Bears

Bears defense starts slow again: 'That s--t will make you mad'

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Bears defense starts slow again: 'That s--t will make you mad'

If you take out the first drive of each game, the Bears defense would have to be among the best in the NFL.

The Bears let the Broncos carve right through them on their first drive of the game for an easy touchdown. That makes it four of the last five games in which the Bears defense has allowed a touchdown on the opening drive.

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It took just over 90 seconds and four plays for the Broncos to march 74 yards into the endzone in Sunday's 17-15 win over the Bears. What made matters worse was it was also Denver quarterback Brock Osweiler's first career start.

"That s--t will make you mad, man," Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee said after the game.

Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas - clearly Denver's top threat in the passing game, especially with fellow receiver Emmanuel Sanders sidelined with an injury - found himself absolutely wide open in the middle of the field and broke a tackle from Bears safety Chris Prosinski en route to a 48-yard TD.

After the game, Bears head coach John Fox said he didn't want to play "the blame game," but admitted they left Thomas uncovered and the defense just didn't execute.

"We lost our minds for a second," Bears linebacker Shea McClellin said. "Sometimes that happens. Sometimes we get confused. We have to clean that up.

"We have to start faster than that. We haven't done a very good job the last three or four weeks. We just have to correct it. It's that simple."

Fox, McPhee and the rest of the Bears defense admitted they needed to make adjustments on the sideline and felt as if they were able to following the initial touchdown.

After that drive, the Bears allowed just 10 points and also stopped the Broncos on a fourth-and-1 inside their own two-yard line.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears have allowed 28 points in the last five opening drives. But in 52 other drives over the past five games, the defense has allowed just 74 points (an average of 14.8 points per game).

That means roughly a quarter of the points the Bears have allowed the last five games have come on the opening drives. Considering the Bears lost three games by a grand total of eight points in that span, those opening drive TDs are a killer.

"You don't want to say 'settled in' because when that ball's kicked off, it's game on. Period," Prosinski said. "We've just got to get off to a faster start, really lock in and stay focused."

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. 

The Way We Hear It: Khalil Mack will probably play after all

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USA Today

The Way We Hear It: Khalil Mack will probably play after all

The Bears are back in Chicago and Tom Brady and the Patriots are in town! With a week of practice wrapping up today, here's what's been happening in the lead up to Sunday's Bears-Pats matchup: