Bears

After frustrating 0-3 start, Bears searching for turnaround

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After frustrating 0-3 start, Bears searching for turnaround

For a time, an 0-4 start to a Bears season wasn’t all that noteworthy. One happened in 1997, another in 1998 and, after a recovery year under Dick Jauron in which Gary Crowton’s “razzle-dazzle offense (thank you, Gunther Cunningham) befuddled the Kansas City Chiefs before the Bears went back to losing five of their next seven, in 2000.

Moods of teams can be difficult to read and not always all that meaningful. Teams with good attitudes but no talent don’t necessarily win just because they don’t quit or try hard.

But while the 2015 Bears have fallen short to three 2014 playoff teams with a combined mark of 7-2 through three weeks, “I think there’s a whole lot of football left,” said tight end Martellus Bennett. “And it’s exciting every week to have another chance to get better, improve and see that improvement on tape.”

In coach John Fox’s mind, “I have to remind people that 1 ½ of those three [losses] that we were without our starting quarterback. That’s not an excuse. It’s just a reality. We’re missing some integral parts that hopefully, at some point, we get back. When that is, I don’t know. I don’t put time frames on it.

“But the good news is that we’ve got to look at some other people, some other guys and see how they react in those situations. And hopefully we’re learning some stuff that will help us moving forward… . There's no doubt that those teams [Green Bay, Arizona, Seattle] have beat some pretty good teams along the way and they are good football teams but this league's about winning no matter who you line up against, so we're still in that process."

[MORE: Cutler, Jeffery questionable against Raiders]

Somehow the prospect of the Bears losing their fourth straight in 2015, and ninth straight going back into last season, is spectacularly improbable given that teams with new coaches typically make some sort of first-year improvement. Not necessarily always a lot; there was, after all, a reason why a coaching change happened.

Fox was privately and publicly not viewing his team as a catastrophe-in-waiting when he took the job and even into training camp and the regular season before the problems started. The intriguing part of Sunday’s game with the Oakland Raiders is what plays out at quarterback if Jay Cutler is able to play.

“It's just like when you try to predict before the season, it's hard to do so you're right we've had three opportunities in the regular season and they haven't turned out like we expect,” Fox said. “I think all three of them take on a different personality. I think every opponent takes on its own personality, how you match up as an individual football team vs. your opponent. Obviously disappointed that we're 0-for-3 in those opportunities.

“I don't know that it's all been horrible. I know the result is horrible but hopefully we can grow and learn and get better from it moving forward.”

“Forward” is indeed the focus, vs. too many times in the recent past that “forward” was a source of dread. Not now.

“When you have all the guys on the field, the 53, we’re really going to be the team that we want to be,” Bennett said. “Guys are inching, inching, just not all the way there yet.”

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.