<
>

Stock Watch: Really missing Ratliff

It's no surprise the Bears defense got chewed up without Jeremiah Ratliff the past two games. Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports

RISING

1. Jeremiah Ratliff: Ratliff might be the best player on the Chicago Bears defense. It’s unfortunate he’s missed five games due to injury, including Thursday's 41-28 loss to Dallas, in which Cowboys tailback DeMarco Murray rushed for more than 160 yards between the tackles. The Bears are 1-4 without Ratliff on the field. Coincidence? Hardly. Ratliff played inspired football in the middle portion of the schedule, until the latest setback with his knee. He recorded 4.5 sacks in a five-game stretch (3.5 came versus Miami on Oct. 19). My appreciation for Ratliff grows every week, particularly after watching the defense flounder against Detroit and Dallas.

2. Kyle Long: Long is quietly piecing together an impressive sophomore season. The former first-round pick graded out the highest of any of the Bears’ offensive linemen on Thanksgiving at Ford Field and threw one of the prettiest downfield blocks of the year (along with Roberto Garza) on a screen pass (go figure) to Matt Forte. Whatever overhaul (if any) the offense undergoes in the offseason will not include Long, unless the Bears want to experiment with the 26-year-old at right tackle. Long’s future is still bright.

3. Martellus Bennett: Bennett broke Mike Ditka’s franchise record for single-season receptions by a tight end and now has 77 catches for 821 yards and six touchdowns, all career highs. Maybe next season the Bears will send Bennett down the seam to stretch the defense on a more consistent basis.

FALLING

1. Ownership: The Bears have now missed the playoffs seven times in the past eight seasons. When a charter franchise of the National Football League reaches the postseason as infrequently as teams such the Jacksonville Jaguars (also one postseason berth in eight years), the problems run deep. Since the Bears fired Ditka as coach at the end of the 1992 season, the club that resides in the NFL's second largest media market has qualified for the playoffs a grand total of five times. And people wonder why the 1985 Bears are treated like rock stars to this day. At this rate, Chicago will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of Super Bowl XX before the Vince Lombardi Trophy returns to Halas Hall. The Bears are going backward. This is easily the worst season of Bears football since Lovie Smith’s first year in 2004 (5-11). The difference is Smith’s team 10 years ago had zero expectations. The 2014 Bears were supposed to be contenders. Instead, fans are forced to watch the club simply play out the string. Blame whomever you want, but the real problems originate at the very top. What else needs to be said?