Chicago Bears

Moon: How do Bears slow Brady, beat Patriots?

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Moon: How do Bears slow Brady, beat Patriots?

Friday, Dec. 10, 2010
Posted: 9:46 a.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Every game turns on a small handful of plays or factors. Here are the three that will decide the Bears-New England Patriots game Sunday:

1. Blunt Brady

If the Bears can't fully stop Tom Brady, recent history says they stand a better-than-most chance of containing him, at least partially, and that may enough.

The Bears have held nine of the 10 "regular" starting quarterbacks they've faced this season to a passer rating below that quarterback's season average. Only Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck was better than his average. The Chicago defense has allowed an average passer rating of just 71.1 while Jay Cutler has been passing at a career-best 92.8. Only the Green Bay Packers (69.6) have been better at stopping passers.

Why that opposing quarterback rating matters in this case is because the only two teams to defeat the New England Patriots (New York Jets, Cleveland Browns) were responsible for two of Brady's three lowest passer ratings of the season and his two lowest completion percentages.

Brady hasn't thrown an interception in seven games, so blunting him is far, far easier schemed than done, particularly since only four teams have given up fewer sacks than the Patriots. But with a vulnerable defense, Brady is the absolute point of the New England spear with his own personal ball-control program built around completing 66.8 percent of his passes.

It is not a spear that lives with deep thrusts in the Martz downfield tradition. The Patriots average 11.8 yards; the Bears by comparison average 12.4. But Brady has thrown 385 passes and only four of them were intercepted vs. 27 going for touchdowns.

"That's why he's got all those Super Bowl rings," said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. "He doesn't make many mistakes."
2. Stay the course

The change in offensive philosophy from pass-first to balanced has been the biggest single key to the makeover of the Bears' season, from a stretch of losing three of four to reeling off five straight victories. The commitment to running the ball has helped bring the offensive line together and, if not necessarily reducing the sack total down to acceptable levels, has taken a huge chunk of pressure off Cutler.

The Bears are 7-0 this season when they rush for 100 yards. All three of their losses have come when they've rushed for few 75 yards, regardless of attempts or average per carry.

Their play-calling has been nearly 50-50 run-pass over the last five games. Cutler has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in three wins in the five-game run and, most important, has thrown 10 touchdown passes vs. three interceptions.

"It starts at the top with Mike Martz," Cutler said. "He does a good job in meetings of keeping guys positive and keeping them on point with the system and believing in it and showing guys examples on tape of how the system works -- if we do it right, what would happen.

"And guys got it. There were glimpses of it on tape, and guys understood if we completely got everything down that we could be explosive. Are we there yet? Not yet, but we're definitely on our way."

The problem with New England, however, is that no defensive schemer is better at forcing players, coaches and teams out of what they want to do than Bill Belichick. He has done it to Martz in the past and one dangerous scenario for the Bears would be Belichick completely shutting down the Chicago run game to the point where Martz and Cutler become impatient and risk turnovers in search of big plays, particularly if they believe they cannot afford their balanced game plan in the face of some quick New England points.

The Bears are 6-1 when they have had an edge in time of possession, a normally meaningless statistic if only looked at in terms of minutes and seconds. But every minute that the Chicago offense is on the field, New England's is not. It is a course Martz needs to stay on more than against any opponent to date this season.
3. Take the points
The Bears are 8-1 when they have scored 18 or more points. Only once this season (in Detroit) have they scored touchdowns on every possession reaching inside the red zone but they have won four of the five times that they have scored points of some sort.

The temptation may arise to press for touchdowns when facing a scoring offense like New England's, and when dealing with a defense like the 2010 Patriots which is 18th in points allowed and among the NFL's worst against the pass.

The Patriots committed three turnovers in the losses both to the Jets and Browns, accounting for two-thirds of New England's entire 2010 turnover total. Only three teams have taken the ball away more than the Bears' 26. The defense is tasked with adding to the New England turnover total and the offense and special teams need to turn every freebie into points and avoid point-less gambles.

"We have to be detailed to combat Tom Brady and the Patriots," said linebacker Lance Briggs. "We have to play fast and physical. We know he's going to take what defenses give him. He's going to take what he sees. We have to be ready when that ball does come out, we have to punish ball carriers and be opportunistic when that ball is in the air and get pressure on him."

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.

Bears: Kyle Long looks set for 2017 debut while Josh Sitton doubtful for Week 3

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USA TODAY

Bears: Kyle Long looks set for 2017 debut while Josh Sitton doubtful for Week 3

Kyle Long was a full participant in back-to-back practices Thursday and Friday, and wasn't listed on the team's injury report Friday, clearing the path for the three-time Pro Bowler to make his 2017 debut Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s been a lengthy, grueling process for Long to get to this point, with significant muscle atrophy in his ankle and a setback during training camp further delaying his return to the field. 

Where Long plays in his 2017 debut will be interesting to watch. The Bears have planned on moving him from right guard to left guard, though with Josh Sitton doubtful with a rib injury, Long — who didn’t get many full-team reps at left guard during training camp anyway — could start on the right side Sunday. 

Part of the equation, too, is that Cody Whitehair has more experience with the Bears at left guard, where he played until Sitton was signed before the beginning of the 2016 season. If Tom Compton (hip, questionable?) can’t play on Sunday, Whitehair presumably will move to guard while Hroniss Grasu will start at center. Whitehair did play both left and right guard in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers due to the injuries to Sitton and Compton. 

No matter where Long starts, though, his return will provide a boost to an offensive line that’s been flooded with extra defenders against the run so far this year. The Steelers would be smart to take the same stack-the-box approach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did, which led to Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen being limited to 20 yards on 16 carries. 

Fox said Long won't be on a concrete snap count, but the Bears will evaluate him throughout the game. But even if Long isn’t 100 percent, or doesn’t play 100 percent of the snaps, he can be a difference-maker for an offense that’s needed difference-makers in 2017. 

“I mean, the expectations are where they left off when I left. I always have high expectations,” Long said. “If you play the game you change the game. If you’re out there doing anything other than that then you’re just witnessing it, you’re watching. It’s not a spectator sport.”

How the Bears coached up Tarik Cohen after his punt return mistake in Tampa

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USA TODAY

How the Bears coached up Tarik Cohen after his punt return mistake in Tampa

It’s not that Bears special teams coach Jeff Rodgers never wants Tarik Cohen to try to pick up another punt that’s bouncing deep into Bears territory. It’s just that he doesn’t want the explosive rookie to try to pick up the ball when he’s surrounded by multiple defenders. 

That’s what Cohen did on Sunday, leading to a prompt fumble recovered by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which needed only one play to get in the end zone after the fourth-round pick’s gaffe. The challenge for Rodgers then is coaching up Cohen to retain his aggressiveness, but not make the same mistake twice. 

“We’re not down on the kid,” Rodgers said. “He’s trying to make an aggressive play and that’s always going to be in his nature. That’s what you like about the kid. 

“… I think you’ve just got to coach him as time goes on and say, ‘hey, the reason why you wouldn’t do something like that in this situation is because of this,’ or ‘this was a good play because of that.’ It’s so hard as a coach to prepare a player for every possible scenario, so you’re trying to give him general guidelines and rules to follow in the different situations he finds himself in.”

Cohen said after Sunday’s game he wanted to keep the ball from bleeding further toward the Bears’ goal line. He owned his mistake and made no excuses for it, saying if he faces that situation again he won’t try to grab the ball. 

But Rodgers pointed out a pair of punt return touchdowns that began with a player picking up a bouncing ball deep in their own territory: This from Tavon Austin and this Trindon Holliday score. Cohen has the skill to make a similar play, so Rodgers doesn’t want him avoiding every single bouncing ball from here on out. 

He just wants Cohen to be smarter when confronted with a bouncing ball and a handful of defenders surrounding him. 

“You’re not trying to dwell on the negative and keep reminding him that he made a mistake on the field,” Rodgers said. “You’re trying to coach him as best we can before those things happen and say, ‘hey, if you ever get in this situation...’ But a lot of that is learning experience. Unfortunately that one didn’t work out but hopefully next time, based on field position, based on proximity of opponent players, he’ll make a different decision.