Bears

Bears Week 6 in-foe: A Motown mess

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Bears Week 6 in-foe: A Motown mess

Can Ndamukong Suh mean so much? And the way things are going for both since their divorce, might they want to turn back the clock, take their chances, and continue the relationship?

It would be unwise for the Bears, after two hard-fought, undermanned victories, to think they can walk into Motown, simply throw their pads on the field and beat the 0-5 Lions. The playoff team from last year is beaten down, and probably angry as the Bears eye their bye week with a potential (and improbable) 3-3 record. You can bet John Fox and his coaching staff will be emphasizing the need to be ready, and fight as hard as they have the past two weeks to avoid a two-week-long bad taste. We'll see if the pupils follow those orders in a game there for the taking, but one they'll need to earn — especially early against a desperate Detroit team. Things were just fine for the first quarter-and-a-half of their opener in San Diego, exploding to a 21-3 lead. Then they lost, 33-28. More recently, it's a team that played like the stunning disappointment of their Monday night loss-from-the-jaws-of-victory at Seattle a little more than a week ago lingered six days later.

OFFENSE

The "Hot Mess" starts with an offense that's averaging 49 yards rushing per game. That's 20 yards fewer than the NFL's second-worst unit on the ground, Suh's Dolphins. Over the past four drafts, the Lions have used two first-round picks and two third-rounders on their offensive line. The results on the ground thus far certainly haven't warranted the investment. After running for 860 yards and catching 34 passes last season, it seemed as if all Joique Bell needed was a change-of-pace sub. They seemingly got that in the second round last April in Ameer Abdullah. Bell has missed the last two games with an ankle injury after "gaining" 22 yards on 20 carries the first three weeks, and they haven't committed to Abdullah (40 carries, 132 yards). It got to the point in Sunday's blowout home loss to Arizona that they handed off ten times to undrafted free agent Zach Zenner of South Dakota State, compared to six for Abdullah.

[MORE BEARS: How Adam Gase's 'plan' for Bears QB Jay Cutler is working]

One of the problems with finishing 0-16 (in 2008) without a franchise quarterback is whether you "reach" for one with the top overall pick. Detroit may have done that with Matthew Stafford. Things looked good in 2011, when he threw for over 5,000 yards. But that bar has been difficult to reach since, and has declined each of the past three years, to the point it seems Stafford's been standing in place since. This year's been a step back, for several reasons. But his eight interceptions (against six touchdown passes) leads the NFL, and his 74.8 passer rating ranks 33rd (albeit a notch above Andrew Luck). Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi thought his first year with Stafford was too conservative, and vowed to be more risky, taking shots downfield. It's shot them in the foot so far.

Calvin Johnson isn't battling the ankle problems that plagued him all of last season, but just one of his 32 catches have gone for a touchdown. Golden Tate caught 99 balls a year ago while Megatron limped around, and has 26 through five games (with no TD's) this season. 2014 first-round pick Eric Ebron disappointed as a rookie (25-248, TD in 13 games), and had 15 grabs through the first four games this season, but injured his knee two weeks ago at Seattle and that kept him out of the Cardinals game.

DEFENSE

Here's The Suh Factor:  They've sunk from 2nd to 22nd in overall defense from a year ago. The top run defense (69 yards a game) is now 27th (126.6). The pass defense has dipped five spots to 18th so far this season.

[MORE BEARS: Frustration growing around injury status of Alshon Jeffery]

Making matters worse, the unsung hero, weakside linebacker DeAndre Levy could be done for the year. Head coach Jim Caldwell said Monday he'd leave that in doctors' hands after last season's second-leading tackler in the NFL (first in solos) missed the first four games with a hip injury. He tried coming back Sunday, then left after 17 snaps when he re-aggravated it. Josh Bynes has done his best attempting to fill Levy's shoes.

Suh wasn't the lone departure up front. Nick Fairley joined St. Louis' deep D-Line, while rotation guys C.J. Mosely and George Johnson were also allowed to leave. One of the replacements, former Saint Tyrunn Walker, is already done for the year due to injury. The bright spot up front has been 2013 first-rounder Ziggy Ansah (who concussed Jimmy Clausen in Week 16 last December), who's tied for the league lead with five sacks. He'll be Charles Leno Jr.'s next challenge. But Haloti Ngata (the five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle acquired from Baltimore to replace Suh),  has had trouble staying on the field at age 31. After missing all of training camp with a hamstring pull, he sat out last weekend with a calf injury sustained six days earlier in Seattle.

The safety tandem of Pro Bowler Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo certainly benefited a year ago from that up-front dominance, combining for 11 interceptions. The entire secondary has three thus far (including a Quin pick-six), and, with the help of Sunday's six turnovers, is minus-five in that ratio.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

SPECIAL TEAMS

While the Bears units settled down Sunday in Kansas City versus one of the elite overall units in the league run by Dave Toub (and actually "won," considering Pernell McPhee's blocked field goal), they'll need to be spot-on in kickoff coverage. That's where Abdullah's been his most dangerous thus far, ranking second with a 31.6 average. Amazingly, through five games, the Lions have attempted just three field goals, with Matt Prater connecting each time, the longest from 41 yards.

*Get the latest from Bears practice during the week with Dan Jiggetts and Chris Boden. Tune in Wednesday's at 4:30 p.m. for "Bears Huddle," when you'll hear from John Fox, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers and several players. Then come back Thursday at 4 p.m. this week for "Bears Blitz," with the latest from Fox, offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Jay Cutler and a handful of other players, previewing Sunday's matchup in Detroit*

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.