Bears

Contract decision points approaching fast for Bears, players

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Contract decision points approaching fast for Bears, players

What exactly the Bears are playing for over the final quarter of the 2015 season can be debated, whether for the long-shot playoff chance or pride or whatever. For a handful of significant players, however, the reality is that they are playing for contracts beyond this year, in Chicago or elsewhere.

“We’re in a performance-based business,” coach John Fox said. “That doesn’t change whether you’re first-year, second-year, 14th year. Our players understand that, our staff understands it. It’s a competitive business, so we’re evaluating every game, every practice.”

And while the team very obviously is constantly evaluating players, the reverse is also true.

Into this final quarter, one gets the feeling that money, while always the prime motivator in virtually all contract decisions, will not be the sole driver for some players in their evaluations. It wasn’t for them when they chose the Bears in free agency and won’t automatically be this time, either.

The disappointment of falling to 5-7 has not overshadowed a widespread belief in the locker room that the Bears under Fox are building something special. There is more than a cliché interest in remaining part of what they have started.

“This feels to me more like a family-oriented place,” said defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, approaching the end of his one-year contract. “Here, when a DB gets a pick, you see five, six defensive linemen running downfield. You admire that, and I want to be a part of that.

“It’s very special here.”

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Unlike some years of the recent past, the Bears have only four primary current starters on both offense and defense coming out of contract. On offense: running back Matt Forte, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, tight end Zach Miller and guard Patrick Omameh.

The defense has Jenkins, linebackers Sam Acho and Shea McClellin and cornerback Tracy Porter, all integral parts of remaking the defense almost entirely.

“To be honest, I love playing for coach Fox, the direction we’re going here as a team,” said Porter, who was with Fox for 2012 in Denver and witnessed some of the culture turnaround Fox accomplished there. “Should they want me to come back, I would definitely be interested in it.

“I know it’s a business, so I can’t sit here and say I know they’ll want me back, that I know I’ll be here — I just know this is a real good organization and coach Fox and Ryan (Pace) are doing tremendous jobs changing the culture here. It’s fun to play football. When you have an organization where football is fun, you definitely want to be here.”

The Bears are expected to make a concerted push for Porter, whose 17 pass breakups lead the Bears despite his being inactive with a hamstring strain the first two games and not starting until game four.

Jenkins was a second-round draft choice of the Washington Redskins. But when Washington did not step up last offseason, Jenkins chose Chicago and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio among other pursuers, including the Arizona Cardinals.

Jenkins has started every game and is one of four Bears pass rushers with four or more sacks this season.

“Now I have a second chance to establish myself and make this my permanent home,” Jenkins said. “There’s more urgency for me to stay here, so I want to get my production up and be more of a leader.”

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With Martellus Bennett on injured reserve and a roster question mark in 2016 even with a year remaining on his deal, attention necessarily goes toward Miller, who has already set personal bests for receiving yards (228) and touchdowns (four) with four games yet to play.

“I just love it here,” Miller said. “This organization is on the right path, and I can’t say enough about the things they’ve done here. Nobody even gave us a chance to be competitive this year, and I don’t want to leave.

“My family loves it here, and that’s a big thing that plays into this for me. That has some cash value.”

The Bears did not pick up their option for a fifth year under McClellin’s rookie contract. But coaches moved him to inside linebacker after two underwhelming seasons at defensive end and last year at outside linebacker and have consistently voiced positives about McClellin as a leader and solidifying presence in the inside.

McClellin said that for the first time in a while he is genuinely having fun at football again, and “for sure I definitely feel at home now, finally. The position I’m in and everything — I try not to think about the future and just work hard and everything’ll take care of itself.

“Yeah, you want to be back, but it’s a business. To leave and go somewhere else would be unfortunate, but it is what it is.”

Adam Schefter: Bears plan on Khalil Mack playing vs. Patriots

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USA TODAY

Adam Schefter: Bears plan on Khalil Mack playing vs. Patriots

Khalil Mack has yet to miss a game in his NFL career. He doesn’t plan on breaking that streak on Sunday.

ESPN insider Adam Schefter told the “Kirk and Callahan show” on WEEI in Boston that the Bears expect their star pass rusher to play this week against the New England Patriots.

Mack missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday with the ankle injury he suffered last week against the Miami Dolphins.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio indicated this week that the outside linebacker could potentially play even if he doesn’t practice due to the injury.

Assuming Mack does take the field on Sunday, he won’t be 100 percent, and it’s unclear how much of an impact he’ll be able to have.

Last week was his least productive game of the season, and he earned a career-low grade from Pro Football Focus, with two missed tackles and only one pressure generated on 33 pass-rushing snaps.

The Bears are going to need more from Mack to slow down Tom Brady and the Patriots offense that’s averaging nearly 40 points per game over the last three weeks.

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

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USA Today Sports Images

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.”