The Chicago Bears will be without several key starters on both sides of the ball in Sunday’s NFC Wild Card game against the New Orleans Saints. While it appears rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson could possibly return to action for the first time in nearly a month, the Bears will be without starting linebacker Roquan Smith and rookie wideout Darnell Mooney.
The team announced the disappointing news via its official Twitter account on Saturday afternoon.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) January 9, 2021
In addition, the Bears elevated linebacker Manti Te’o and safety Marqui Christian from the practice squad leading up to the playoff matchup. With Smith’s backup Josh Woods also questionable for Sunday’s contest, the Bears may have to turn to Te’o at some point. Woods has been dealing with toe and glute injuries, so 2018 fourth-round pick Joel Iyiegbuniwe will also see an increased role in Chicago’s biggest game to date this season.
ALL the latest Bears news straight to your inbox! Subscribe to the Heavy on Bears newsletter here!
Smith’s Absence Creates Huge Hole for Bears Defense
Smith has been playing at an All-Pro level this year. He finished second in the NFL in solo tackles (98) despite missing nearly all of the final game of the season last Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. The 23-year-old playmaker essentially lived in opposing teams’ backfields in 2020, finishing his third season with 139 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, six quarterback hits, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Smith was also excellent in coverage this season, ranking second amongst all eligible linebackers in passer rating allowed (58.9) and seventh in completion percentage allowed (62.5). He also contributed a career-high seven pass breakups.
Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reported on Monday that the Bears were worried Smith might have dislocated his elbow in the team’s Week 17 loss to the Packers, but the team has not confirmed this.
Follow the Heavy on Bears Facebook page, where you can weigh in on all the latest Bears-related breaking news, rumors, content and more!
Matt Nagy on Smith: ‘He’s Playing at a Dominant Level’
On Friday, Smith earned second-team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press after his excellent 2020 campaign, and has received nothing but praise from his teammates and coaches.
“He’s playing at a dominant level,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said of Smith this week, per the team’s official website. “He’s not just playing like a good player or a great player; there’s complete domination in the way he’s playing. He’s playing on another level. Whoever the next guy up that has to step up and go in there and do their thing [is], it’s our job as coaches to know and see that and work around that and work to that player’s strengths. And you can’t say that that player is Roquan, because they’re not, so you’ve got to work to that player’s strengths. Then it’s the other 10 players around that have to be able to do the same thing.”
Darnell Mooney Update: Ankle Not Ready Yet
Mooney, who set the franchise record for receptions (61) by a Bears rookie wide receiver in a standout first season, had the best game of his young career last weekend before going down in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. The team’s fifth-round pick limped off the field and did not return after catching 11 passes for 93 yards.
The severity of Mooney’s injury is also unknown as of writing, although it didn’t seem as debilitating as Smith’s ailment. If the Bears should upset the Saints on Sunday, it’s likely both players would also be doubtful for next weekend’s NFC Divisional Round. We’ll keep you posted.