Bears

Bears facing new 'test of character' after failing too many in ‘15

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Bears facing new 'test of character' after failing too many in ‘15

Defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins described the remaining four games of the 2015 season as “a test of character” now that the Bears have stumbled to 5-7 in the playoff discussion purely as an exercise in mathematics.

Because the Bears have faced multiple character tests this season and come up short too many times, notably the three different times they have held .500 in their hands and fumbled it.

Football “character” has different elements and the Bears need to address them in the time left to them.

[RELATED - Blown chances in OT loss to 49ers put Bears on brink of being finished]

Amid the aftershocks from the Bears’ 26-20 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers, safety Chris Prosinski passed on offering details of what went so horribly awry on the 71-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith that ended the game and effectively more than that.

“I’m not going to point fingers,” Prosinski said.

Nor should he or anyone else. Because the only digit that should have been pointed anywhere was the thumb.

If one or more of the Bears’ defensive backs wanted to step up and say, “My bad,” as Robbie Gould did after his failed field-goal try, fine. But players usually don’t discuss schematic specifics, good or bad, and that’s not really the point, anyway.

What is, is that for the first time this season, the word “appalling” can be hung on a defeat.

If the Bears weren’t as good as the 49ers, that’s one thing. But while disparaging Bears talent borders on the cliché’d by now, the simple fact is that their talent was enough to:

  • split with the Green Bay Packers;
  • be within a missed assignment of taking the 10-2 Denver Broncos to overtime;
  • allow the Minnesota Vikings 10 points in the final 1:49 to lose by three;
  • and take down the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead, the Chiefs who are 6-1 since that game.

“The only difference between people with good records and maybe not so good records is they've won more of their close games than the not-so-good-record teams,” coach John Fox said.

[MORE: Bears shoot themselves in the foot in OT loss to 49ers]

Not necessarily.

Judging effort or focus is never easy or always altogether fair, but questioning it isn’t unreasonable, certainly not in this case. Jenkins said that the Bears were focused before this game, but “focus” is fluid and the Bears are 5-7 in very large part because of how they played at the end of the game – if there was focus in all three areas, it wasn’t apparent – as well as how they played at the beginning, not looking like they were fully ready to play.

“We’ve just got to show up every Sunday,” said defensive end Willie Young, a tacit summation that the Bears didn’t this time. Not at the beginning on offense, settling for field goals or less, or at the end on defense with the disasters of Blaine Gabbert’s TD run or Torrey Smith’s TD catch.

“We just lost rush lanes,” defensive lineman Will Sutton, taking some ownership of a sloppy fundamental by a position group having a strong game. “We’re taught to do some things but sometimes you gotta just play football, and [Gabbert] just hit the hole where nobody was at. It’s just the little things at the end. I thought on defense we played a real good game and just let it slip.”

Poor effort or sloppiness is typically laid at the feet of coaching. But effort and sloppiness are products of poor preparation during the week, and maybe the Bears just took wrong conclusions out of their film sessions, maybe that the 49ers really weren’t very good. It happens; just ask the New England Patriots after their experience with the Philadelphia Eagles.

But if professionals need to be motivated when all they need to read are a calendar and schedule, then the term “professionals” does not apply.

A criticism leveled at Fox by former boss John Elway was that Fox’s Denver Broncos didn’t go down “kicking and screaming” at the end of big games. (I never quite got that, when you’re talking about a coach who consistently wins; so Elway was saying Fox’s teams just kicked and screamed in little games?). Not sure that is the relevant problem, certainly not with every member of the beaten Bears.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The offensive line and running backs played as good a game collectively as they have all season, to cite one group of individuals who pass the effort eye test. Young, to cite another, was within a shoelace of taking down Gabbert early in that 44-yard gutting run in the fourth quarter “To know you were just a shoestring away and ended up in a touchdown… ,” Young said, reflecting. “Any closer and I think I’d have had him.”

Jay Cutler and his receiver group were collectively handled by one of the NFL’s poorer pass defenses. Cutler, for his part, was personally out-schemed by San Francisco on his pick-6 in the first quarter, set up by blitz looks, not recognizing peril, and getting no help from receivers like Josh Bellamy in the screen cluster.

If the Bears truly didn’t have enough talent – and they’ve achieved what they have so far without Alshon Jeffery for five games, Eddie Royal for six, Kevin White for 12, Matt Forte for three, and that’s just offense – the San Francisco loss would be at least a little understandable. Fox and coordinators Adam Gase, Vic Fangio and Jeff Rodgers did have players with enough talent in enough right positions to have won this and other games.  

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.