Bears

Bears approaching 2016 with change in attitude

Bears approaching 2016 with change in attitude

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – When John Fox succeeded Marc Trestman as Bears coach early last year, at the top of his to-do list was changing what was a palpable losing culture that had come to hang over the organization and Halas Hall. That involved changes of personnel, practices and even to the point of placing an emphasis on winning preseason games, not simply treating them as evaluation exercises.

This year, attitude adjustment is the least of his concerns. Besides the improvements even amid a season that ended 6-10 but was within a pair of missed field goals of going past .500, the additions of critical players have brought with them exactly what Fox wants, beginning with inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, bringing a Super Bowl ring from the Denver Broncos.

“I’ve experienced a lot of new attitudes here the past few years,” said guard Kyle Long. “This is above and beyond my favorite attitude that we’ve adopted.

“People throw the word ‘culture’ around, [but] it’s just taking pride in what you’re doing. You don’t get paid to play. You get paid to win. I’ve heard John Fox say that a million times and I’m sure I’ll hear him say it 2 million times this year.”

Culture means nothing unless it translates into wins because of a collective mindset. Trevathan, linebacker Jerrell Freeman, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, offensive linemen Ted Larsen and Bobbie Massie – all came from going to the playoffs at least twice in the past four years, Freeman and Trevathan three times.

The change was particularly evident during offseason sessions when members of the defense worked at a practice level that initially irritated some on offense, with coaches even joining in the chirping.

“I’m all about attitude and hustle and just playing ball,” said Trevathan. “I don’t care what happened before. You can always make up for it, just go 100 miles per hour and have fun.

“This game is short. Your attitude carries over to the team. There’s a lot of time when a team’s down you put your head down. I hate that. Even if we’re down we’re going to fight until the end. That’s what it’s all about, having that band of brothers and that attitude and going to, I won’t say ‘war,’ but going out there and battling together.”

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

One word that surfaced from multiple players during offseason sessions was “hungry.” That was not something that was heard even as recent as last season despite the change in coaches. Without that as a starting attitude, mediocrity was not surprising in recent seasons.

“I think with this group the thing that kind of stands out is just how good a group a group of guys it is, and how important football is to them,” said quarterback Jay Cutler.

“I think you look at OTAs and you look at minicamp and you saw how competitive offense and defense and even special teams were. There weren’t any days where guys were laying off of it. Every single day, guys were getting after it trying to get better, and the competition level I felt was extremely high for being in OTAs and minicamp. Whether that’s gonna translate to wins, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

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.