Bears

Bears Kyle Long to RT? Alshon Jeffery back? Fox: Wait and see

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Bears Kyle Long to RT? Alshon Jeffery back? Fox: Wait and see

If Kyle Long is the new right tackle for the Bears or Alshon Jeffery is back starting at wide receiver, it may be Sunday before those things are official. Asked Monday if Long’s position is still up in the air, for example, Fox wasn’t: “It depends on what you call up in the air,” Fox said.

The Bears will not release any injury information until Wednesday when it’s required, or lineups until the game with the Green Bay Packers is at hand. That includes where Long plays and who’s the fifth offensive-line starter, or whether left tackle Jermon Bushrod is able to go. Bushrod was not practicing Monday, instead jogging laps around the field as he rests his ailing back.

As far as not knowing, or at least withholding information on full starting lineups going into the week of the first game, “I think it’s fair with our 53-man roster,” Fox said. “All those guys are possibilities, not just this week against Green Bay but late in the season, middle of the season, next week things change. I feel good about where we are and we’ll have to before kickoff activate our 46 just like our opponent will.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the season ahead, Bears fans!]

Fox’s reasoning is simple: “It’s all about matchups,” he told CSNChicago.com. If he looks at the latest personnel alignments of an opponent, he assumes his counterparts do, (and from every indication over the years, they do.). If he knows a backup will start at a position, the defensive coach in him schemes to attack that weakness, or at least test the new guy early and often.

If Long is the right guard, Packers coordinator Dom Capers can be expected to assault the new right tackle with blitz schemes requiring instantaneous decisions from a player still possibly assimilating the offense. If two-time Pro Bowl’er Long is at right tackle, the Bears are by definition weaker at right guard, and Capers’ attack point likely shifts.

“I don't know how [others] do it but we put jersey numbers on guys on our scout team and kind of simulate a game as well as we can in preparation for the game,” Fox said. “I think they probably have a lot of offenses and defenses they've not used in the preseason just like we have and everybody in our business does. I don't think it serves you well to advertise what you're going to do, personnel or plays.”

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.