Bears

Bengals maul Bears No. 1 defense for 210 yards, 21 points in first half

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Bengals maul Bears No. 1 defense for 210 yards, 21 points in first half

CINCINNATI – The third preseason game is usually the one where starters play into the third quarter. Since most of the defense didn’t play much of the first two quarters while the Cincinnati Bengals were piling up 21 points and 210 yards, Fox pulled most of the No. 1’s to start the third quarter, apparently seeing little reason for making the Bengals feel any better about themselves than they already did.

“I just don’t think we played as tight and as sharp as we did a week ago [beating Indianapolis],” Fox said. “Most of that was on third down, in particular defensively.”

Cincinnati quarterbacks Andy Dalton and A.J. McCarron completed all 12 of their first-half passes, the principal reason the Bengals converted 71 percent (five of seven) third downs in the first half when the game was decided.

And for the disturbing second time in three preseason games, the Bears’ defense with injuries continuing to pile up was pushed methodically backwards for a touchdown on an opponent’s opening possession. And it wasn’t just once.

In game one it was the Miami Dolphins running 14 plays to cover 85 yards, and taking 8 minutes to do it, for their one touchdown.

[MORE: 'No turnovers' a rare bright spot in Bears loss to Bengals]

This time it was the Cincinnati Bengals driving 77 yards and taking 16 plays and 9 minutes 11 seconds to do it. But while the second-string defense rallied somewhat in the Miami game, the No. 1 unit had it happen again with a drive covering 71 yards in the second quarter.

“We'll all look at this and think, 'What can we do better?'” said linebacker Jared Allen. “We all expect to play well. We're all going to compete to push each other. I think we have a lot of depth at that position, but I think it's still new to us.

“So we've got to keep on grinding, keep on pushing it. Take coaching. There's always highs, there's always lows. Again, we'll learn from it. It's better it happened now, then let it happen when the games count. It's a learning tool.”

Defensive line

The misfortunes along the defensive front took a devastating turn early against the Bengals when nose tackle Eddie Goldman, a pivotal player already because of the coming suspension of Jeremiah Ratliff, had to be escorted to the sideline with a possible concussion after an unsuccessful goal-line stand in the first quarter. The news worsened when Ratliff was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury, about which coach John Fox said only that “it’s not broken.”

Ratliff has not played 16 games in a season since 2011 and won’t this year because of the three-game suspension for a DWI incident. Ratliff took an inside rush of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the first quarter, lost containment and allowed Dalton to convert a third-and-6 with an eight-yard scramble. His suspension guarantees a month of uninterrupted healing time for his ankle, after which.

[RELATED: The good (and bad) standouts from the Bears' loss to the Bengals]

Will Sutton delivered a much-needed stop on a third-and-1 early in the second quarter when the Bears needed a play by someone after a disappointing start on both sides of the football. “Will was a force,” said linemate Ego Ferguson. Sutton, playing extensively at nose tackle with the Goldman and Ratliff injuries, got excellent pad level vs. the bigger Cincinnati linemen.

Linebackers

The loss of two starting defensive linemen – Goldman and Ratliff – did the linebackers and run defense in general no favors. The group turned in a handful of individual impact plays but was not able to consistently get pressure against the Cincinnati offensive line.

Lamarr Houston had his best day since last year’s New England Patriots game when he tore his ACL on a sack celebration. This time Houston, working at right outside linebacker, collected two sacks and was generally strong at the point closing against the run.

Shea McClellin had his name called for three tackles on the initial Cincinnati drive but all were after gains and two after pass completions. His night continued spiraling when he was called for roughing the passer on a blitz of backup quarterback A.J. McCarron in the second quarter.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

Jared Allen made two open-field stops in the first half, making tackles despite being locked up with Bengals blockers.

After a strong showing against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, Pernell McPhee was an overall non-factor throughout.

The defense was without outside linebacker Sam Acho, who practiced all week but was ill and held out of Saturday’s game. Acho was one of the defensive standouts through the first two preseason games, with a sack and quarterback hit in each game plus one tackle for loss, interception and pass broken up.

Three reasons why the Bears' offense should have success against the Patriots' defense

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Three reasons why the Bears' offense should have success against the Patriots' defense

Every team will try to scheme against what its opponent does best. Not every team does it as well as Bill Belichick consistently has in his Hall of Fame tenure as the coach of the New England Patriots. 
 
This is what Belichick is famous for, beyond the five Super Bowl trophies and historic partnership with Tom Brady. That thing your team’s offense does best? He’s going to take it away. 
 
That can create a mental challenge for an opposing coach during the week. Do you focus on doing something other than what your offense does best because Belichick is going to identify and scheme against it, or do you try to accentuate what you do best so it can’t be taken away? 
 
“That’s that whole chasing the cat’s tail thing,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “All of the sudden you start out-thinking to yourself, ‘What the heck?’ That’s the mystique, and that’s what they do. They’ve earned that over time because of the success they’ve had. 
 
“When you don’t go too crazy with that and balance it and control what you can control. Then in the end, win, lose or draw, no matter what, you at least feel good you approached it the right way, and you weren’t, ‘Oh shoot, I should have done this. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.’”
 
When Taylor Gabriel and the Atlanta Falcons faced the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, everybody on that team knew Belichick would do what he could to take Julio Jones out of the game. But that didn’t make preparations any easier. 
 
“We knew he was going to take away Julio, but we didn’t know how he was going to do it,” Gabriel said. “So it’s just just something you kind of have to adjust to when you get in the game.”
 
Jones only had four catches in that game, and the Falcons were able to quickly adjust to how he was taken away — though it wasn’t enough to keep them from a historic collapse and ultimate overtime loss. 
 
Tight end Dion Sims played New England eight times during his four years with the Miami Dolphins, and came away with a healthy respect for the scheme and the players on that defense. 
 
“They’re fundamentally sound, they got good coaching over there, a good staff,” Sims said. “You gotta be prepared because they come out and they play their ass off.” 
 
But what should give the Bears confidence they can mentally and physically beat New England’s defense?
 
1. The Patriots’ defense isn’t what it once was
 
The way Bears coaches and players have talked about New England’s defense this week has been with reverence and respect. But lately, the Patriots’ defense production hasn’t quite equalled its reputation. 
 
Maybe it started with Nagy’s Kansas City Chiefs launching 42 points and over 500 yards of offense against New England in 2017’s nationally-televised season opener. Maybe Super Bowl LII, in which the Philadelphia Eagles ripped off 41 points with a backup quarterback, was another turning point. Or maybe the Patriots’ 43-40 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night, which looked more like a Big 12 game than an NFL game, further chipped away at that mystique. 
 
New England’s defense heads to Chicago ranked 18th in points allowed (24.7) and has allowed 400 or more yards of offense in four of six games this year. They’re 19th in defensive DVOA, though Pro Football Focus’ grades do peg this group fourth, behind only the Bears, Rams and Eagles. 
 
What this defense does well is take the ball away, with eight interceptions and four fumble recoveries critical in propping up a defense that isn’t good on third down (44 percent conversion rate, 25th) or in the red zone (68 percent, 26th). But as long as the Bears' ball security is better than its two-turnovers-inside-the-five-yard-line showing in Miami on Sunday, an offense that scored 48 and 28 points in its last two games should be in good shape. 
 
2. Multiple weapons
 
How Belichick schemes against a Bears offense that’s been explosive and productive in its last two weeks will be fascinating to see on Sunday. Maybe it’ll be Tarik Cohen, who Belichick said is “a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.” Maybe it’ll be making sure Taylor Gabriel doesn’t beat them deep (“The execution on that was like 99 out of 100,” Belichick said of Mitch Trubisky’s 54-yard deep ball to Gabriel against Miami). Or maybe it’ll be dropping seven or eight guys into coverage, spying Trubisky and forcing the second-year Bears quarterback to make good decisions and fit passes into tight windows. Or maybe it’ll be something else entirely. 
 
This goes back to the guessing game, though, and it’s one the Bears can’t allow themselves to play. 
 
“I think you can spend too much time on that,” Nagy said. “I look at that and I think I've said it before, it can be kind of like chasing the cat's tail. You've got to be careful of that and when you just start worrying about what you do — and of course here or there you might so something a little bit different — but if you just start doing things different because of one coach, now you've stopped worrying about just controlling what you can control and I haven't found too much success with that.”
 
The good news for the Bears, though, is they seem to have the multitude of weapons necessary to have success against a Belichick defense. Kansas City showed it on Sunday — when the Patriots took away Kelce, Kareem Hunt racked up 185 yards from scrimmage, while Tyreek Hill gouged New England for 142 yards on seven catches with three touchdowns.
 
So if the plan is to take away Cohen, that could lead to opportunities for Gabriel, or vice versa. Or if the plan is to drop seven or eight into coverage, that would give Jordan Howard an opportunity to carve out yards on the ground.  
 
“They utilize all their players, the backs, the tight ends, the receivers, the quarterback, they all have production, so if you take one away, they just go to the next guy, and that’s hard to defend,” Belichick said. “There are a lot of options on some of those plays, which guy is going to end up with the ball based on a quarterback’s decision, if it’s a check-with me type of play, bubbles and look passes and RPOs and things like that, it’s up to the quarterback to make the right decision and Trubisky’s done a good job of that. I think all those things, they keep getting better and they’re hard to defend.”
 
3. History repeating itself
 
In Nagy’s only meeting with New England as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, his offense scored 42 points — and that’s a number that has resonated in the Bears’ locker room and practice fields this week.  
 
“You have to go into this game with confidence and know that we’re playing against a great group of guys who’ve been there, been to the Super Bowl and then they also have Tom Brady on the other side,” Sims said. “It’s important that we capitalize on everything and try to be mistake-free.” 
 
“What the defense is giving you is what the offense will take — what good offenses will do,” Gabriel said. “I feel like we have those type of minds up there in the booth and on the field with us to figure out what those guys are doing and how we want to attack it.”
 
The Bears’ offense is young, from the coach to offensive coordinator to most of the players that populate it. Beating New England, even if its defense isn’t what it used to be, would send a message around the league that the Bears are for real. Until the Patriots are dethroned in consecutive years, or even finish a season with fewer than, say, 12 wins, they’re still the Patriots.  
 
But while this team is young, it does have a handful of guys who’ve competed against New England on some of the NFL’s biggest stages. So expect guys like Gabriel, Burton and even Nagy to not allow this team to let facing the Patriots become daunting on Sunday. 
 
“It’s not difficult at all,” Gabriel said of avoiding thinking about that mystique. “Just like this team, we have the weapons to take advantage of those one-on-one matchups. I don’t care what defense you are, you’re going to have a one-on-one matchup somewhere unless you’re dropping everybody. So as long as you’re staying the pace and being confident in what you’re doing, I feel like we’ll be okay.” 

Bears return to Soldier Field as home underdogs against the Patriots

Bears return to Soldier Field as home underdogs against the Patriots

The Bears were getting used to life in the big chair. Chicago was favored in each of their last four games, but it all came crashing down at the hands of Brock Osweiler in overtime last week.

The Miami Dolphins pulled off the upset, and now the Bears return home to take on one of the best teams in the league.

Even if they had won in Miami, Chicago likely still would have been underdogs to the New England Patriots on Sunday, but as it stands, Bill Belichick and company are favored by three on most major sportsbooks, according to Vegas Insider.

The line initially opened at Patriots by 2.5, but it would seem that money placed on New England pushed the spread a little more in the Bears’ favor.

Vegas is expecting another higher-scoring game for both teams, with the over/under sitting at 49. Given that the Patriots have scored at least 38 points in each of their last three games, the Bears’ defense may have some trouble keeping this game low on the scoreboard.

In Week 6, home underdogs went 4-1 against the spread and 3-2 straight up. According to Bet America, home underdogs have covered in 20 of their 30 games this season, which bodes well for a Bears team facing a tough task at Soldier Field.