Bears

Adam Gase, not Jimmy Clausen, key to Bears offense vs. Seahawks

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Adam Gase, not Jimmy Clausen, key to Bears offense vs. Seahawks

The intriguing figure in the Bears offense Sunday in Seattle won’t be Jimmy Clausen. It won’t be Kyle Long.

It will be offensive coordinator Adam Gase.

Forget Clausen and the Bears quarterback situation for a moment. The Bears offensive coordinator was given the No. 7 pick of the 2015 NFL Draft (wide receiver Kevin White) to work with, in addition to Jeffery, fifth in the NFL in receiving yards since 2012, and 16th all-time in Bears franchise history for receiving yards and receptions.

Except that White is out indefinitely with a stress fracture and Jeffery didn’t play last week and won't play this week because of a hamstring strain.

[MORE BEARS: Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery ruled out vs. Seahawks]

Gase, at the outset of training camp, had four of the five 16-game starting offensive linemen from 2013 back together. Except that the week before the start of the regular season Gase’s two-time Pro Bowl right guard (Long) was moved to right tackle.

And then there is the little matter of Gase preparing for the two-time NFC Champion Seahawks with a backup quarterback.

OK, play those cards. Let’s see whatcha' got.

The preparation for this week arguably has been going on for months, having nothing to do with Clausen. The offensive coordinator spent significant time and effort this offseason tailoring his scheme and plan to what Jay Cutler does — and doesn’t — do well. Gase didn’t shrink his playbook so much as structure his program around simplifying Cutler’s decision-making, never Cutler’s strength — playing to what Cutler does well and playing down what the veteran quarterback doesn’t.

Now Gase is tasked with taking Clausen from one start over the past four-plus seasons into an NFL quarterback capable of going eyeball-to-eyeball with the defense of the Seahawks and not blinking.

[MORE BEARS: Bears fortify DL, sign former Bronco Mitch Unrein]

The plan, as it was with Cutler, is to simplify, since things tend to move faster and more efficiently if excess thinking is kept to a minimum.

“Obviously I can’t make too many plays if I have the ball in my hands,” Clausen said, “so I’ve got to distribute it to the running backs, tight ends, receivers, and just get those guys the ball in space and let them make plays.”

Gase’s plan for Cutler was showing every sign of working, the interceptions against the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals notwithstanding. Before the pick-six against the Cardinals, Cutler had completed eight straight passes for 120 yards and directed efficient scoring drives of 89 and 80 yards on consecutive possessions.

Over his final five-and-a-half games of 2014, Cutler had a total of one drive as long as 80 yards.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

Gase didn’t throw or catch any of those eight Cutler passes but he called those plays and developed the game plan that had the Bears with touchdowns on two of their first three possessions — same as Carson Palmer and Arizona.

Without getting into specifics, Gase pointed the thumb rather than the finger as the reason for the failure of the Bears to convert two second-quarter takeaways into more than just two field goals.

“I was more disappointed in the play calling,” Gase said on Thursday. “I thought I did a poor job of putting those guys in a good position. After going back and watching the tape and evaluating that I feel like I could have put Jimmy in some better spots and so that was my biggest criticism was I should have done a better job as far as putting our players in a better position.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

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Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner.