After a promising start we’re back to staring at the possibility of being at .500 following last weekend’s overtime gut-punching loss to the Dolphins.
Without that, the prospect of facing a surging New England Patriots squad, that has been among the NFL’s elite for a mind-boggling 18 years and counting, wouldn’t be as nerve-wracking. The Bears could’ve been 4-1 and a loss wouldn’t have anyone sweating.
But now, at 3-2, falling to 3-3 opens that door that the Bears already peaked, that it was too soon to believe, that they are still a young team, yadda, yadda, yadda.
That’s not to say that they couldn’t come back from .500 to make the playoffs, or even post a winning record, but it would bring at least a week of negative analysis and more discussion of what could have been had the win not slipped away in Miami.
There’s no time to dwell on that though, Sunday will be no short order but the Bears should be able to put up a fight. The Bears are 0-4 against Brady but this is their best shot at the team since 2006.
New England Patriots
SB Nation site: Pats Pulpit
Game Day/Time/TV: Sunday, noon CT, CBS
Last week: 43-40 dramatic win over the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football.
Bears all-time record against: 3-9
Historical match ups: Hard to believe that the Bears have one victory against the Patriots since their historic Super Bowl XX win over them in January 1986. That win came in December of 2000, when Dick Jauron led Shane Matthews and James Allen out on to Soldier Field against Bill Belichick and Drew Bledsoe.
Matthews threw two touchdowns, including one to Eddie Kennison. Allen had 97 yards rushing and both a rushing and receiving TD. Nine Bears receivers caught passes and the Bears won 24-17.
Last meeting: The first of what would be the notorious bye-week sandwiching 50-burgers of the Marc Trestman era.
The Bears, just one week removed from a loss to the Dolphins, went to New England and were dismantled.
The Pats took a 38-7 halftime lead on their way to a 51-23 win as Tom Brady threw five touchdowns, including 3 to Rob Gronkowski. Gronk had 149 yards receiving, Brandon LaFell had 124 yards and a TD.
The final insult came when Lamarr Houston tore his ACL celebrating a fourth quarter sack of Jimmy Garoppolo.
Offense: The Patriots enter the game with the fourth best scoring offense. They rank 14th in yards, however.
Surprisingly, the Patriots rushing game ranks ahead of its passing game in terms of yardage: the passing attack comes in at 19th, while the ground attack ranks 11th.
The passing game is led by Tom Brady, of course, who comes in with 1,599 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.
His passes are going to Gronkowski (26 rec/405 yds/1 TD), RB James White (37/323/4) and increasingly, Josh Gordon (9/124/1) and Julian Edelman (11/111/1). Other receiving leaders are Chris Hogan (15/221/2), Phillip Dorsett (19/190/2) and Cordarrelle Patterson (11/114/2).
The Patriots’ run game is headed up by rookie Sony Michel (91 att/400 yds/4 TDs) and White (29/149/1).
While Brady is just getting in sync with his best passing weapons (Edelman was suspended and Gordon was on the Browns), the running game has actually been quite strong for the Patriots. Is that because teams are focusing on covering the receivers?
Or is it that Brady is able to stay clean? He has been sacked just eight times, tied for second fewest sacks allowed in the league.
Defense: The Patriots defense is lagging behind its offense, ranking 18th in points allowed and 20th in yards allowed.
The passing defense ranks 21st while the rushing defense comes in ranked 18th. They have allowed the second fewest rushing touchdowns (1), behind the Bears (0).
Opposing quarterbacks have thrown 15 touchdowns (third most in the league) but they have also thrown eight interceptions. Overall, opposing QBs have a 91.6 rating vs. the Patriots.
The defense, much like on offense, are more a ‘sum of their parts’ unit than one that has crazy good star power
Up front are Trey Flowers (2 sacks/1 FF/2 TFL/4 QB hits) and Deatrich Wise (2.5 sacks/2 TFL/6 QB hits).
Their LBs and secondary have a lot of their big name players, such as Dont’a Hightower (1 FF/1 PD/1 INT), Kyle Van Noy (1 INT/2 PDs), Stephon GIlmore (6 PDs/1 INT) and Devin McCourty (1 PD/1 FF).
Injury report: The Patriots listed 11 players on their Wednesday injury report:
Limited: DL Malcom Brown (knee), WR Julian Edelman (heel), WR Josh Gordon (hamstring), DL Geneo Grissom (ankle), TE Rob Gronkowski (ankle), TE Jacob Hollister (hamstring), RB Sony Michel (knee), DB Eric Rowe) (groin), DE John Simon (shoulder), DL Deatrich Wise (ankle/knee)
Did not participate: OL Marcus Cannon (concussion)
Key match ups: The first one comes to mind is if Cannon can’t clear concussion protocol, then Khalil Mack would be matched up against his back up, LaAdrian Waddle.
If that’s the case, he could use a lot of help, meaning Gronk isn’t running routes because he stays in to block, or at least he has late releases, as he chips. Keeping Gronk in to pass block isn’t likely to happen a lot, but it’s a dynamic when there is a pass rusher of Mack’s caliber on the defense.
Kyle Fuller vs. Josh Gordon will be another big one. Gordon has elite speed and is starting to build up his rapport with Brady. If the pass rush is as absent as last week, Fuller will have a tough time against a speedy receiver such as Gordon.
Going back to Gronk for a second, it will be curious to see how the Bears defend him. This could be a big test for Roquan Smith, who has the speed as a LB to keep up with Gronk, but better size, although it’s hard to match Gronk on a size level.
For the offense, Mitch Trubisky will have to navigate a secondary that is apt to find the ball, much like Miami, however, there will be plays to be made. Like the Dolphins, the Pats don’t have a great pass rush, but their QB hit numbers are on the leading edge of the league, so they just aren’t finishing plays.
The New England defense has forced at least one takeaway in every game this year, while their offense has also had a turnover in every game.
What to watch for: Can the Bears truly hang, for four quarters, against one of the truly elite teams in the league?
The Bears offense has shown it can put up points, but they still have lingering questions about playing a full four quarters. They slept walked through the second half of the Packers game and gave up a big lead and then they started slow in Miami last week, dug themselves out of the hole and then collapsed again.
The Patriots prey on teams weaknesses, as well as taking advantage of any little mistake their opponent makes. The Bears have to play a complete game and keep their foot down and remain aggressive on both sides of the ball, but also have sound technique to not allow any breakaway big plays like we’ve seen at times.
Home field advantage should work in the Bears favor, but other than the Tampa game, have we really seen the Bears play mistake free for a whole game?
Key stats: The Patriots haven’t lost three straight road games since 2013.
The Bears are 13-8 as a home underdog since 2003, while the Patriots are 11-9 as road favorites.
Tom Brady is 4-0 against the Bears and the total score in those games was 137-73
Mitch Trubisky is completing a higher percentage of his passes than Tom Brady (70.2 to 67.8)
Trubisky and Brady have the same number of 300-yard passing games in 2018 (2)
Brady has just two more TD passes than Trubisky, but has two more INTs as well (on 53 more pass attempts)
The last time the Bears beat the Patriots, Trubisky was six years old and Tom Brady was a rookie
Prediction: This game should be closer than the last couple of meetings and I expect a high scoring game. I think the Bears come up just short, 33-31. For my analysis of the game from a betting perspective, check out my latest piece on Sports Bet Collective, here. First article in free with sign up.
Do you think the Bears can win Sunday? What are some key match ups?