Bears

Bears Grades: Defense gets Colts QB Andrew Luck down but far from out in loss

Bears Grades: Defense gets Colts QB Andrew Luck down but far from out in loss

INDIANAPOLIS – Sacking Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck five times was supposed to be the starting point for a win over the Colts. It wasn’t. And when the Bears needed to stop him at pivotal points, they couldn’t, which is the stuff of which losses in which a team allows 29 points are made.

The Colts scored the first four times they had the football, and it didn’t really ultimately matter that three of those four times they were forced to settle for field goals. None of those possessions lasted fewer than six plays and the Colts netted 396 yards – the third time in five games that the Bears (1-4) have allowed 340 or more yards, and the fourth time in five games that they Bears have allowed 23 or more points.

Including last season, the Bears have allowed nine of their last 10 opponents to score 21 or more points.

“We just have to keep plugging away,” said linebacker Willie Young.

Defensive line: D

Against an Indianapolis offensive line that has struggled this season, the lack of pass rush was glaring in the first half but got a little pickup when Akiem Hicks collapsed the pocket for a takedown of Luck in the third quarter. But no one was anywhere near Luck a play later when he converted a third down with a 19-yard pitch-and-catch.

And while Mitch Unrein contributed four tackles, no defensive lineman was consistently a factor stopping the Colts, who averaged 4.7 yards on 21 rushing attempts.

Hicks had a tackle for loss among his three tackles. Jonathan Bullard produced his first NFL sack on an ensuing third down to force a fourth Indianapolis field goal. Pressure on Luck improved dramatically in the second half but the Bears were unable to finish plays with wins up front.

[MORE BEARS GRADES: Offense produces big numbers but commit errors at worst times in loss to Colts]

Linebacker: C

Young gave the defense a first-quarter sack in a series with the Bears sorely needing a stop, and added a second in the second half to force the Colts to settle for a field goal. Young finished with three sacks, the first three-sack day of his career.

Sam Acho and Christian Jones worked on the edges in nickel packages. Ex-Colt Jerrell Freeman, credited with seven tackles in initial statistics, hit and pressured Luck into a throwaway that was short of the line of scrimmage for a grounding penalty.

Danny Trevathan returned from thumb surgery wearing a plastic cast on his hand and totaled six tackles.

Secondary: D-

The Bears were beaten for a deciding touchdown in the fourth quarter when safety Chris Prosinski appeared to leave the deep middle open with no help for cornerback Jacoby Glenn on T.Y. Hilton’s 35-yard TD that broke the Bears back. But the Colts had schemed to draw Prosinski away and Glenn allowed Hilton an inside break that was virtually impossible to defend.

“[The Colts] drained the safety [Prosinski] with the ‘out’ route and left the corner singled up, and the quarterback made a great throw,” said coach John Fox.

Coverage was generally pretty good against a good Colts passing game but that was wasted because of absent pass rush. When the rush started getting to Luck in the second half, coverage had too many windows of Colts opportunity.

Prosinski was substituted in for Harold Jones-Quartey in nickel packages. “That was just on third down,” Fox said, “but it was performance-based.”

Prosinski finished with eight tackles. Cornerback Bryce Callahan was credited with six stops before leaving with a hamstring strain. Cre’Von LeBlanc was credited with two pass breakups.

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Special teams: D

Connor Barth was wide left from 49 yards, a crucial third-quarter kick when the Bears needed points to answer a Colts score, and he remains a significant concern with (2-4) field goals for a team that will be in close games all year. The miss left the Bears in the position of needing a touchdown at the end of the game rather than being able to get close enough for try at a tying field goal and getting into overtime.

Roy Robertson-Harris was flagged for running into the punter but the Bears were spared because the play still left them in fourth down. Deonte Thompson gave an early boost with a 32-yard runback of the opening kickoff to set up a possession that ended with Connor Barth’s 35-yard field goal.

Coverage allowed a 39-yard Colts kickoff return in the second quarter allowed a punt return of 20 yards. Colts kickoff returns averaged 24.3 yards.

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.