Bears

Run Bears, run: Ground game can ground Patriots

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Run Bears, run: Ground game can ground Patriots

Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010
Posted 5:54 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

In terms of ranking a game, the Bears meeting with the New England Patriots will be less important than, say, a game against Detroit, Green Bay or Minnesota, or any NFC team for that matter. Those games factor into playoff tiebreakers more directly than a game with even a very good AFC team, which the Bears will see in two of their next three games.

But the main reason that the New England game is in fact as monumental as it is, apart from any PatriotsTom BradyBill Belichick mystique, is because of what a loss would do to the Bears playoff situation.

The Bears hold a one-game edge on Green Bay, which is in Detroit to face a wobbling Lions team. The Packers are fully expected to be 9-4 by late Sunday afternoon.

And so will the Bears if they cannot overcome the 10-2 Patriots. At that point the tiebreakers would begin coming strongly into play and the Bears have only a one-game edge over the Packers in division play. That could vanish on Jan. 2 in Lambeau Field. The only sure route to the playoffs for the Bears lies in winning out over four teams generally playing well at this time of the season.

I think every game is huge at this point, said quarterback Jay Cutler. Were 9-3; everyone is vying for the playoffs. Last game was a big game for us. We had to win that one. We have to win this one. After the Patriots weve got to look forward to the next three."

Not the old 2010 Bears offense

The Chicago offense is nothing like it was in the first portion of the season. Through the 4-3 run prior to the off-week, the Bears averaged 18 points per game despite calling an average of nearly 35 pass plays (attempts plus sacks, and not including Cutler runs) per game.

Since going balanced (translation: run-intensive) during the off-week, the Bears have averaged 30.2 pass plays per game. They have hit their early season average of 35 pass plays only once in the last five games.

Yet in spite of contracting the aerial component of the offense, the Bears have gone from that 18-point average to 24 nearly a full touchdown better per game. The 16 points scored in the shutout win over Miami has been the only game in which the Bears have scored fewer than 22 points in the 5-0 run.

From a purely numbers standpoint, that may not seem stellar when facing a team that has scored fewer than 23 points exactly twice in 12 games the two losses, scoring 14 vs. both the Jets and Cleveland Browns.

Yardage rankings are meaningless when assessing the Patriots. On offense they rank a pedestrian 11th in passing yards and 13th in rushing, yet they are No. 1 in the NFL with 31.6 points per game. More to the relevant time of this season now the Patriots have averaged 40 points in the last four games and the low was 31. Stopping or even slowing Brady is the key to the game for the Bears but only the Jets (the first time) and Browns managed that.

Brady is the best, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. He knows what to do with the football. If you play zone, he throws the checkdowns. If you put seven in the box, he runs it. He just knows where to go with the football every time. Youre not going to trick him.

You may get pressure on him, you may hurt him a little bit, but hes smart, he has a great arm, he knows everything.

But.not the old 2010 Pats either

The Patriots have held only the Dolphins (14), Vikings (18) and Jets (3) to fewer than 20 points this season. But they have five No. 1s and three No. 2s as starters on their depth chart and Ive seen them get better from week to week, coach Lovie Smith said.

New England ranking 31st in passing yards allowed and 19th in rushing yards is of absolutely no comfort to the offense that needs to deal effectively with that defense to both score its own points and keep Brady and the offense off the field as much as possible.

They remind me a lot of our offense, playing better than theyre ranked because theyre playing better now than the beginning of the year, said center Olin Kreutz. If you watched our offense in the Washington or Seattle games, youre not watching the same offense.

Matching up

Players making or not making impact plays will determine Sundays outcome. Games arent played on paper or in theory.

But they are played by players in systems, and Bears-Patriots is a special one. Two weeks ago Lovie Smiths version of the Cover-2 system handled Michael Vick operating the West Coast scheme of Andy Reid. Now the offense of Mike Martz is against the defense of Bill Belichick, a matchup that has not gone well for Martz since a regular-season win in 2001 that was followed by an epic upset in that seasons Super Bowl.

A major portion of the Belichick aura has been forged through his use of a 3-4 base defense but with unique variations on the theme in many important games against elite offenses (including Martzs).

The Bears fortunes in 2010 were reversed by shifts in Martzs offense, to a balance theme that was missing in Martz offenses in Detroit, San Francisco and, until the off-week, Chicago.

The last two, three games have been fun offensively for us because you can really tell the guys are understanding what were doing, Cutler said. Theyre playing fast. They know exactly when they make mistakes. They know exactly whenever we miss opportunities. I think thats the good part about it. Guys come back to the huddle, and theyre aware that we just missed a big one.

Its getting fun. Were able to put more and more in. Were able to challenge guys a little bit more. Its been a fun run here.

Getting that fun run to 6-0, against the Patriots and presumably the elements, may not be fun. But if the Bears are to convince perhaps even themselves that they are a Super Bowl team, they do need to have some fun Sunday.

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.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Should Roquan Smith make his debut against the Broncos?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Should Roquan Smith make his debut against the Broncos?

Seth Gruen, Chris Emma and Matt Zahn join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester pitches like Jon Lester again and the offense does just enough to win in Pittsburgh. Jim Deshaies joins the guys to talk about the Cubs.

 

Should Roquan Smith make his preseason debut in Denver? Plus the Ohio State controversy takes a salacious turn. Will Urban Meyer keep his job when the investigation wraps up Sunday?

 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Five things to watch for the Bears in Saturday's preseason meeting with the Broncos

Five things to watch for the Bears in Saturday's preseason meeting with the Broncos

DENVER — Expect the Bears’ starters to play deeper into the first half on Saturday in Denver than they did last week in Cincinnati, but their time on the field will still be relatively brief. The real dress rehearsal for the Bears will be next weekend, when they gameplan for and host the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 25. 

But Saturday’s game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium still represents sort of a checkpoint in the buildup to Sept. 9’s season-opening tilt with the Green Bay Packers. It’ll be the last game of the installation phase of the offseason, with coaches turning their focus to gameplanning for the Chiefs next week and then the Packers afterwards. 

There’s still plenty to be learned on Saturday, though. A few things to watch:

1. Will the first-team offense actually produce?

Mitch Trubisky this week bristled at the notion preseason games didn’t matter — “They don’t matter?” he said. “Then why do you guys talk about them so much?” — which fits with the attitude of a guy who was fairly frustrated with his and his teammates’ performance against the Cincinnati Bengals last week. Trubisky wasn’t happy with offense’s sloppy and ineffective play during the two drives he quarterbacked, and wasn’t willing to write it off as “just” a preseason game. 

“No matter what it is, if it’s on the practice field, if I’m in the backyard by myself, if it’s a preseason game, we’re trying to get better and we’re trying to move the football,” Trubisky said. “That’s what great players do. That’s what great teams do. We’re trying to get some momentum and everybody do our job and execute the offense.”

Still, because the Bears aren’t doing much in the way of gameplanning for the Broncos, any production or lack thereof won’t tell us much about the direction in which this offense is headed. More important will be how successful this group is next week against the Chiefs. 

But Trubisky’s competitiveness means he’s not going to let a poor performance slide, even if it’s only for a few series in a game that doesn’t count. He and the Bears hope that translates into some first downs and points on Saturday. 

2. Some notable debuts

Helping Trubisky’s cause will be the 2018 preseason debuts of running back Jordan Howard and wide receiver Allen Robinson, as well as running back Tarik Cohen — who only played one snap against Cincinnati — perhaps being used more. 

The Bears’ offense will not be at full strength, with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (foot) and tight end Dion Sims (concussion) still out. But for Trubisky, it’ll be a good opportunity for him to see how all the work he and Robinson put in to develop a chemistry in the last few weeks translates to the field.

“We continue to create that chemistry in practice and my job is just to get the ball to the playmakers,” Trubisky said. “The more playmakers we have on the field, just continue to get them the ball and let them do what they do and we just need to roll as an offense, be on the same page, everyone continue to do their job, lock in and go out there and have fun an execute. It’ll be nice to see those guys with the ball in their hands this weekend.”

3. What about Roquan?

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Smith in full uniform going through pregame warmups, but it would qualify as a minor surprise if he actually played on Saturday. 

The benefit to Smith playing would be working to accelerate his development with an eye on Week 1, even if it’s only for a few snaps. But does the risk of him getting injured outweigh whatever benefit playing him would provide?

It’s a question the Bears surely are debating. But coaches and trainers made sure to not push Smith too hard in this week’s joint practices against the Broncos, and it would be risky to put him in Saturday but tell him to not play at full speed. 

It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Smith to play on Saturday, but more likely would be No. 58 making his preseason debut against the Chiefs with another week of practice under his belt. 

4. Snap decisions

James Daniels felt like he was a little sloppy last week against the Bengals, specifically with his hand placement but more broadly because the intensity of things was increased. 

“I think that’s when my technique gets sloppy is when you’re out there and playing against somebody else, you’re really playing,” Daniels said. 

This week’s joint practices, then, were beneficial for Daniels to focus on keeping his technique sound in a more intense setting. And he had the opportunity to do that all while still playing center, not left guard, where he had been working up until last week. How Bears coaches evaluate Daniels' week of practice — which certainly wasn't perfect — will be important, especially in the context of...

... Cody Whitehair going through a snapping “slump” over the last week or so, starting with that preseason game in Cincinnati. If those low/high snaps crop up again Saturday, and Daniels is able to put in a solid day of work with the second-team offensive line, it may nudge the Bears toward moving Whitehair to guard and inserting the second-round Iowa product into the starting lineup. 

The Bears haven’t considered that move yet, though, and the plan all along has been to keep Whitehair at center. A lot has to happen for that plan to change: If Whitehair can’t consistently get snaps to Trubisky, if Daniels proves he’s one of the team’s best five offensive linemen, and then if Daniels proves he’s a better option at center than Whitehair. So far, the Bears haven’t arrived at any of those conclusions, but Saturday’s game could have a significant impact on what those conclusions wind up being. 

5. Down-the-depth-chart position battles

Plenty of players fighting for a spot on the Week 1 53-man roster will get an extended opportunity to put more good — or bad — things on film on Saturday. 

Near the top of the depth chart, Adam Shaheen will have another opportunity to keep his arrow pointing up at the “Y” tight end spot with Sims still out. Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris will continue their competition for the final starting spot on the defensive line, with Bullard still likely the slight favorite. Nick Kwiatkoski can help his case to hold off Smith with another solid showing in what’s been a solid preseason. 

An all-hands-on-deck competition to be the Bears’ reserve outside corner is developing, and with Prince Amukamara (groin) not practicing this week, everyone from that group will get a chance to help their case of making the Week 1 roster. Marcus Cooper needs to have a better game than he did against Cincinnati, while 2017 practice squad’er Doran Grant should get plenty of opportunities, too. For undrafted rookies Kevin Toliver, Michael Joseph and John Franklin III, it’s a big opportunity, too, to turn a longshot bid for a roster spot into something more realistic.