Bears

Bears Grades: Secondary routinely burned for big gains

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Bears Grades: Secondary routinely burned for big gains

After allowing just 16 pass plays of 20 yards or longer through five games, the Bears allowed four in just the first 15 minutes of Detroit Lions possession Sunday, setting a course for problems that eventually doomed the Bears. The Lions put up eight pass plays of 20 or more yards, including two in the fourth quarter and a 57-yarder from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal.

“I just saw Matt,” Johnson said. “Once I’m running downfield, he always tells me to keep my eyes on him because he’ll throw it up. I saw him do the ‘crow hop’ so I knew it was coming. I was just trying to keep the defender in a good place so I could make a play off of him.”

The defender on the play was rookie safety Harold Jones-Quartey after cornerback Kyle Fuller had passed Johnson off to the deep coverage. “He’s a tough cover,” said Jones-Quartey. “He’s big, he’s fast, he can jump. He’s Calvin Johnson, a great player. But that’s no excuse. When your number’s called, you’ve got to make a play.”

Johnson has made a career out of abusing secondaries and spent much of Sunday doing the same. He finished with six catches for 166 yards and a touchdown, nearly all of the receptions coming at what seemed to be the most precipitous moments.

Johnson worked into an open area of the Bears’ zone for a 43-yard gainer in the second quarter, then beat cornerback Tracy Porter for 39 yards to set up the third Detroit touchdown. “It was a lot of (coverage) variety,” Porter said. “I was on him most of the time, but we mixed it up a little bit, tried different things.”

[MORE BEARS: Upon further review: No interception for Bears as Lions get TD]

But Johnson was far from the only problem for the Bears. Stafford finished with 405 passing yards and four touchdown passes, exploiting major breakdowns by virtually every member of the secondary at one point or another.

Fuller had a day nothing short of tumultuous. The second-year cornerback saved a touchdown with an open-field tackle of Johnson in the second quarter. Fuller then gave up the score when he lost focus as Stafford extended the play and Detroit backup tight end Tim Wright worked free for a virtually uncontested catch of a eight-yard touchdown to finish that drive.

Fuller failed to seal against a slant to wideout Golden Tate in the Chicago end zone late in the second quarter.

Missed tackles and poor leverage allowed a 22-yard completion from Stafford to Tate, a catch-and-run in the first quarter that was followed by poor coverage on which Sherrick McManis allowed wideout Lance Moore an easy catch on a slant for a 20-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Moore finished with five catches and a total of 106 yards.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

McManis also completely lost Moore in the secondary in nickel coverage to allow a 42-yard completion late in the third quarter. McManis was spared embarrassment several plays later when he missed running back Theo Riddick on a long gainer that was nullified by a pass interference call against Johnson.

Fuller committed pass interference on what would have been a third-down stop late in the fourth quarter, sustaining a Detroit drive.

The Lions put particular emphasis on working deep against the Bears, “and I’m glad we did,” Johnson said.

Moon's Grade: F

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.