Bears

Head cases: Are field conditions affecting Bears?

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Head cases: Are field conditions affecting Bears?

Friday, Dec. 17, 2010
2:47 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The state of TCF Bank Field is looking more and more like there will be football in the great north on Monday night, according to individuals at the University of Minnesota.

But the issue of whether or not the Bears will play the Minnesota Vikings there now may be working in the Vikings favor, possibly to a significant degree.

The growing sense around the Bears is that this whole mess is in the heads of the players, and that is a potential disaster for a team possibly one victory away from a division championship. It may be in Vikings heads as well but the Bears are the ones with something to lose Monday night besides their health.

It isnt the number of media queries directed at players feelings on the situation. It isnt that players answer the questions; they do that, usually very accommodatingly. Its literally the length of the answers that is troubling.

Normally players, and anyone for that matter, are short and dismissive of non-issues or things not worth the attention. But the safety concern with this game and it is absolutely warranted is in peoples heads almost the way you might expect an opponent would want to be after delivering a blow intended to intimidate.

Man, its like a huge fight, a big ordeal all year about concussions and the NFL saying, What can we do to protect the players: Lets send them out to Minnesota on the potentially frozen surface, linebacker Lance Briggs said with more than a touch of disgust. Some things make me want to scratch my head all the time...

But whats the point of playing there if Adrian Peterson goes down with a career-ending injury? Hes a running back. Guys are going to be sliding all over the place. You never know. It could cost you in a bunch of different ways."

Hes not alone.

This is the year were cracking down on players safety and concussions and stuff like that, cornerback Charles Tillman added. You want to fine guys 75,000 for blows to the head, but are we going to play on this frozen field? I dont know. It doesnt really make too much sense to me.

Make no mistake: These are not soft people. They are some of the voices who have spoken about the realities of this sport, that it is rough and people do get hurt. But this situation is getting to even them.

I dont want people to get the wrong idea that guys dont want to play outdoors, said safety Chris Harris. We play outdoors here. We just played in 6 inches of snow Sunday. So guys dont have a problem playing outdoors dont have a problem with the weather, with the wind, with snow, with any of it.

We dont care about weather, we really dont. We can play in zero-degree weather; it doesnt hurt us. Its more the playing surface than the actual weather.

But the issue is safety. Thats a field thats not equipped Minnesotas not equipped for playing outdoor games. A stadium thats been under snow for a month in those temperatures its been minus-degree weather up there. The field will be icy. It just doesnt make for a safe environment.

And Harris, like Tillman, Briggs and others, goes on extensively about their concerns, without a whole lot of prodding from anyone. If the Bears are talking about this in the locker room and not as much about the Vikings, that is when a bad slip and fall could definitely occur.

I mean, Im talking about it now, and when we get out there obviously were going to check it out, Briggs said. But once the whistle blows, its time to play football.

That would be a good thing.

Stupid consideration

The one truly inane element filtering through various discussions of venue for the Bears-Vikings game is Minnesotas concern that playing in Detroit or Indianapolis or St. Louis renders this too much of a home game for the Bears. Those cities are too easy for Bears fans to reach and turn support into an advantage.

Suggestions ranging from Atlanta to New Orleans to wherever have taken this to a different level of stupid.

So the idea is that the Vikings, if they cant have the game in front their home fans would rather have it at a neutral site where no one in the host city cares about the two teams? If the NFL stands by and allows that logic to enter into the discussion, then it deserves even more criticism than it is getting already for letting the decision (and misguided work) on TCF Bank Stadium drag on and on and on.

The Bears already have been distracted and inconvenienced enough by a situation brought on through zero fault of their own. To make any decision based on keeping the game away from a huge pool of interested fans would simply make the situation just a little more ridiculous than it already is.

Backup QBs rule

While the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers turn to reserve quarterbacks out of necessity brought on by injuries, the Washington Redskins reportedly are benching starter Donovan McNabbb for the rest of the season and turning to Rex Grossman as their starter.

And just noodling here, but before the talk goes much further on how lucky the Bears are to be facing backup quarterbacks this season, its possibly worth remembering that Michael Vick was a backup coming into this season. So was Tom Brady in 2001. So was Brett Favre in 1992. So was Matt Cassel. So was Lou Gehrig.

Joe Webb probably isnt the next name to go on that list. But backups are dangerous because they know the value of opportunities when they arent handed to them.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

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.” 

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.