagy invoked the tired old phrase in relation to Roquan Smith's injury. He was ruled out on Saturday after being called questionable initially for game day.

"I mean, he's playing on another level," Nagy said. "And so, when you lose that, that's a part of football.

"And I think whoever the next guy up that has to step up and go in there and do their thing, we understand that."

The next guy up in this instance is Josh Woods, who played more of the regular-season finale against Green Bay than Smith did.  

While the Bears didn't announce Smith would be inactive until Saturday, it's likely Woods knew he'd be starting all week since Smith never practiced.

Darnell Mooney's status wasn't finalized until Saturday due to his ankle injury.

The Bears are not the only team with late-breaking injury problems in this matchup.

Here's how these injury situations affect key players on both teams.

Nick Easton/Cesar Ruiz

The starting Saints right guard has missed games with a concussion before this one and he's out because of one now. The Saints have lost players in their guard/center triangle throughout the season and it led to rookie Cesar Ruiz starting nine games. He started against Akiem Hicks at right guard in the first Bears-Saints game and has had 700 snaps this season without allowing a sack, although his pass blocking in general has been poor according to Pro Football Focus. The website scores him at a low 43.4 as a pass blocker, 61.6 as a run blocker. Hicks did not get a sack in the first game against the Saints, had three tackles and one quarterback hit. But the entire right side of the Saints line is involved in this dynamic and Khalil Mack enjoyed a good game against the Saints lining up next to Hicks. He had a sack, a forced fumble, tackle for loss and was in on five tackles. Whether the Bears can take advantage of Ruiz' inexperience could be key for the Bears on defense. This is one opponent they could stunt more against, letting Mack come over the top and go inside during the play to Hicks' right as they try to put pressure on a quarterback who isn't quite as mobile and able to get outside and throw as he used to be.

Trey Hendrickson/Marcus Davenport

The neck injury to Hendrickson means more time for backup defensive ends Marcus Davenport and Carl Granderson. It's Granderson who is the real pass rusher. Davenport is likely to get more snaps earlier in the game, though, as he's more of the run stuffer. Either way, the Saints have had Hendrickson available virtually all season and it's going to be a step down from a player who was tied for second in sacks in the league (13 1/2). Granderson has had five sacks in limited playing time, so their pass rush can still be effective. Besides, defensive tackle David Onyemata provides a very solid inside rush with 6 1/2 sacks and 16 quarterback hits. Of course, the other defensive end, Cameron Jordan, is the type of player who can rise to an occasion and take over a game even though his 7 1/2 sacks this year match his lowest total since his rookie year.

Roquan Smith/Josh Woods

Ryan Pace always prides himself on filling all the holes depth-wise in the offseason so the team appears covered in case of injury but one place the Bears GM seemed to be taking a risk. Only Devante Bond had any experience and it wasn't playing inside linebacker with the Bears. He was cut after, anyway before being brought back. Woods' only real experience of note came last week against Green Bay and it took Aaron Rodgers almost no time to take advantage of the hole left by Smith's absence. Woods is fast enough to cover against good passing teams because he was a defensive back in college. He converted with the Bears to linebacker, added about 16 pounds but the place he'd have to be most susceptible to mistake is being in his gap against the run. The Bears have had headaches with this all year even with Smith playing because of their troubles at nose tackle replacing Eddie Goldman after he opted out. One way to solve the inexperience troubles: Blitz. Blitz Woods. Blitz him again, and again. Or blitz Trevathan again and again and keep Woods where he can use his defensive back experience. They keep the interior pressure on Brees that way. They also keep the running back pass blocking instead of pulling out to be a receiver. While blitzing Trevathan might cause Woods to be exposed in coverage, the blitz allows receivers and Brees less time to be as precise. It's easily the best way to use Woods in a pinch like this and besides, what do they have to lose? Everyone expects them to be drubbed anyway. The best way to go down is with guns blazing.

Darnell Mooney/Anthony Miller

The Bears have gone to more 12 and 13 personnel groupings to run better, anyway, so they have used fewer wide receivers in those instances. Losing a receiver shouldn't be as big of a problem, as  a result. What is a problem is lack of outside speed on third downs. Miller is quick but not the downfield threat to draw extra coverage that Mooney might be. The answer might be more downfield passes to tight ends than in the past, and more use of tight ends in the passing game in general. The Saints used man-to-man coverage extensively in the first game against the Bears and Miller made a season-high eight receptions. The conventional method to battle the Bears has been more zone. It's to be expected they'll switch their coverage more and go to more zone simply because what they did last time didn't work well and also because they're facing Mitchell Trubisky now. They had only three catches for 15 yards in the first game from tight ends. Jimmy Graham was particularly ineffective with two catches in seven targets. More zone coverage could let both tight ends work underneath more in the dead pockets for receptions if Miller isn't as adept beating zone. And if the Saints play more zone, look for David Montgomery to be more involved as a receiver as he has time and again in the second half of this season.

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