Kyle Long means more to the Bears than you think

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The Bears are a different team when Kyle Long is on the field. (Getty Images)

Ask most any NFL coach, and they’ll tell you that “injuries are part of the game,” “next man up” and all the other coachspeak.

But there are exceptions to the rule. It has become readily apparent the past two seasons that Kyle Long is a much better option for the Bears than Next Man Up.

A cursory look at the stats shows the Bears are 3-3 this season — two of the losses by three points — in the six games Long has played all or most of the game. They are 0-4 in the others, losing by an average margin of 10.75 points.

The three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman has been battling a myriad of injuries over the past two seasons, limiting him to just a dozen games.

If there’s one teammate who really misses Long’s presence, it’s Jordan Howard.

In the six games both have played together this season, Howard has rushed 132 times for 626 yards. That’s 4.74 yards a pop. In the four games without Long in front of him, Howard has 59 carries for 215 yards and a 3.64 average.

In 2016, Long and Howard had just two games where both were on the field for more than 60 percent of the snaps. In Week 3, Howard had 23 rushes for 111 yards in a 17-14 win over the Lions. The following week, Howard had 16 carries for 118 yards in a 29-23 loss to the Colts.

Think about this: Howard has 11 100-yard rushing games in his 25-game career and six of them have come in the eight games he has played with Long.

It’s not just Howard who should have Long at the top of his holiday-gift list. Mitch Trubisky benefits immensely from his presence as well.

Long has been healthy for four of Trubisky’s six starts. Here are the results: 20-17 loss to Vikings, Trubisky 60.1 passer rating; 27-24 win over Ravens, 94.0 rating; 17-3 win over Panthers, 101.8 rating; 27-24 loss to Lions, 88.1 rating.

In Trubisky’s two starts without Long, the stats are: 20-12 loss to Saints, career-low 46.9 ratings; 23-16 loss to Packers, 97.0 rating.

Though still banged up, Long is expected to play at noon Sunday (FOX, Ch. 32) against the Eagles in Philadelphia. The Bears are a 13.5-point underdog.

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