Bears

Bears have Alshon Jeffery injured, missing work – again

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Bears have Alshon Jeffery injured, missing work – again

For the third time in barely four months, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is on an injury list with a lower-body problem, this time a groin strain suffered in practice on Wednesday and which kept him out of practice on Thursday.

Also on the injury report for Thursday were not-practicing Pernell McPhee (knee), Eddie Royal (knee) and defensive Mitch Unrein (illness). Limited in practice were Jermon Bushrod (shoulder), Matt Forte (knee), Hroniss Grasu (neck), Shea McClellin (knee) Tracy Porter (hip) and Antrel Rolle (ankle).

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Jeffery, who was walking ostensibly normally in the locker room both Wednesday and Thursday, missed all four preseason games with a calf injury in training camp. He missed Games 2-5 with a hamstring strain before coming back with games of 8-10-10 catches for 147-116-151 yards.

Quarterback Jay Cutler didn’t seem overly concerned about being without Jeffery, which he has been for half of this season. “I don't know,” Cutler said. “He'll be OK. If he can't go, we've had life without him and we'll figure it out with the guys we've got.”

The trouble is that the Bears, who did defeat Oakland and Kansas City without Jeffery, and also without Royal at Kansas City, are playing the St. Louis Rams, who are Top 5 against the pass. Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego are in the bottom half of the NFL against the pass.

There simply are things that Jeffery can do, and what the offense can do with him, that they cannot without him.

“It’s nice when he’s available to go because obviously he’s an impact player for us,” said offensive coordinator Adam Gase. “But we’ve got a lot of guys that step up when he’s not in.”

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The reality is that plays can be called with Jeffery that can’t be with other receivers. In the San Diego game, when Cutler threw a pick-6, Jeffery firmly stated that he wanted the ball on a “go” route, which Gase obligingly called, and the Bears had a 47-yard completion.

The reason the play was both called and succeeded: Jeffery. Gase and all offensive coordinators don’t usually take play requests. But “when ‘17’ makes a request, you usually have a pretty good feeling about him making a play on the ball,” Gase said. “There’s been a couple times where he’s suggested some things we’ve gotten to and he’s made plays. I know Marty [Bennett] has made some suggestions we’ve gone to and were really good suggestions.

“So I feel like those two guys, they’ve played a lot of ball, made a lot of plays, so I feel confident when they bring a suggestion to the table.”

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. 

The Way We Hear It: Khalil Mack will probably play after all

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USA Today

The Way We Hear It: Khalil Mack will probably play after all

The Bears are back in Chicago and Tom Brady and the Patriots are in town! With a week of practice wrapping up today, here's what's been happening in the lead up to Sunday's Bears-Pats matchup: