Bears

Rookies already upgrading Bears’ No. 1 defense in win over Colts

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Rookies already upgrading Bears’ No. 1 defense in win over Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – The defensive bar for the Bears’ No. 1 defense was set low by last week’s poor start against the Miami Dolphins, who in two possessions involving starters, gained 132 yards on 21 plays, with a touchdown on Miami’s first possession.

This time the No. 1 defense, faced with a genuine elite quarterback in Andrew Luck, managed to sack him once, limit him to 5-for-9 passing in his three series and while allowing a touchdown, made Luck earn it with a scramble away from pressure.

The various defensive units, with rookies Adrian Amos starting at safety and Eddie Goldman playing the majority of the game at nose tackle, combined for four sacks, three tackles for loss and six quarterback hits. The Bears held the Colts, the NFL’s No. 6 scoring team and No. 3 yardage producers last year, to 11 points and 229 yards. Preseason to be sure, and limited Luck time, but consider it an improvement from the 343 yards allowed to the Dolphins last week.

[MORE: Bears offense makes strides as No. 1 unit scores three times]

“I thought we improved,” said coach John Fox. "Obviously I didn’t like the way we started a week ago. We let them off the hook a couple times with some mistakes. We still had mistakes tonight. But I think we ended up plus-one in turnover ratio and that’s always helpful.”

Defensive line

Rookie Eddie Goldman played extensively at nose tackle after Jeremiah Ratliff started, and Goldman took another step in his NFL development. Goldman provided a stout presence against the run throughout, and got some surprising middle push on Indianapolis quarterbacks. He recovered the Matt Hasselbeck fumble forced by the Sam Acho sack in the third quarter, which was in part caused by Goldman collapsing the pocket back into Hasselbeck’s lap.

Will Sutton broke through for a sack (of Hasselbeck) in the second quarter to force the Colts to settle for a field goal on a possible TD drive. “It just fell right in my lap,” Sutton said, laughing. “I just got off a block, and there he was, so I got him.” Sutton was credited with three solo tackles, one for a loss and a quarterback hit.

Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, both returning from season-ending injuries in 2014, were in uniform for the first time since their injuries, both having been held out of the Miami Dolphins game. “I think they showed good progress and good confidence building in practice,” said Fox. “I think they both probably feel good about getting over that hump.” Houston was credited with one assisted tackle.

[RELATED: Bears push smash-mouth running model to new level in win over Colts]

David Bass notched a sack, four tackles, one for loss, and a quarterback hit.

Linebackers

Pernell McPhee delivered exactly what the Bears thought they were getting when they made the former Baltimore Raven their priority signing of the offseason. McPhee sacked Luck on the Colts’ second play, forced a Luck throwaway with a near-sack on the third, and closed down for a tackle on the first play of Indianapolis’ next series.

Not to be outdone, Jared Allen power-rushed left tackle Anthony Costanzo to force Luck to misfire on another throw in the first quarter.

[MORE: Jeremy Langford flashes potential as Bears rally to beat Colts]

Sam Acho made multiple statement plays in the win over Miami and this game delivered a sack in the third quarter that produced a fumble that Eddie Goldman recovered and the offense converted into a touchdown. “Our guys inside, Eddie and Brandon Dunn, got great push,” Acho said. “Brandon was actually holding onto his feet as I was coming around the edge. Anytime you get pressure up front, it helps the edge rusher, too.”

Secondary

Coverage had its moments, highlighted by cornerback Terrance Mitchell out-fighting Indianapolis wide receiver Donte Moncrief for a second-quarter pass from veteran Hasselbeck. Mitchell has consistently flashed with plays during training camp.

Kyle Fuller embarrassed himself in the second quarter by being thoroughly beaten (without safety help) for a 45-yard gain from Luck to T.Y. Hilton. Fuller then handed the Colts 15 more yards for taunting.

[SHOP: Buy Bears Training Camp gear

The game was the first start for rookie fifth-round safety Adrian Amos, who was credited with three tackles, one a solid open-field solo tackle on speed wideout Phillip Dorsett. “We kind of had him on a pitch count [and] we were kind of taking him out when the first unit came out,” said Fox. Brock Vereen, who lost his starting job to Amos, played physical against the run with a couple of stops in the box. 

Alan Ball allowed Moncrief to run free for a 20-yard completion in the second quarter and was nowhere close to the receiver when Hasselbeck’s pass arrived.

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”