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.

Pro Football Focus: Bears have NFL’s best run defense entering 2019

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USA Today

Pro Football Focus: Bears have NFL’s best run defense entering 2019

Pro Football Focus doesn’t seem to expect much regression for the Bears defense, at least when it comes to run defense.

PFF analyst Mike Renner ranked every team’s ability to stop the ground game, heading into 2019, and Chicago remains on top.

The team retained its entire front seven, top-to-bottom, with the exception of Sam Acho, who spent most of last season on injured reserve anyway.

One of the biggest keys, in Renner’s analysis, is Akiem Hicks, who was among Pro Football Focus’ top performers in the running game.

“The former Saint is proving himself one of the best free agent additions in recent memory,” Renner wrote. “His 13.3 run-stop percentage was the second-highest figure of any interior defender in the NFL last season.”

The Bears allowed the fewest rushing yards and rushing touchdowns of any defense last season, and the 3.8 yards per attempt they gave up was fourth best.

With the whole gang back together for 2019, the team is in a great spot to run it back under Chuck Pagano.    

Projecting what the Bears' 53-man roster will look like

Projecting what the Bears' 53-man roster will look like

The Bears will begin training camp next week without many significant position battles — outside of kicker, of course — which stands as an indicator of how strong a roster Ryan Pace has built. But that doesn’t mean there won't be some intriguing decisions to be made in a month and a half, especially involving depth at some critical positions. 

So here’s a pre-training camp stab at projecting what the Bear’s 53-man roster will look like on the night of Sept. 5:

QUARTERBACKS (2): Mitch Trubisky, Chase Daniel
Missing the cut: Tyler Bray

These two guys are locked in, leaving Tyler Bray to likely return to the practice squad for another season. 

RUNNING BACKS (4): Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis, David Montgomery, Kerrith Whyte Jr. 
Missing the cut: Ryan Nall

Cohen, Davis and Montgomery are roster locks, leaving Whyte and Nall to compete for, likely, just one spot on the roster. Matt Nagy praised Nall during OTAs, and he could become a versatile option with the ability to play some fullback, but we’ll give the last spot to Whyte given his speed and the Bears’ focus on that trait in the offseason. 

WIDE RECEIVERS (6): Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley Ridley, Marvin Hall
Missing the cut: Javon Wims, Emanuel Hall, Taquan Mizzell, Tanner Gentry, Jordan Williams-Lambert, Thomas Ives

Robinson, Gabriel and Miller are locks, while Patterson’s contract structure ($5 million guaranteed, all in 2019) and Ridley’s draft slot (fourth round) easily get them on the team, too. That leaves Javon Wims, Marvin Hall, Emanuel Hall and a handful of others to compete for what probably is only one more spot on the 53-man roster. There’s not much separating those three heading into training camp, though Emanuel Hall’s sports hernia surgery sidelined him during OTAs, putting him a little behind the curve. Wims is the incumbent here but didn’t get on the field much in 2018, while Marvin Hall played a little with the Atlanta Falcons over the last two years. We’ll give the edge to Marvin Hall for now based on his speed and meager experience, but also with the knowledge that the Bears’ sixth receiver likely won’t be active on game days unless of an injury. 

TIGHT ENDS (5): Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Bradley Sowell, Dax Raymond
Missing the cut: Ian Bunting, Jesper Horsted, Ellis Richardson

If Burton has to begin training camp on the PUP list, will he be ready for Week 1? Can Shaheen stay healthy for a full season? Those are perhaps the two biggest questions needing answers not only for this unit, but for the Bears’ offense as a whole. Burton’s 11th-hour injury prior to the Bears’ playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles limited how dynamic Nagy’s offense could be, while Shaheen’s preseason injury meant the Bears were ineffective when using 12 personnel during the regular season. The Bears need better depth behind Burton and Shaheen — Braunecker is a reliable special teamer with flexibility to play both the “U” and the “Y” spots, but can more much-needed depth emerge from a converted offensive lineman (Sowell) and a handful of undrafted free agents (Raymond, Bunting, Horsted, Richardson)? We’ll give Sowell (at the “Y” behind Shaheen) and Raymond (at the “U” behind Burton) the spots for now, but both will have to earn their way onto the roster during training camp. 

OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Charles Leno, James Daniels, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Bobby Massie, Rashaad Coward, Ted Larsen, Alex Bars
Missing the cut: Cornelius Lucas, Joe Lowery, T.J. Clemmings, Blake Blackmar, Marquez Tucker, Jordan McCray, Sam Mustipher

The Bears moved Sowell to tight end thanks, in part, to their confidence in the development of Coward — a converted defensive lineman — to take over as their swing tackle in 2019. He’s still under construction as an NFL offensive lineman and will have to beat out a handful of challengers, including a five-year NFL reserve in Lucas, but Coward has the edge for a roster spot. The interior reserves are less clear, though: Larsen was brought back in free agency but only has $90,000 guaranteed on his one-year deal, while Bars played for O-line coach Harry Hiestand in college but is coming off an ACL/MCL injury that led to him going undrafted in April. Any of the other reserves could make a push, or the Bears could look to add interior depth on cut-down weekend. For now, though, Larsen, Bars and Coward make the most sense to slide behind the same starting five the Bears had to end 2018. 

DEFENSIVE LINE (6): Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris, Jonathan Bullard, Nick Williams
Missing the cut: Abdullah Anderson, Jalen Dalton, Daryle Banfield, Jonathan Harris

This is the Bears’ deepest unit, with the only battle to see who will make the roster and wind up inactive on game days, as Williams was for all but two games in 2018. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (5): Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Aaron Lynch, Isaiah Irving, Chuck Harris
Cut: Kylie Fitts, Mathieu Betts, James Vaughters

Irving flashed during 2017’s and 2018’s preseasons, and might need to do so again to secure his spot on the Bears’ 2019 roster. But consider this an open battle for reserve roles behind Mack/Floyd/Lynch: Irving has the inside track to one spot but will have to earn it; while whoever flashes the most from the Harris/Fitts/Betts/Vaughters group should get another. We’ll go with Harris here — maybe Mack can take his fellow Buffalo alum under his wing during training camp. 

INSIDE LINEBACKER (4): Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, Nick Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyiegbuniwe
Cut: Josh Woods, Jameer Thurman, Kevin Pierre-Louis

Woods might be as close to the bubble as anyone on defense, and could force his way on to the roster with a strong preseason and a commitment to special teams. But with Kwiatkoski a reliable backup and he and Iyiegbuniwe being core special teamers, it’s hard to see Woods beating out any of those four for a spot right now. 

CORNERBACK (6): Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Buster Skrine, Kevin Toliver II, Duke Shelley, Sherrick McManis
Cut: Stephen Denmark, John Franklin III, Michael Joseph, Josh Simmons, Clifton Duck, Jonathon Mincy

There should be a strong competition among the reserve outside corners on this roster, with Toliver having the best shot but needing to fend off the raw athleticism of Denmark and Franklin as well as the talent of Joseph, who stuck on the practice squad last year after going undrafted out of Division III Dubuque. Shelley flashed during OTAs and minicamp during the spring and looks likely to wind up on the 53-man roster. While McManis worked at safety some during the spring, we’ll include him among the cornerbacks for now. 

SAFETY (4): Eddie Jackson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson
Cut: Doyin Jibowu

Barring injury and a more permanent move to safety for McManis, there’s little that’ll change in this unit between now and Week 1.

SPECIALISTS (3): Greg Joseph (PK), Pat O’Donnell (P), Patrick Scales (LS)
Cut: Elliott Fry, Eddy Pineiro, John Wirtel

Surprise! While the battle between Fry and Pineiro will dominate the headlines in Bourbonnais, the “winner” isn’t guaranteed to be the Bears’ Week 1 kicker. So not only are those two competing against each other, they’re competing against the field, too. In this scenario, the Cleveland Browns keep fifth-round pick Austin Seibert and cut Joseph, who made 17 of 20 field goals (with a long of 51 yards) for them in 2018. The Bears could try to swing a trade for Baltimore’s Kaare Vedvik here, too. The larger point, though, is this: Pace may have to look outside the organization for his Week 1 kicker, and there will be some talent — like Joseph — available if he does.