Bears Grades: O-line gets by with a little help from fans


Bears Grades: O-line gets by with a little help from fans

After bottoming out in the loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears’ offensive line could use a friend. Or friends. And they got them in Tampa. Lots of them.

Enough Bears fans turned out at Raymond James Stadium Sunday to have an effect on the game. Because of crowd noise, the offensive line typically needs to rely on a silent snap count, with guard Matt Slauson tapping the leg of center Hroniss Grasu to signal that Jay Cutler is ready for the snap. That means Slauson sitting in his stance but turning around to look at Cutler for the quarterback to lift his leg, the “ready” indicator.

But when the Bears had the football on Sunday, the massive Chicago contingent quieted down enough that Slauson and Grasu’s job got easier.

“Actually we had a couple drives where we took the silent cadence out of it,” Slauson said, smiling. “I loved that.”

The line had multiple changes in one day and handled them and a very good Tampa Bay front effectively. The Bucccaneers finished with just one sack of Cutler, only one other QB hit, and the Bears rushing for 174 yards total and an average of 4.5 per carry.

The 26 points were the Bears’ third-highest this season, the most since 37 against the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 15.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

“I think if you’ve got a great quarterback who’s protected and an O-line that does a good job at the point of attack in the running game, you see an offense that’s going to have success,” said right tackle Kyle Long. “Unfortunately we haven’t been consistent; I haven’t been consistent.”

The offense lost center Grasu for a time to a leg injury late in the third quarter, forcing Slauson to move from left guard to center. Patrick Omameh, bumped from the starting lineup, stepped in at left guard. Vladimir Ducasse, who started the first six games of the season at right guard before losing the job to Omameh, had the job back on Sunday after the dismal overall showing of the line in Minnesota.

Ducasse combined with right tackle Kyle Long to get some push on the right side in double teams, including on Ka’Deem Carey’s second-quarter touchdown.

A false start by Long with the Bears inside the Tampa Bay 5 in a goal-to-go situation was costly. The Bears netted a field goal but were in position to go up by 10 points with a touchdown just before halftime. Ducasse was ticketed for holding in the fourth quarter, nullifying a third-down conversion.

“They’re a very talented front,” Slauson said. “McCoy’s a beast and their linebackers are fast. Lavonte [David, linebacker] just flies around everywhere making plays.

“But we’re confident in our ability to line up against anybody in the league and pound the rock.”

Moon's Grade: A

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.