Bears

Bears roster moves offer lineup clues moving forward

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Bears roster moves offer lineup clues moving forward

After a game in which they lost their starting center and linchpin member of the secondary, the Bears undertook a cluster of roster moves late Tuesday that, based on what did and didn't happen, suggest implications beyond the specific individuals involved.

What did not happen was the signing of a veteran to step in for Will Montgomery, placed on injured reserve after the veteran center suffered a broken leg on the third play of the Bears’ win Sunday over the Oakland Raiders. The indication then is that the Bears see Montgomery’s replacement already on their roster, presumably leaving guard Matt Slauson where he performed ably in Montgomery’s stead on Sunday. The other option is rookie Hroniss Grasu, who has been inactive for the first four games and likely to be active but not dropped into the starting lineup.

What did happen was the signing of safety Sherrod Martin, an indication that safety Antrel Rolle is a longshot to be back from an ankle injury that knocked him out of the Oakland game. Martin, who was with the Bears through training camp, appeared in 72 games with 38 starts over five seasons with Carolina (2009-12), the first two seasons playing for coach John Fox, and Jacksonville (2014).

Martin’s contract was terminated to make roster room for safety Harold Jones-Quartey, who stepped in and performed well vs. Oakland after Rolle’s injury. Martin also represents an addition to special teams; he recorded five defensive tackles, an interception and two special teams tackles during the Bears’ preseason.

[MORE BEARS: Not yet time for Bears to 'find out what they have' in Hroniss Grasu]

The Bears also waived punter Spencer Lanning, a sign that Pat O’Donnell is likely back from the knee injury that sidelined him for the Oakland game. The Bears cleared additional roster space with the release of linebacker John Timu, who flashed late in preseason and was added to the roster for special teams but failed to grace the stat sheet on defense or special teams in any category through four games.

What also transpired on Tuesday was the Bears moving tackle Nick Becton from the practice squad to the active roster. Whether that relates to the health of left tackle Jermon Bushrod remains to play out. Bushrod has been hampered by a back strain and missed the Oakland game with concussion and shoulder problems.

Becton has been on the Bears practice squad for the first four weeks of the regular season. He has appeared in one NFL game with San Diego in 2013, also spending time on the practice squads of the Chargers (2013) and Giants (2014) and the Saints active roster (2014). He entered the NFL with San Diego in 2013 as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech.

The Bears did enlist some depth at center with the addition of former Alabama and St. Louis Rams center Barrett Jones. Jones, a member of a Crimson Tide line that included 2012 first-round picks Chance Warmack (No. 10, Tennessee Titans) and D.J. Fluker (No. 11, San Diego Chargers), was taken by the Rams in the 2013 fourth round but has never started a game in the NFL.

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

1. Good games from Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. Here’s a sampling of Pro Football Focus grades for primary middle/inside/will linebackers against New England this year: 

Reggie Ragland (KC): 60.1
Anthony Hitchens (KC): 30.2
Zaire Franklin (IND): 48.6
Najee Goode (IND): 47.1
Kiko Alonso (MIA): 63.9
Raekwon McMillan (MIA): 62.5
Christian Jones (DET): 59.7
Jarrad Davis (DET): 29.8
Telvin Smith Sr. (JAX): 64.1
Myles Jack (JAX): 61.0
Bernardrick McKinney (HOU): 68.7
Zach Cunningham (HOU): 43.2

Think what you will of Pro Football Focus’ grades, but the average here is 53.2. Interestingly, though, the average grade for these 12 players over the course of the 2018 season is 51.5. So maybe the issue is the Patriots have faced a bunch of mediocre-to-bad linebackers, allowing them to take advantage of those soft spots with Sony Michel running the ball and James White catching it. Smith’s PFF grade is 62.3; Trevathan’s is 64.3, so by this measure, they’re better than any of the interior linebackers the Patriots have faced but still are the weak spot in the Bears’ defense (only Jonathan Bullard has a lower PFF grade among players with 100 or more snaps). 

How Smith and Trevathan play will be key in determining how quickly Brady is able to get the ball out (with passes to White), and how many times they get into third-and-less-than-five situations (with Michel running it). Both those factors will be critical for the Bears’ pass rush, which brings us to our next point.

2. Pressure Tom Brady without blitzing. Brady is a master of beating blitzes, completing 23 of 21 passes for 314 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and only one sack when blitzed, per PFF (that’s good for a 138.4 passer rating). When he’s under pressure, though, he has his lowest passer rating — which is still 87.2 — but the point here is that the Bears can’t afford to have to send blitzes to try to get pressure on Brady. The Bears were one of the best teams in the league at pressuring opposing quarterbacks without blitzing before the trip to Miami, and how healthy Khalil Mack really is will be a critical determining factor in those efforts. But when the Bears do earn their pass-rushing opportunities, as Akiem Hicks put it, they need to at least affect Brady and not let him comfortably sit back to pick apart their defense. 

3. Convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. This was a point Taylor Gabriel made this week about the state of the NFL in 2018: You can no longer afford to settle for three points or, worse, come away from a red zone possession with no points. Scoring is up league-wide, and the Patriots have scored 38, 38 and 43 points in their last three games. One of the biggest reasons the Bears lost that shootout in Miami was two turnovers from inside the five-yard line (Jordan Howard’s fumble, Mitch Trubisky’s interception). Stopping New England’s offense will be difficult, and the expectation should be for Sunday to be a high-scoring afternoon. If that’s the case, the Bears will have to get in the end zone every opportunity they get. The good news: New England’s defense is allowing a touchdown on 68 percent of their opponents’ possessions inside the red zone. 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Bears 27. The Bears’ defense sounded properly motivated after getting gouged by Brock Osweiler in Miami last weekend, but that only goes so far when one of the best quarterbacks of all time rolls into town. This winds up being a back-and-forth affair, but the guy with 54 game-winning drives in his regular season and playoff career makes it 55 late in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. A close loss to the Patriots wouldn’t dampen the positive vibes around the Bears, so long as they respond with wins against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in the next two weeks.

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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