Bears

Cutler, Bears dominant all around in thumping of Rams

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Cutler, Bears dominant all around in thumping of Rams

ST. LOUIS (AP) One defender slipped, two others whiffed and Zach Miller had clear sailing into the end zone, unusual for a tight end.

Jeremy Langford found some wide-open spaces, too, for a Chicago Bears offense that hit a high note against one of the NFL's better defenses.

Miller caught two touchdown passes, including an 87-yard score that was Chicago's longest play since 2010, and Langford also had two TDs, leading the Bears to a 37-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.

The Bears (4-5) improved to 3-1 on the road. They brought thousands of fans to the Edward Jones Dome, which had a season-best 58,663 tickets distributed, about 8,000 shy of capacity.

Langford was untouched on an 83-yard TD on a screen and also had a 6-yard scoring run. The running back, filling in for the injured Matt Forte, had seven catches for 109 yards and 73 yards on 20 carries.

Todd Gurley had a 6-yard scoring run on the opening drive for the Rams (4-5), who have lost two straight since entering November with a winning record for the first time since 2006. Their defense entered ranked fifth overall.

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Nick Foles, acquired from the Eagles for Sam Bradford in the winter, has just one TD pass the last four games. He was 17 for 36 for 200 yards with an interception.

Jay Cutler added a 26-yard scramble, the quarterback's longest since 2009, for Chicago. He could have had had more had he not made a safety-first slide in the third quarter.

Gurley was bottled up, rushing for 45 yards on 12 carries with a long of 9 yards, and led St. Louis with three catches for 44 yards.

Wes Welker had three catches for 32 yards, one for a first down, in his 2015 debut six days after signing with St. Louis. The Rams were 4 for 14 on third down, slightly improved from 4 for 37 the previous three games.

Linebacker Akeem Ayers slipped in coverage on Miller's long touchdown. Miler split two defenders and also outran cornerback Trumaine Johnson on his 87-yard score. He had totaled 58 yards receiving on five catches for an 11.6-yard average the first eight games.

Langford, a fourth-round pick who started for the second straight game in place of Forte, had 73 yards on 20 carries and 109 yards on seven receptions.

The Rams found lots of space on their opening 80-yard drive, which featured passes of 29 yards to Jared Cook and 1 yards to Gurley, setting up Gurley's 6-yard scoring run. They mustered 205 yards the rest of the way.

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.