The Chicago Bears (2-5) and San Diego Chargers (2-6) close out Week 9 at Qualcomm Stadium in a battle of banged-up teams. They'll kick off at 8:30 p.m. ET on Monday night.
Team doctors need to be on hand for both squads. The Bears will be without stars like Matt Forte (knee) and Eddie Royal (knee) for the pivotal road game. It'll be up to Jay Cutler to lead what skill position players remain.
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That's been Philip Rivers' role all season long. He's played behind a mix-and-match offensive line, and now, he'll be without Keenan Allen (kidney) for the rest of 2015. That he's having a career year is somewhat miraculous.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Bears and Chargers:
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1. Key on Danny Woodhead as a pass-catcher
The Chargers have to adapt to the loss of Keenan Allen, the team's leading receiver (725 yards, third in NFL). With little running game to lean on, San Diego's other pass-catchers will have to pick up the slack. Quarterback Philip Rivers' second-favorite target has been running back Danny Woodhead this season (39 catches, 443 yards). The Bears best not lose sight of him releasing out of the backfield this weekend.
2. Trust Jay Cutler's arm to win the game
Matt Forte has been the Bears' main source of offense this season (767 yards from scrimmage), but he's sidelined with a knee injury. The Bears will have to be more aggressive in the passing game, since they no longer have an experienced running back to lean on. Jay Cutler is an experienced quarterback who has won games with his arm in the past. Chicago should let him pepper wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett with targets in Week 9.
3. Cut out costly breakdowns on special teams
The Bears let up another return touchdown on special teams last week. This time Minnesota's Marcus Sherels scored on a 65-yard punt return; Arizona's David Johnson and Seattle's Tyler Lockett both scored on 100-plus-yard kick returns earlier in the season. Chicago doesn't have a high-powered offense, nor does it have a particularly stingy defense. A squad of this caliber can't afford to give up game-changing plays on special teams.
1. Sacrifice Antonio Gates as a pass-catcher
The Chargers' line was decimated to laughable levels last weekend in Baltimore. The Bolts were down to one-fifth of their starting line; concessions must be made now to field a functioning offense. Unfortunately, that could include using Antonio Gates as more of an in-line blocker and less of a downfield threat.
2. Find the right mix to cover for Keenan Allen's loss
No one receiver is going to match what Allen did through eight games this year (67 catches, 725 yards, 4 TD). The remaining group will have to work as a committee to patch that production. Guys like Stevie Johnson, Malcom Floyd, and Dontrelle Inman will all see expanded roles. And of course, more pressure will be on Rivers to deliver.
3. Put two men on Alshon Jeffery and hope for the best
Cutler hasn't been shy about reintegrating his top receiver to the Bears' offense. Jeffery is hamstrung no more; he's got at least 115 receiving yards in two of his three games back. He'll require extra special attention by the Chargers' leaky pass defense.