Bears

Bears not alone with 0-3 woes, but loss to Seahawks offers one key upside

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Bears not alone with 0-3 woes, but loss to Seahawks offers one key upside

SEATTLE — Sometimes the absence of pain can be taken as pleasure, and a loss that could have been a humiliation somehow looks better because it wasn’t completely embarrassing. But Sunday’s 26-0 loss felt at times like a fourth preseason game, with a backup quarterback throwing to wide receivers who would start only in a fourth preseason game (Eddie Royal excepted).

Maybe some overall perspective first:

If you’re a Bears fan needing something to feel upbeat about, how do you think folks in Detroit feel about their Lions, projected to be pretty good, who are also 0-3 and that’s with Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and most of the players that matter? What do the Lions have to look forward to? The Baltimore Ravens are 0-3 and they have Joe Flacco (and Marc Trestman as their offensive coordinator). The New Orleans Saints are 0-3 and they (mostly) have Drew Brees.

Injuries aren’t an excuse but in the Bears’ case, they certainly are a reason. “As I said last week, ‘We’re 0-2,’” head coach John Fox said. “We’ll get better. We will get some guys back hopefully at some point. We will be a little bit more whole. There are enough guys in there that we can generate enough good football to win games.”

One reality is that the Bears might even have played fairly well over their first three games and been 0-3. But ultimately they did not, and the loss to the Seattle Seahawks left unanswered what kind of team the Bears really are.

Or maybe it did answer that without Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery, Jeremiah Ratliff and maybe Kevin White, the Bears cannot compete in the 2015 NFL with anybody much good.

[MORE BEARS: Linebackers strong but worn out thanks to offense]

All things considered

If there were nothing constructive in the loss at Seattle, the situation would be far, far more dire. But one of the treats on game days is standing by to do my segment of our Postgame Live show that features Lance Briggs, Dan Jiggetts and Jim Miller. And when three former NFL players with long histories of straight talk are talking about positives that they observed in Sunday’s game, then it’s a pretty sure thing that something had transpired on the plus side.

The main one Sunday night was the arrival of a pass rush without coordinator Vic Fangio needing to go into a panic mode, which he abhors anyway. Pernell McPhee played like the franchise linchpin he was signed to be (two sacks, two tackles for loss, four quarterback hits), and Jarvis Jenkins (two sacks, 10 tackles, two for losses and two quarterback hits) was the kind of impact down-lineman (for a game, at least) that Fangio had in San Francisco with Justin Smith.

“It starts with the interior. If the inside gets rush, that opens up the outside. We got good rushes in the first half and that’s when (Seattle) had to start clamping down. That’s 3-4 defense," Jenkins told CSNChicago.com. "You could see that with Vic Fangio in San Francisco with Justin Smith and those guys. It’s got to start with the D-line.”

And the D-line gets Ratliff back from suspension this week. Fox might not go in for candid public critiques of his players but neither does he usually say something is when it isn’t, and “I think we’re making headway,” he said. “I think we made headway in some phases of our defense. But we still have a long way to go.”

Not that it necessarily counts for anything, but the attitude is right. Defensive tackle Ego Ferguson followed Jenkins’ first sack with a bit of trash-yelling and 12th-man baiting of the Seattle fans in the south end zone.

“Hey, that’s what it’s all about,” McPhee said. “We gotta make up our minds that we are a defense people are going to be scared of. That’s how we have to play the rest of the year.”

[MORE BEARS: Jimmy Clausen can't trigger offense in shutout loss]

But over on offense

The results with Jimmy Clausen were about what should have been expected, maybe a little bit worse, but better quarterbacks than Clausen have struggled against the Seahawks in Seattle, and getting Oakland in Soldier Field is potentially a more manageable assignment than Sunday’s.

But the Bears cannot entertain thoughts of progress when they have 10 possessions and punt 10 times (if you want a positive, at least they went through a game without a turnover for the first time this season).

And even a bad team should be able to do better than five second-half possessions with four ending as three-and-out’s and the fifth a four-play possession. The last time the Bears were shut out was a 15-0 blanking by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the Bears also rolling out a backup quarterback — Henry Burris — who threw four interceptions among his 19 attempts. Clausen wasn’t that bad, at least.

Special teams were, however. The Bears are using starters on coverage (including linebacker Sam Acho, safety Antrel Rolle) and gave up three 60-plus-yard returns in the span of barely six quarters, including the kickoff-return touchdown Sunday in a play that clinched the outcome, given the obvious limitations and shortcomings of the Clausen-led offense.

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.