Bears

Cardinals, Carson Palmer prepared for 'weird' from Bears DC Vic Fangio

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Cardinals, Carson Palmer prepared for 'weird' from Bears DC Vic Fangio

Carson Palmer has faced defenses coached by Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on eight different occasions since he came into the NFL as the No. 1-overall pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2003 draft. His teams have beaten Fangio’s four times.

And with all that time and contact, Palmer has no true idea what he’s dealing with in Fangio’s Bears defense, except that it will be “weird.”

“In no way do we feel confident that we know what we’re getting,” Palmer said. “It’s one of those weeks where you’ve just got to study and then be prepared for some kind of pressure out of a weird alignment or weird front that you haven’t seen. Then just react and try to overcome it.”

Fangio doesn’t expect “weird” from Palmer or Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians. Fangio and Arians were members of the same Indianapolis Colts staff under Jim Mora from 1999-2001, and Fangio has seen Palmer from the perspective of three different defenses: Houston, Baltimore, San Francisco and now Chicago.

[MORE BEARS: Bruce Arians has no hard feelings at being passed over for Bears job]

“He’s a great passer, throws a great deep ball, which is something Bruce really likes,” Fangio said. “He’s got good command of their offense. He likes their offense. You can tell that he likes it. He thinks it fits him and I think it does, too. Back in the day, he was a good scrambler and he still can to some degree. He’s a complete quarterback, always has been.”

The NFL is about matchups, and those come in all forms. And history is not always a good reference starting point; witness, Fangio being 4-0 vs. Aaron Rodgers going into last Sunday’s Bears-Packers game and Green Bay leaving Soldier Field having ended Fangio’s streak.

But neither that game nor his own against Fangio have given him a true clue. The result is Palmer needing to study not only this year, not only last year, but even games that don’t matter.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

“I wish, I wish I had a really good feeling of what was coming and when it was coming,” Palmer said. “He presents a lot of different issues, a lot of different fronts, different looks, different pressures. You’ll see a pressure, a handful of pressures in the preseason, and then the first week against the Packers, that you won’t have see again. You’ll expect and practice for those and he’ll tweak it just a little bit and bring it from another side.

“You’ve just got to study as hard as you can and bring up every look from all of last year, all the preseason games when the 1’s, 2’s, 3’s and 4’s are in there, and try to have a good feel for it. And then expect to be surprised by one or two pressures that you see.”

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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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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