Bears In-Foe: A well-rested Eagles D to face Bears Monday night

Bears In-Foe: A well-rested Eagles D to face Bears Monday night

Under former coach Chip Kelly's round-the-clock hurry-up offense, the Eagles defense needed an ample supply of oxygen masks on the sideline. Their units spent the most time on the field the last three years.

So what happened Sunday, courtesy of the Carson Wentz-led offense and the Cleveland Browns being the... Browns, behind a bad (and now injured) Robert Griffin III? They were on the field less than 21 minutes.

Former Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz took over a unit that ranked 30th in the NFL last season, yet has some very good parts in moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and his trademark "Wide 9" setup.

The underrated, overlooked Fletcher Cox was recognized by the team in June to the tune of a $102.6 million payday ($63 million guaranteed) over six years. After collecting just 12.5 sacks his first three seasons, he soared to 9.5 a year ago, and will attack more now as Schwartz moves him from end to tackle alongside athletic run-stuffer Bennie Logan. Schwartz also moves former 3-4 outside linebackers Brandon Graham (6.5 sacks last season) and Connor Barwin (who's posted 11.5- and 14.5-sack seasons) to defensive end. Former first- and second-round picks Marcus Smith and Vinny Curry remain in backup roles.

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Nigel Bradham followed Schwartz from Buffalo to join a speedy group of linebackers, joining Mychal Kendricks around middle man Jordan Hicks, whose great rookie campaign a year ago was cut short by a torn pectoral muscle. He'd otherwise have been in the Defensive Rookie of the Year discussion. Once the Lions finally let veteran Stephen Tullock go, he reunited with Schwartz in a backup role.

Pro Bowl strong safety Malcolm Jenkins has elevated his game since leaving New Orleans a couple of years ago and now teams with small but physical former Ram Rodney McLeod, who signed a five-year, $35 million free agent deal.

One of Schwartz's ex-Bills cornerbacks, starter Leodis McKelvin, will be sidelined Monday night by a hamstring injury sustained versus the Browns.  So the decision on who fills in falls between two LSU products, seventh-round rookie Jalen Mills (who delivered the hit that injured RGIII Sunday), or another former Bill, veteran Ron Brooks. Nolan Carroll is physical in man-press on the opposite side and was having a good 2015 before breaking his ankle.

Special teams

Darren Sproles has gone to the last two Pro Bowls as a returner, and averaged 15 yards on four punts Sunday, so the Bears' coverage units have to be on-point, to say the least. He led the league in punt return average last season and has two return touchdowns each of the past two years, though rookie Wendell Smallwood returned one kick against Cleveland. Kicker Caleb Sturgis started slow but finished strong in 2015, and missed a 46-yard field goal attempt versus the Browns while converting two others. 36-year-old punter Donnie Jones was second in the league a year ago with 23 fair catches, while ranking sixth in net average, seventh in gross.

Join Chris & Dan Jiggetts from Halas Hall at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday on CSN Chicago, for "Bears Huddle" and "Bears Blitz." You'll hear from Bears coaches and players after practice, previewing Monday Night's home opener.

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


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.


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.