Bears

Moon: How do Bears slow Brady, beat Patriots?

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Moon: How do Bears slow Brady, beat Patriots?

Friday, Dec. 10, 2010
Posted: 9:46 a.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Every game turns on a small handful of plays or factors. Here are the three that will decide the Bears-New England Patriots game Sunday:

1. Blunt Brady

If the Bears can't fully stop Tom Brady, recent history says they stand a better-than-most chance of containing him, at least partially, and that may enough.

The Bears have held nine of the 10 "regular" starting quarterbacks they've faced this season to a passer rating below that quarterback's season average. Only Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck was better than his average. The Chicago defense has allowed an average passer rating of just 71.1 while Jay Cutler has been passing at a career-best 92.8. Only the Green Bay Packers (69.6) have been better at stopping passers.

Why that opposing quarterback rating matters in this case is because the only two teams to defeat the New England Patriots (New York Jets, Cleveland Browns) were responsible for two of Brady's three lowest passer ratings of the season and his two lowest completion percentages.

Brady hasn't thrown an interception in seven games, so blunting him is far, far easier schemed than done, particularly since only four teams have given up fewer sacks than the Patriots. But with a vulnerable defense, Brady is the absolute point of the New England spear with his own personal ball-control program built around completing 66.8 percent of his passes.

It is not a spear that lives with deep thrusts in the Martz downfield tradition. The Patriots average 11.8 yards; the Bears by comparison average 12.4. But Brady has thrown 385 passes and only four of them were intercepted vs. 27 going for touchdowns.

"That's why he's got all those Super Bowl rings," said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. "He doesn't make many mistakes."
2. Stay the course

The change in offensive philosophy from pass-first to balanced has been the biggest single key to the makeover of the Bears' season, from a stretch of losing three of four to reeling off five straight victories. The commitment to running the ball has helped bring the offensive line together and, if not necessarily reducing the sack total down to acceptable levels, has taken a huge chunk of pressure off Cutler.

The Bears are 7-0 this season when they rush for 100 yards. All three of their losses have come when they've rushed for few 75 yards, regardless of attempts or average per carry.

Their play-calling has been nearly 50-50 run-pass over the last five games. Cutler has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in three wins in the five-game run and, most important, has thrown 10 touchdown passes vs. three interceptions.

"It starts at the top with Mike Martz," Cutler said. "He does a good job in meetings of keeping guys positive and keeping them on point with the system and believing in it and showing guys examples on tape of how the system works -- if we do it right, what would happen.

"And guys got it. There were glimpses of it on tape, and guys understood if we completely got everything down that we could be explosive. Are we there yet? Not yet, but we're definitely on our way."

The problem with New England, however, is that no defensive schemer is better at forcing players, coaches and teams out of what they want to do than Bill Belichick. He has done it to Martz in the past and one dangerous scenario for the Bears would be Belichick completely shutting down the Chicago run game to the point where Martz and Cutler become impatient and risk turnovers in search of big plays, particularly if they believe they cannot afford their balanced game plan in the face of some quick New England points.

The Bears are 6-1 when they have had an edge in time of possession, a normally meaningless statistic if only looked at in terms of minutes and seconds. But every minute that the Chicago offense is on the field, New England's is not. It is a course Martz needs to stay on more than against any opponent to date this season.
3. Take the points
The Bears are 8-1 when they have scored 18 or more points. Only once this season (in Detroit) have they scored touchdowns on every possession reaching inside the red zone but they have won four of the five times that they have scored points of some sort.

The temptation may arise to press for touchdowns when facing a scoring offense like New England's, and when dealing with a defense like the 2010 Patriots which is 18th in points allowed and among the NFL's worst against the pass.

The Patriots committed three turnovers in the losses both to the Jets and Browns, accounting for two-thirds of New England's entire 2010 turnover total. Only three teams have taken the ball away more than the Bears' 26. The defense is tasked with adding to the New England turnover total and the offense and special teams need to turn every freebie into points and avoid point-less gambles.

"We have to be detailed to combat Tom Brady and the Patriots," said linebacker Lance Briggs. "We have to play fast and physical. We know he's going to take what defenses give him. He's going to take what he sees. We have to be ready when that ball does come out, we have to punish ball carriers and be opportunistic when that ball is in the air and get pressure on him."

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.

Bears, Matt Nagy working at work-rest balance equation to pull back from annual injury abyss

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USA TODAY

Bears, Matt Nagy working at work-rest balance equation to pull back from annual injury abyss

The Bears are at rest right now. The weeks between the end of the final minicamp and the start of the “season” that runs from the start of training camp through the final game represent the last time most if not all players will be truly 100 percent until early 2019.

In not too many days the Bears will begin their training camp, upshifting the pace, depth and urgency of formation of the 2018 team. Along with that comes the annual dilemma, not unique to the Bears, of balancing practice and strength training to achieve the football maximum while simultaneously staying within a plan calculated to minimize what has become a Bears curse since the departure of the Lovie Smith staff:

Injuries.

Injuries not confined to camp and practices, but also to creating a landscape that results in minimizing injuries throughout the season. And it is a complex equation that the Bears are trying to balance, one that reaches beyond football and involves complicated factors.

Matt Nagy is putting a small fingerprint of his own, instituting an 8:15 a.m. start time for the vast majority of Bourbonnais practices, “to keep guys out of the heat for the most part,” Nagy said.

Practice limitations have been mandated by virtue of collective bargaining agreements. The quirk for the Bears has been that as practice intensity has been legislated downward, injury totals (using players on IR as an apples-to-apples measure) have risen. The debate then has gone to whether lessened practices in fact saves players or ironically results in more injuries in games because players have not been sufficiently hardened for the intensity spike that games are.

Along with that is the need to truly learn schemes and plays in live action.

“I think football is a game, like many games, that you have to get calloused to,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said during minicamp. “It’s like when we go out the first day of training camp with pads on, and guys are hitting a little bit. You’re going to be taken aback and get mad that the guy just hit you too hard. But then by a week or two later, you’re getting hit like that and don’t even realize it. You gotta get calloused.

“So I do believe, even though you couldn’t prove it objectively or quantify it, I do believe that it’s a problem.”

Do the Bears need to rest more?

Nagy has seen the value of rest. Andy Reid, the head coach when Nagy worked in Philadelphia and Kansas City, is a lofty 16-3 in games after off-weeks during his coaching career. Last year his Chiefs did lose a road game post-bye, but Reid was 4-0 in Kansas City’s other games coming off more than the normal six days between games.

Other than the Bears, the five teams with the greatest number of schedule-created off days in the 2017 season appeared to put the time to good use:

Team Off days 2017 record (*playoffs)
Kansas City 12 10-6*
Buffalo 8 9-7*
Chicago 8 5-11
San Diego 8 9-7
Philadelphia 7 13-3*

A case can be made that recovery days are often as important as the effort days, that athletes perform better after their bodies have had even a brief window to heal. Coaches, too. As one Tour de France cyclist told this writer, people go too hard on the easy days, so they don’t fully recover, and too easy on the hard days.

Two-a-day, padded full-go practices were once the norm. Now consecutive padded practices don’t happen in-season, and even in camp, the objective is not as it once was, to weed out, but to develop. “I think back in the day you could say that it was ‘super-hard,’” Nagy said. “Now I’m not sure you’d consider it ‘super-hard.’”

The correlation between rest and results is far from exact. Marc Trestman was adamant about players getting off their feet after practices, and yet few teams sustained the level of injury, particularly on defense, that his Bears did. Lovie Smith’s practices were in the heat of the days, camp and other, with occasional night practices as prep for night games.

Year Coach Camp practice Year-end IR
2012 Lovie Smith 2/2:30 p.m., 7 p.m. (three) 6
2013-14 Marc Trestman 9 a.m., 3:15 p.m. (three) 6, 10
2015-17 John Fox 9:35/11:15 a.m. 12, 21, 19

Apart from any empirical or other scientific information, anecdotal evidence suggests that rest is a significant factor in influencing outcomes. The most elementary casual indicator is the importance teams, coaches and players universally assign to in-season off-weeks. The break period is utilized for self-scouting, which is going on constantly anyway, but also for getting healthy.

If the cluster of a few days off (players are routinely given the off-weekend plus the preceding day or two to themselves) has some demonstrable physical benefits, then any structuring of normal weeks to build in recovery time stands to reason as a step toward healing during a 17-week stretch that leaves no one completely healthy.

But it’s not that simple, particularly in-season. “They’ll have off on Monday, then be back on Tuesday,” Nagy said. “And with the game-planning, you have to build that in, obviously.”

Positive offseason

At the risk of installing a jinx here, the Bears came through the offseason program without apparent severe injuries, and with key players (Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long, Allen Robinson) being brought along conservatively in their returns from ’17 season-ending injuries. At the same time, the requisite work was put in installing a new offense and reigniting a returning defense.

Training camp and preseason now are next-level intensity, and the Bears lost offensive linemen Eric Kush and Jordan Morgan, receiver Cam Meredith and long snapper Pat Scales in the time frame between the start of camp and the start of the regular season.

The objective moves to another level of managing the balance between preserving bodies for when it matters and getting done the work that has to be covered. Some of that was accomplished with some understandings of historical perspectives.

“I told the guys the analogy the other day, the history of training camp in the NFL where there was no such thing as OTA’s years ago,” Fangio said. “But years ago there were six preseason games and two-a-days for all that time. Then it went down to four preseason games and two-a-day’s. And when I say ‘two-a-days,’ they were two-a-days several days in a row.

“Now we’re to one-a-day’s with some legislated days off in there. These [offseason] practices are those practices that we’re missing that teams from the past had gotten. We view them as very, very important, and our guys have had good focus. So we’re working on the same stuff we always have, but I try to tell them that this isn’t an ‘OTA practice;’ this is a training camp for the guys of yesteryear without pads on.”

Tarik Cohen named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team

Tarik Cohen named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team

The Chicago Bears are entering 2018 with one of the best young backfields in the NFL. The combination of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will give defenses nightmares all season long, especially when both players are on the field at the same time. Howard brings a physical and grinding running style while Cohen can take it the distance from anywhere on the field.

Cohen's field-flipping ability makes him especially dangerous in the return game. He's so dangerous, in fact, that he was named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team as a returner.

Cohen contributed in every which way for the Bears in 2017, bringing an explosive element to Chicago's run game, pass game and return game. He finished in the top 10 in punt-return and kick-return average.

Cohen ended his rookie season with 87 carries for 370 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. He added 53 catches for 353 yards and one touchdown as a receiver. He gained 272 yards and a touchdown on punt returns and 583 more on kick returns, bringing his season totals to 1,583 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.

First-year coach Matt Nagy has been smitten with Cohen since the offseason workouts began. He's expected to use the second-year back a lot more than John Fox and Dowell Loggains did in 2017 which should give the 'human joystick' even more opportunities to make the kind of plays that will make him one of the NFL's most feared offensive weapons.