An invitation has been extended to the Chicago Bears from the Los Angeles Chargers via the final injury report.
Whether coach Matt Nagy accepts could go a long way toward determining the Bears' course the remainder of the season.
The Bears and Chargers meet Sunday at noon at Soldier Field, two struggling teams hoping to regain the form they displayed in going 12-4 last year. One major Bears problem all season has been the lack of a commitment to the running game and an inability to do it when they did try.
However, the Chargers will come into this game with both their starting defensive tackles out due to injuries. Veteran nose tackle Brandon Mebane was ruled out Friday with a knee injury and starting tackle Justin Jones has been ruled out with a shoulder injury. One of the backups, Cortez Broughton, is now out with an illness. A fourth defensive tackle, Damion Square, nursed a hamstring injury through the week but managed to practice Friday and will play.
They'll likely be starting rookie Jerry Tillery from Notre Dame, who is a bit of a tweener to be playing inside in a modern defensive scheme at 6-foot-6, 292.
Considering the injury situation inside and how the Bears ran a franchise record-low seven times in the loss to New Orleans, the Chargers have to know they'll get a bigger dose of David Montgomery in the running game.
"Yeah, maybe we're going to run it eight times, not seven, right?" coach Matt Nagy said Friday, and laughed.
While he was trying to be funny, Nagy did underscore the kind of conundrum the Bears have created by running it only seven times last week. The Chargers have to know they'll try to emphasize the run even more as a result of their struggles. So the Bears have essentially become more predictable by last week's failure to rush more.
"Well I'll say, so it's hard for me to answer that question because we're coming off a seven-attempt game," Nagy said. "So we're definitely going to run the ball more than seven times. But knowing all that you know ... you could look at it the other way to that."
The other way would be maybe they'll surprise the Chargers by ignoring the running game again to pass it. Who knows? It wouldn't be advisable considering L.A. is fifth against the pass in yards allowed despite being passed against more times than any other team.
The Bears actually should be better equipped to run now. They have their pick of offensive linemen to start against the Chargers and block the run.
After right guard Kyle Long went on injured reserve, they played Rashaad Coward because Ted Larsen had suffered a knee injury. But now Larsen is 100 percent healthy and not on the injury report. The only Bear on it was Bilal Nichols, who always officially will be on it on Fridays because the team practices on artificial turf indoors then and past knee issues force Nichols to miss some practice time then. But he's playing Sunday, and so, too is special teams player Sherrick McManis, who passed the NFL concussion protocol without missing a game.
The Chargers are only 21st against the run with healthy tackles most of the previous seven games.
Regardless, the Bears won't be trying to run it simply because they didn't do it enough last week. It's more aimed at whatever works best to score against particular defenses in specific downs and distances.
"We're going to call the plays that we think are best for those situations and sometimes it might be more run than pass, sometimes it might be more pass than run," offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. "I think in offensive history you're always accused of being too much this and too much that. Where you want to be is in the middle of those things."
Whatever they call this week, the emphasis will be on succeeding on the early downs.
"Right now offensively, what's happening is we're struggling on first and second down, and being able to penetrate the red zone," Nagy said. "When we're getting in the red zone, we're pretty good right now offensively, so there's only been 14 red-zone attempts for us this whole year. So we're not getting into the red zone, and we're not having explosive plays. Once we start getting into the red zone, we've been efficient, but we're just not getting there.
"That’s first and second down or at least getting first downs to move the ball. We're not doing that. That’s a part of the rhythm and a part of having successful plays early on."
And that's a key to avoiding another big early deficit like they had last week.