CHICAGO – The Bears were at a disadvantage before they’d really even gotten into the flow of the game Sunday.
When inside linebacker Roquan Smith went down with an elbow injury early in the first quarter, it signaled a major problem for the Bears defense. The 23-year-old third-year pro has been one of the Bears’ best defensive players all season.
Smith spent the remainder of Sunday’s game on the sideline with a sleeve or brace of some sort on his left elbow. He parked himself on the bench, chatting with linebacker Danny Trevathan when the offense was on the field, but otherwise did not return to the field.
The Bears lost to the Green Bay Packers, 35-16, but snuck into the playoffs thanks to some help from the Los Angeles Rams, who beat the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Bears coach Matt Nagy said he didn’t know the extent of Smith’s injury.
“He’s tough,” Nagy said. “We’ll have to see what the doctors and what [team trainer Andre Tucker] says.”
The Bears could be in serious trouble if Smith is unable to play next week in a Wild Card round playoff game against the New Orleans Saints.
Smith is arguably an All-Pro level inside linebacker. He didn’t make the NFC’s Pro Bowl roster at the position, but many players and staff inside Halas Hall felt that was a snub. Smith entered Week 17 with 136 tackles on the season, good enough for fifth in the NFL. He entered the game leading the Bears with 17 tackles for loss.
He leads the Bears with two interceptions on the season (along with safety Tashaun Gipson, who also has two). His seven passes defended prior to Sunday were behind only cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson (with 15) and Kyle Fuller (with eight).
“We miss a great player because he fits this defense,” Trevathan said. “Me and him, we practice together all the time, so I’m used to having him on that side. When he goes out, next-man mentality, but you still miss that voice.”
Smith was the Bears’ communicator on the field. He was the Bears’ defender with the green dot on his helmet, meaning he has direct communication with the coaches inside his helmet. It’s not easy to replace such an integral piece of the defense.
Without Smith in the game, the Packers attacked backup linebacker Josh Woods. It was apparent on a second-quarter touchdown Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw to tight end Dominique Dafney.
Dafney ran right past Woods and there was an apparent miscommunication among the Bears’ defenders on the play.
That’s not meant to be a knock against Woods. Rather, Smith has played nearly every snap for the Bears defense this season. It’s not easy to replace a player like Smith, and it’s especially not easy to do on short notice.
But the Bears are going to need Smith next week against New Orleans, or they’re going to need someone to step up quickly.