CHICAGO — As the Raiders win national acclaim for a 2-1 start, their high-flying offense may have to carry a banged-up defense today against the winless Bears.
Not that the Bears necessarily will be in position to counter. Quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Alshon Jeffery were among seven players listed as questionable, which could be a case of coach John Fox using gamesmanship against his longtime friend and colleague, Raiders coach Jack Del Rio. Cutler has been nursing a hamstring he injured trying to make a tackle two weeks ago following an interception. Jeffery has the same injury.
The Bears (0-3) said left tackle Jermon Bushrod (concussion) will not play against the Raiders (2-1). Fox says Cutler will play if he is cleared by team doctors. Otherwise, Jimmy Clausen will make his second straight start.
“We’re expecting Jay to start,” Del Rio said.
For the Raiders, Pro Bowl pass-rusher Khalil Mack has been nursing a sore hip, while defensive end Justin Tuck is dealing with a sore knee. Veteran safety Charles Woodson, whose late interception preserved last weekend’s victory in Cleveland, is questionable with a sore shoulder. And defensive lineman C.J. Wilson has a calf injury and has been ruled out. Linebacker Ben Heeney (hamstring) has been limited and is questionable.
At least Justin Ellis is back. Ellis is the first to admit his absence along the defensive line the past two weeks has been hardly noticeable, because the Raiders’ run defense has gotten progressively better since Ellis went out with an ankle injury early in a Week 1 loss to Cincinnati.
“Those guys have been playing good,” Ellis said. “Stacy McGee, he’s been playing well, just as good as I could do it. Most of the (backups) on this line can do it just as much as the first string and sometimes better.”
The player commonly referred to as Jelly by his coaches and teammates is one of the best run defenders on Oakland’s roster. Ellis returned to practice and is expected back in the starting lineup at Soldier Field. Oakland heads into the Chicago game with the 13th-ranked run defense, giving up 275 yards on the ground in the first three games. Almost half of that (127) came in the loss to the Bengals when the Raiders got down early then fell apart defensively.
Ellis, a fourth-round pick in 2014 who started 14 games as a rookie, was injured on the seventh play of the game when his foot got stuck
in the ground during a goal-line play. A pile of players rolled up on his ankle, and Ellis initially thought his season might be over before it really began.
“I know it comes with the game but sometimes it throws you off a little bit,” Ellis said “It makes you discouraged a little bit because
you worked so hard during the offseason and then, bam, it’s gone just like that.”
He’s back and fully healthy to rejoin a run defense that has given up just 83 yards in its last six quarters.
The Raiders will need all the help they can get against the Bears’ running game.
Chicago back Matt Forte is the second-leading rusher in the NFL with 276 yards while the Bears own the league’s sixth-ranked running game.
“When you look at his stats, he’s running the ball well, he’s catching the ball well, he’s a high target for them,” Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “It’s good to have our good players back to match with their good players.”