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5 Bears who have to come through with Cutler, Briggs out

Chicago Bears v WashingtRedskins

Chicago Bears v Washington Redskins

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Updated: November 26, 2013 6:42AM



Five players will determine whether the Bears remain competitive over the next nine weeks and make the playoffs.

The first and most important is running back Matt Forte.

He’s the key to the offense’s ability to go on long drives that keep the Bears’ defense off the field, and the magic number will be the touches he gets per game.

To be successful, he’s going to need a lot more help from his offensive line.

The line has improved and is getting the job done in pass protection, but the idea that the Bears’ 14th-ranked running game is doing well is an illusion.

At the risk of emphasizing the obvious, the second-most important Bear will be defensive end Julius Peppers.

He and the team deny that he’s hurt, but that’s pretty hard to believe.

Peppers missed almost all of the preseason with knee and hamstring problems and has been invisible in most of the games.

Some believe the soon-to-be 34-year-old is just graying and unable to play like he used to.

Well, then how do you explain the game against the Lions at Ford Field in which he was his old dominant self?

Perhaps I’m being stubbornly optimistic, but I’m hoping the bye week is exactly what the doctor ordered and the old Julius shows up in Green Bay.

I doubt linebackers Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene will ever be the second coming of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and I can guarantee you they won’t be over the next six to nine weeks.

Safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright are unlikely to do sudden 180s in their play, either.

If this defense is to become even average, Peppers must dominate the line of scrimmage the way he used to.

If he does, linebacker James Anderson will have a chance to be the third-most important Bear. That’s right, James Anderson.

I know he’s new to Chicago and still relatively unknown, but he has played well and is the only veteran on the defense capable of taking over the field generalship role that Briggs had so seamlessly inherited from Urlacher.

If Anderson can lead, Bostic and Greene at least have a chance to follow.

If Bostic is leading, the defense is practically assured of following him into a maze.

Quarterback Josh McCown is No. 4.

I’m relatively confident coach Marc Trestman understands the adjustments he has to make in his game plans to try to help his defense by keeping it off the field.

It’s actually an easier plan and involves mostly shorter throws — think the Bears’ opening drive against the Steelers in Pittsburgh — which are easier to complete.

And I’m relatively confident McCown can get the job done. What concerns me just a bit is in spite of how well he played against the Redskins, I keep having flashbacks to how ineffective he was in the preseason.

No. 5 is Devin Hester. Until he took that punt to the house against Washington, the Bears were looking more and more like dead men walking, and that was with Jay Cutler in the game.

More scores would be nice, but, at the minimum, Hester has to be a field-position monster with punt and kickoff returns.

If these five players come through, the Bears will weather the absences of Cutler and Briggs and be playing for a playoff spot Dec. 29.

Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com .



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