The Chicago Bears are attempting to stay above .500. A loss in this game would drop them to 3-3 and almost assuredly knock them out of first place in the NFC North. The Patriots present a huge test for the Bears, but this isn’t the one-sided affair that it has been in the past. The Bears actually seem to have an offense and I would be shocked if the defense looks like it did last week, if for no other reason than pride.
If we look at the early season DVOA—provided by Football Outsiders—for both teams, this looks like the opposite of the Bucs game. The Bears are still 1st in defensive DVOA, while the Pats are down at 19th. This seems like the place where the Bears actually have an advantage. While on paper this looks like another strength-on-strength game, the Patriots just surrendered 40 points to the Cheifs, while the Bears keep climbing up the offensive rankings after hanging 28 points on Miami’s 5th ranked defense (now 9th).
So far through 5 games, the Bears look to be in their biggest dog fight and this is what I will be watching for:
What to Watch For
On offense, the name of the game will be exploiting match-ups. The Patriots defense is not exactly fleet-of-foot and there will be advantages that the Bears have. On paper, I would say that this looks like another game that Taylor Gabriel and Tarik Cohen should have huge games, but I think it ends up being very balanced. Look for a few seldom used players to get some passes thrown their way this week.
Once again, I expect Jordan Howard to have more impact in the passing game than the running game. The Patriots are simply too dangerous to try and score points by running the ball. That said, he is likely successful on a per carry basis, so don’t let the numbers fool you. Could this finally be the week that Kevin White gets a target? If Matt Nagy has a few tricks he’s been saving, this might be the game to try and incorporate them.
Defensively, it will also start up front. New England’s offensive line is not particularly great in the interior, but strong on the edges. With the way that Tom Brady is able to get the ball out of his hands quickly, it will be up to Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Roy Robertson-Harris, Jonathan Bullard, and Bilal Nichols to get the push up front. If I was Vic Fangio, I would run a 4-3 nickel base, often using Leonard Floyd in coverage.
Don’t sleep on Sony Michel and the running game either. This is an area that makes this game tougher. When the Bears have faced highly-ranked offenses previously, they didn’t have much in the way of a running game. The Patriots are very solid in this department and it’s going to put a ton of pressure on the interior defensive lineman to get a constant push up-the-middle and for the inside linebackers to not get caught by the play-action passing game.
That’s what I will be watching for on Sunday afternoon, what about you? The Bears got cooled off by the heat last week, coming home should make for a better performance all around, but is Brady & Co. just too much for them to handle?
Watch out for my ‘which players to watch for’ coming later today.