Bears

Bears QB change not ruled out, but also not likely

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Bears QB change not ruled out, but also not likely

Call it a “pocket” quarterback controversy (no pun intended), compared to a real one where a team’s starting quarterback is at issue. Like in Washington with Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III, or Cleveland with Johnny Manziel and Josh McCown.

The Bears’ starting quarterback isn’t truly being contested; that’s Jay Cutler, when he returns from a hamstring injury. But in the short term, with Jimmy Clausen failing to ignite any semblance of offense during the 23-0 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday unless he was handing the football to Matt Forte, the Bears suddenly find themselves considering an alternative.

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That alternative is David Fales, and whether it is coach John Fox using his version of a play-action fake, motivation of Clausen or a genuine short-term option, Fox did not declare Clausen as the starter for next Sunday vs. the Oakland Raiders.

“I would consider starting anybody on the 53-man roster,” Fox said. “That’s why they’re here. I think, obviously, we want to pick the best 11 whenever we deem that to be. And we won’t know that until we check the injury report on Friday.”

Clausen played poorly – 9-for-17 for 63 yards, zero TD’s but also zero interceptions – but Fox said simply, "I didn't think our whole football team played well enough to win the football game.”

What little Fox and staff really have seen of Fales came primarily in the fourth preseason game, which Fales started, completed 14 of 18 passes for 131 yards.

“Being really honest with you, I really haven’t gotten a chance to work with him much,” Fox said.

“He had a shoulder issue in the offseason that he had gotten well. He had a bit of a setback with an illness where he missed some time. So I was impressed with him when we threw him in the fourth preseason game against Cleveland and I’ve been impressed with how he went about preparing himself being on and off the 53 here in just three weeks.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

But re-signing Clausen last offseason was done with the endorsement of Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Coaches don’t usually stay with players out of ego or blind loyalty – they are in the business of winning football games – but rather because they saw things in the player that were the reasons for the choice.

And Clausen’s performance was on the road, without wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and under what Fox conceded was an explicitly conservative game plan.

Jeffery is expected back from a hamstring strain this week or next, giving Clausen and the offense a major option it lacked in Seattle. And Clausen did what every coach craves: go turnover free, something Cutler and the Bears did only three times all last season and didn’t do in the 2015 losses to Green Bay and Arizona.

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: