With the Bears reeling, a suddenly recovered and white-hot New England Patriots team is exactly the opposite of what the team ordered. But, if the Bears are going to make it back to .500, taking down New England is what they'll have to do.
Last Year: Finished first in the AFC East (yawn) with a 12-4 record (yawn). In the playoffs, they beat the Colts in the divisional round (yawn) before falling to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game (yawn).
This Year: They still lead the AFC East (yawn) with a 5-2 record - okay, I'll stop the yawning. They started out the year looking a touch more vulnerable, going 2-2 in their first four games scoring a combined 30 points in the final two of those games (including a 41-14 throttling at the hands of the Chiefs). Since then, they've gone 3-0 scoring at least 27 points in each of them.
When Last We Met: Back in 2010, the Bears and Patriots, both division leaders, met at Soldier Field in what is commonly called Bear Weather - and the show the Patriots put on should have only squashed any final inklings that remained of that notion. The Patriots pushed their record to 11-2 as they stomped the Bears 36-7. Chester Taylor, oddly enough, got the Bears' one touchdown on the day, in the third quarter to cap the scoring. Tom Brady went for 369 yards and two touchdowns; his counterpart, Jay Cutler, threw for 152 yards and two interceptions. Earl Bennett led the Bears in receiving with 53 yards.
|Total Points||187 (7th)||154 (12th)|
|Total Yardage||2,418 (18th)||2,340 (12th)|
|Passing Yardage||1,695 (15th)||1,456 (1st)|
|Rushing Yardage||723 (20th)||884 (24th)|
Offense: You might have heard of that guy Brady before. This just in, he's still pretty good. (Or in the words of Jon Bois - never count out Touchdown Tom.)
Brady's weapons may not be the likes of Wes Welker in his prime or Randy Moss of 2008 anymore, and the Patriots may be preparing for eventual life without Brady by the drafting of Jimmy Garoppolo, but he can still get some things done with what he's got. Julian Edelman still plays the role of Wes Welker-Lite, and Rob Gronkowski is still the weapon he was. Brandon LaFell has emerged as more of a deep threat, and is second on the team in touchdown receptions; beyond that, it's a team that targets a small group of players kind of like the Bears do.
Their running back duo is a decent one, not spectacular, but Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen can get some things done. Ridley's the main running back, while Vereen gets more receptions out of the backfield and puts up a higher yards-per-carry. The main vehicle of the offense, however, is Brady. (Editor's Edit: Ridley's been on injured reserve for quite a bit now, so it's Vereen's show.).
Defense: One can look at the defense ranking - #1 against the pass - but part of that number is buried within the numbers. Four of their opponents this year - the Dolphins (week 1 version), Vikings, Raiders and Jets - have put together 205 passing yards or less, and those teams (at those times) have a quarterback by virtue of having a player playing the position. The others are the Chiefs (Alex Smith), the Bengals (Andy Dalton, who might be the best quarterback the Patriots have played against so far), and the Bills' Kyle Orton (... I take that back - legend.).
That being said, the defense has done what they're supposed to do against some of these teams and passing games they've played against. Chandler Jones has put together a solid year so far (though he'll be out for about the next month) with four and a half sacks; Rob Ninkovich has four himself, and Dont'a Hightower adds three more. The Patriots' pass rush has 18 sacks total, and Ninkovich gets to go up against the struggling Jordan Mills on Sunday.
Couple that up with a team that, of their 14 takeaways, seven are interceptions by seven different players, and seven are forced fumbles recovered; most of those fumbles forced are by defensive backs.
If the Bears do this: Remember what you did last week against the Dolphins? With the exception of Jeremiah Ratliff, do the opposite of that.
In seriousness, Brady's better when he isn't pressured, and the Patriots' offensive line isn't the invincible group that followed him around in the Visa commercial, allowing 14 sacks so far on the season. The Bears have the tools to get after the quarterback, but the Patriots always find a way to get offensive production. The other thing is to find a way to keep Alshon Jeffery in the offense and get him the ball. Two receptions for him won't keep the Bears in the game for long against the Patriots.
If the Patriots do this: If Kyle Fuller doesn't return this week, the Bears secondary without two of their top defensive backs is a problem, especially for handling Edelman and matching up with LaFell, and until further notice, matching up with the Patriots' running backs with their linebacking corps.
Closing Thoughts: This is not an easy matchup following possibly the Bears' worst game of the year (and it's scary I can say "possibly" putting it alongside the game against the Panthers). As bad a game as the Bears played on Sunday, they'll have to play a near-perfect one to get back on the right path.