Perspective more important than specifics as Bears ready for Packers


Perspective more important than specifics as Bears ready for Packers

Like it or not, and regardless of an outcome Thursday night that has the Bears’ point total in single digits and the Packers’ in the 50s, the Bears already have achieved something meaningful in a season dismissed by many as simply remedial at its outset.

Phil Emery was dismissed as general manager in part because he’d been hired to close the gap between the Bears and Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings. The Bears already have lost to all three within the span of their first seven games, and since the NFL doesn’t grade on a curve - just pass-fail - any sense of progress could be dismissed as illusory.

But consider:

Of the Bears’ 11 losses last season, only one (Week 1, OT vs. Buffalo) was as close as three points. This year three of the last six have been by three or fewer, by a total of eight points, most recently by two to the team (Denver) with the NFL’s best defense.

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The loss to Green Bay in week one was by eight points, with the Bears leading at halftime, being a point down (17-16) after three quarters and forcing the Packers to recover an onside kick with 34 seconds left to preserve a win. The Bears have been that close to the Packers as recently as 2013 but the slide from there was precipitous.

The Packers are the standard in the NFC North, Minnesota’s early surge this season notwithstanding. But they don’t represent necessarily a reference point of where the Bears are or how they’ve progressed, beyond the overall point of needing a win in a hugely important game in their season.

“It has nothing to do with record,” said coach John Fox. “Obviously it’s a division game, which we put a lot of stock in. It’s a red-letter game for us as I’m sure it is for them. It’s a conference game, which we didn’t get our first one of those until a couple weeks ago [St. Louis]. So we’re in a situation where it’s an important game regardless of who it’s against."

[MORE: Bears expect Forte, Jeffery back vs. Packers]

In their first meeting with the Packers this year, the Bears’ offense scored on four of its first five possessions through three quarters. And that was with coordinator Adam Gase directing his first offense without Peyton Manning.

Now “I think we’re a little more confident, a little more comfortable in the offense,” said guard Matt Slauson. “[Against Denver] it didn’t really show that, but we are. We’re feeling better as an offensive line. We’ve had a lot of growth this year in this offense. We just need to put it out there on game day."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?


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.


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.