Bears

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

1. Good games from Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. Here’s a sampling of Pro Football Focus grades for primary middle/inside/will linebackers against New England this year: 

Reggie Ragland (KC): 60.1
Anthony Hitchens (KC): 30.2
Zaire Franklin (IND): 48.6
Najee Goode (IND): 47.1
Kiko Alonso (MIA): 63.9
Raekwon McMillan (MIA): 62.5
Christian Jones (DET): 59.7
Jarrad Davis (DET): 29.8
Telvin Smith Sr. (JAX): 64.1
Myles Jack (JAX): 61.0
Bernardrick McKinney (HOU): 68.7
Zach Cunningham (HOU): 43.2

Think what you will of Pro Football Focus’ grades, but the average here is 53.2. Interestingly, though, the average grade for these 12 players over the course of the 2018 season is 51.5. So maybe the issue is the Patriots have faced a bunch of mediocre-to-bad linebackers, allowing them to take advantage of those soft spots with Sony Michel running the ball and James White catching it. Smith’s PFF grade is 62.3; Trevathan’s is 64.3, so by this measure, they’re better than any of the interior linebackers the Patriots have faced but still are the weak spot in the Bears’ defense (only Jonathan Bullard has a lower PFF grade among players with 100 or more snaps). 

How Smith and Trevathan play will be key in determining how quickly Brady is able to get the ball out (with passes to White), and how many times they get into third-and-less-than-five situations (with Michel running it). Both those factors will be critical for the Bears’ pass rush, which brings us to our next point.

2. Pressure Tom Brady without blitzing. Brady is a master of beating blitzes, completing 23 of 31 passes for 314 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and only one sack when blitzed, per PFF (that’s good for a 138.4 passer rating). When he’s under pressure, though, he has his lowest passer rating — which is still 87.2 — but the point here is that the Bears can’t afford to have to send blitzes to try to get pressure on Brady. The Bears were one of the best teams in the league at pressuring opposing quarterbacks without blitzing before the trip to Miami, and how healthy Khalil Mack really is will be a critical determining factor in those efforts. But when the Bears do earn their pass-rushing opportunities, as Akiem Hicks put it, they need to at least affect Brady and not let him comfortably sit back to pick apart their defense. 

3. Convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. This was a point Taylor Gabriel made this week about the state of the NFL in 2018: You can no longer afford to settle for three points or, worse, come away from a red zone possession with no points. Scoring is up league-wide, and the Patriots have scored 38, 38 and 43 points in their last three games. One of the biggest reasons the Bears lost that shootout in Miami was two turnovers from inside the five-yard line (Jordan Howard’s fumble, Mitch Trubisky’s interception). Stopping New England’s offense will be difficult, and the expectation should be for Sunday to be a high-scoring afternoon. If that’s the case, the Bears will have to get in the end zone every opportunity they get. The good news: New England’s defense is allowing a touchdown on 68 percent of their opponents’ possessions inside the red zone. 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Bears 27. The Bears’ defense sounded properly motivated after getting gouged by Brock Osweiler in Miami last weekend, but that only goes so far when one of the best quarterbacks of all time rolls into town. This winds up being a back-and-forth affair, but the guy with 54 game-winning drives in his regular season and playoff career makes it 55 late in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. A close loss to the Patriots wouldn’t dampen the positive vibes around the Bears, so long as they respond with wins against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in the next two weeks.

Film breakdown: Why the Bears' sudden change defense could key a deep playoff run

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Film breakdown: Why the Bears' sudden change defense could key a deep playoff run

Prior to Sunday night’s Bears-Rams game, if you were told Mitch Trubisky would throw three interceptions in his own territory, you probably would’ve through the Rams would win in a laugher. Giving one of the best offenses in the NFL, if not the best offense in the NFL, three short fields — including one in the red zone — seemed like a recipe for disaster.

Only it wasn’t. The Rams managed three points off those three turnovers, which stands as arguably the biggest reason for the Bears’ 15-6 win. 

“We want to go out there and get it back as fast as we can so (the offense) can have a little momentum going in the right direction,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “So there is an emphasis on making that play off a turnover.”

Today’s film breakdown looks at how the Bears’ sudden change defense clamped down on Los Angeles. 

First turnover came when Mitch Trubisky overthrew Josh Bellamy, with cornerback Marcus Peters picking off the pass and returning it 48 yards to the Bears’ 15-yard line. 

The Rams handed off to Todd Gurley on the first play after taking over possession. Vic Fangio dials up a blitz for safety Adrian Amos (red arrow), who comes unblocked and doesn’t seem worried about the prospect for a play-action fake and turns his attention right at Gurley. Meanwhile, linebacker Roquan Smith is matched up against tight end Tyler Higbee (blue circle/arrow).

Right after Gurley takes the handoff, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan and Smith are all holding the point of attack at the line of scrimmage (blue circle). The only one who doesn’t is outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (yellow arrow), but Gurley is too close to the line to cut outside, especially with Amos chasing him from the back. 

Smith sheds Higbee and gets to Gurley first, with Amos getting his hands on the running back shortly after. Gurley gains one yard, bringing up second and nine. 

After that gain, the Bears drop eight into coverage in an effort to keep everything in front of them. This is a good call by Fangio, who trusts his defense’s ability to make a stop on third down. Goff isn’t pressured and picks out Brandin Cooks for a gain of five, bringing up third and 4. 

Khalil Mack wrecks the Rams’ playcall here with a tremendous pass-rush move on right tackle Rob Havenstein. Mack starts wide and cuts inside across Havenstein’s body, while Gurley (yellow arrow) runs a route and isn’t available to help chip Mack. 

Help comes from right guard Austin Blythe, but it’s too late to keep Mack away from Goff. 

Goff can only heave the ball away while Mack is draped over him, resulting in an incomplete pass and a 27-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein. 

These are the only points the Rams score off a Bears turnover all game. 

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The Bears’ other two defensive stops off turnovers were simpler, relatively speaking. The second turnover came when Trubisky was picked off by cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman with 19 seconds to go in the first half, which gave the Rams the ball on the Bears’ 49-yard line. After Gurley was whistled for an illegal shift on the first play, Goff completed a short pass to set up a Hail Mary that was picked off by Eddie Jackson to end the half. 

***

What happened after Trubisky’s final interception was probably the second-biggest play of the night (behind Goldman’s safety). With the Bears leading by nine midway through the third quarter, Trubisky was picked off when he sailed a pass beyond Trey Burton into the waiting arms of safety John Johnson. 

With the ball on the Bears’ 27-yard line and a chance to make it a one-score game at worst — and, at best, cut the Bears’ lead to two — Goff drops back and stares down receiver Josh Reynolds (yellow arrow) almost from the start of the play. Kyle Fuller is matched up on Reynolds in off coverage (blue arrow). 

As soon as Reynolds makes his cut, Fuller jumps the route — even before Goff throws the pass. The result is Fuller’s seventh interception of the year, tying him for the NFL lead. Fuller felt like he didn’t bait Goff into the throw, he just identified the route and jumped it, which might have something to do with the extraordinary amount of film study he puts in each week

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Being successful in sudden change opportunities is part scheme and part attitude, and the Bears not only have the right scheme for these situations but collectively the right attitude. 

“Where I see teams or sides of the ball that can get into trouble would be when you have a bunch of individuals that all of a sudden get upset or angry that, ‘We got a couple stops here, and now you just give the ball right back to them,’ and they start pouting when they go back out to the field,” coach Matt Nagy said. “And we don’t do that.” 

Bears opponents have only managed 40 points on 20 drives that began due to an interception or fumble — and that’s with the average starting point of those drives being the 50-yard line. The Bears have forced more turnovers and punts (10) than allowed field goals and touchdowns (eight, with the other two drives ending on a turnover on downs). 

For a team with an offense that remains under construction, this is a massive reason why the Bears are 9-4 and tantalizingly close to their first NFC North title in eight years. And it’s a major reason to believe this team could legitimately make a deep run into the playoffs next month. 

“Not one time this year have we had — and it could have happened a few times, I go back to the Arizona game, the defense was playing really well, the offense wasn’t — and not one time did that defense complain about the offense not playing well,” Nagy said. “And that I think is speaks volumes to the character of these guys.”

Mike Ditka describes his recent heart attack as 'massive'

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USA TODAY

Mike Ditka describes his recent heart attack as 'massive'

As one of the icons in Chicago sports history, Mike Ditka's recent heart attack got plenty of attention.

Turns out, Ditka isn't downplaying it either.

In an article in The Athletic by Dan Pompei, Ditka said his heart attack was "massive." He was in the hospital for a week and a half and doctors inserted four stents and a pacemaker.

“I got my ass kicked pretty good there, but I’m feeling a lot better,” Ditka said. “Every day I get stronger. I’m not exerting myself. When I exert myself is when I can feel it. So things are good. If you had asked me two weeks ago, I couldn’t have said that.”

The 79-year-old was golfing in Florida when the heart attack happened. The Hall of Famer is still recovering in Florida.

 

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