The Chicago Bears (3-4) will square off against the New England Patriots (5-2) at noon on Sunday. It will be Chicago’s fifth road game in the past seven contests. The Bears are 3-1 on the road and 1-2 against the AFC this season.
The Bears and Patriots will face off for the 13th time, with New England holding an 8-4 all-time advantage. That total includes one playoff game, Chicago’s 46-10 trouncing of the Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
New England has won the last three meetings between the two franchises, coming in 2002 (33-30), 2006 (17-13) and 2010 (36-7).
Following Sunday’s contest, the Bears will have their bye week before traveling to Green Bay to take on the Packers in Week 10. Following that road trip, Chicago will play five of their last seven games of the regular season at home.
For the Bears, S Danny McCray (knee) has been ruled out, while linebackers Jon Bostic (back) and Lance Briggs (ribs) are doubtful and not expected to play. Either Khaseem Greene or Christian Jones, or both, will fill in for Briggs at weak-side linebacker.
Also probable is CB Kyle Fuller, who has a broken hand and a hip pointer. This is great news for the Bears, who are already without Charles Tillman.
“[Fuller] practiced all week. He’s been in the mix,” coach Marc Trestman said yesterday. “He’s been around the football, been in the right places. So it’s good to see he’s worked through these couple of little things. As far as we see, he hasn’t missed a rep all week.”
Fuller was wearing a plastic brace on his hand during practice, although it’s unclear if he’ll wear it during the game.
“He was certainly braced up with his plastic brace,” said Trestman. “I don’t think the brace is going to be a problem. I really don’t. We don’t even know at this point how it’s going to be handled. You probably saw it out there. We’ll see how much of it he needs come game time on Sunday.”
For the Patriots, the following players are questionable:
The following New England players are probable:
The big loss for the Patriots will be DE Chandler Jones, who has been ruled out due to a hip injury. Jones is New England’s top pass rusher and leads the team with 4.5 sacks this year.
THE CUTLER REPORT
Cutler’s 2014 Season Stats
What more can be said about Jay Cutler that Brian Urlacher hasn’t said already?
In short, he was a total mess against the Miami Dolphins last week, completing 21 of 34 passes for 190 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and 1 lost fumble. As a result, the Bears were trounced at home and Cutler received an earful from Brandon Marshall after the game.
“He’s an emotional guy. Whenever he gets frustrated he’s going to get emotional most of the time,” Cutler said this week. “He’s going to speak from the heart and he’s going to make sure that everyone else around him hears him. So it wasn’t anything that caught us off guard or it was off-putting. It was frustration coming out and him just letting us know that it’s important to him.”
Cutler also denied Marshall called him out, although it was obvious outside the locker room to whom his anger was directed.
“No. He didn’t come near me. He didn’t say my name,” said Cutler.” I don’t think he attacked anyone personally what he was saying.”
Marshall’s frustration with Cutler mirrors the frustration from Bears fans around the country. Cutler is an immensely talented quarterback who, from a statistical standpoint, is having one of the best years of his career.
Yet his 10 total turnovers – seven interceptions, three lost fumbles – lead the league, and that’s where the problems lie. In each of Chicago’s four losses this year, Cutler has turned the ball over at least twice, while he’s been turnover free in the club’s three wins. Again, that’s not a coincidence.
What’s most disheartening for the Bears is that, in all four losses, the offense has turned the ball over on consecutive drives in the second half. Those back-to-back gifts to opposing teams have been the deciding factor in those defeats.
“It’s different every week. It’s different every turnover,” Cutler said. ““Each week we just make an emphasis on it and try to just be cognizant of it going to the game. Just try to execute exactly how we’re coached to do so.”
This isn’t complicated: if the turnovers don’t cease, Cutler and the Bears will be outside of the playoffs looking in for the sixth time in the past seven seasons. It’s really as simple as that.
Cutler Career vs. New England
|BEARS (NFL Rank)||PATRIOTS (NFL Rank)|
|22.4 (18th)||Points Scored||26.7 (7th)|
|24.3 (17th)||Total Offense||345.4 (18th)|
|95.3 (24th)||Rushing Offense||103.3 (20th)|
|254.0 (10th)||Passing Offense||242.1 (15th)|
|24.4 (22nd)||Points Allowed||22.0 (T-12th)|
|356.0 (17th)||Total Defense||334.3 (12th)|
|108.4 (14th)||Rushing Defense||126.3 (24th)|
|247.6 (T-19th)||Passing Defense||208.0 (1st)|
|+1 (T-19th)||Turnover Ratio||+9 (2nd)|
BEARS ON OFFENSE
Matchups to Watch
TE Martellus Bennett vs. LB Patrick Chung
Bennett began the season on fire, accumulating 29 receptions, 295 yards and 4 TDs through the first four games. Yet over the past three contests, he has just 12 catches for 127 yards and no touchdowns. The last two weeks, Cutler has focused primarily on Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, with middling results. Teams are taking away Chicago’s Pro Bowl wideouts with zone sets that float safeties over the top. Don’t expect that to change against the Patriots, who boast the No. 1 pass defense in the league.
For that reason, Bennett should be the focal point of the passing game this week. Patrick Chung and New England’s banged-up front seven have struggled mightily to contain opposing tight ends. Bennett should have no problem creating space in the middle of the field. If Cutler can get him the ball, Bennett could be the key to scoring a lot of points.
WR Alshon Jeffery vs. CB Brandon Browner
You want to know New England’s plan on defense? They are going to lock down WR Brandon Marshall with CB Darrelle Revis. After a relatively disappointing season to this point, Marshall is on the verge of letting his frustration boil over. Cutler knows this, which is why he won’t completely ignore Marshall. If Revis has success, Marshall will begin to pout demonstratively, as he did last week, which will surely drag down the offense and lead to turnovers.That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that Jeffery take advantage of Browner on the other side of the field. Due to suspension and injury, Browner will playing just his second game of the season. He surely hasn’t shaken off all the rust, which could give Jeffery an advantage.
One area in which he won’t have an advantage is size, as Browner (6-4) is actually an inch taller than Jeffery (6-3). Jeffery is going to need to have his best game of the season if the Bears plan on moving the ball consistently against the top passing defense in the league.
Keys to the Game
-Don’t expect Marshall to do much in this game. Revis is the best in the business and he’s the main reason the Patriots are No. 1 against opposing passing attacks. He’ll very likely limit Marshall to a few meaningless catches, which could set off a time bomb.
Yet if Marshall can somehow emerge victorious in his battle against Revis, the Bears will win this game. Marshall is the type of receiver who can take over a game when he and Cutler are hot and working on the same page. Exploding against Revis would demoralize New England’s defense and give Chicago the advantage they need to get a road victory.
-The Patriots will be without Jones, their best defensive linemen, and their best linebacker Jerod Mayo, who was put on IR last week. They are 24th against the run and gave up 218 rushing yards to the New York Jets last week.
Matt Forte should have no trouble moving the ball on the ground, assuming he’s given that opportunity. Forte had just two carries in the first half last week, which was a big reason the offense struggled to move the ball. If the pass-happiness continues, and Forte is again ignored, the Bears will return home 3-6.
The key in that regard will be locking up DT Vince Wilfork, who is one of the most athletic space eaters in the game. If Roberto Garza, Matt Slauson and Kyle Long can keep Wilfork under wraps, Forte will easily pick up his second 100-yard rushing game of the season.
BEARS ON DEFENSE
Matchups to Watch
TE Rob Gronkowski vs. LB Darryl Sharpton
Gronkowski is finally healthy and it’s showing. After a sluggish four-game start to the year, “Gronk” has recently played like his old, dominant self. Over the last three games, he’s caught 18 passes for 262 yards, to go along with four touchdowns on the campaign. He’s a mismatch nightmare who poses serious problems for a Bears linebacker corps that has struggled to contain opposing tight ends of late. If Charles Clay can make Chicago’s defense look bad, imagine what Gronk can do.
Sharpton has emerged as the team’s best cover linebacker and will likely be responsible for shutting down Gronkowski on passing downs. If Sharpton struggles and Gronk controls the middle of the field, the Bears will give up 30-plus point in this contest.
When the Patriots offense was struggling, Tom Brady was being pressured in the pocket. During New England’s first four games, he was sacked nine times, resulting in just four touchdown passes. Over the last three contests, Brady has gone down just four times, resulting in nine touchdown throws.
Brady is on fire right now and has zero interceptions in six of the Patriots first seven games. Collapsing the pocket is the only way the Bears are going to rattle him. It will be a group effort in that regard, but at this point no one is expecting anything from defensive ends Jared Allen (1.5 sacks) and Lamarr Houston (0 sacks). If the Bears are going to get pressure off the edge, it’s going to come from Willie Young, whose 7.0 sacks are second in the NFL.
Solder has not played well this year, allowing four sacks and nine hurries, per Pro Football Focus, so there should be plenty of opportunities for Young to have an impact in this game.
Keys to the Game
-DT Jeremiah Ratliff had 3.5 sacks in the first half last week. After missing two games with a concussion, Ratliff went on a tear. He’ll need to carry that momentum into Foxborough. If he can be dominant at the point of attack, he’ll help shut down New England’s 20th-ranked rushing offense – which is without starting running back Stevan Ridley – and make the Patriots one-dimensional on offense.
-Tackling will be big in this game, as New England will use a lot of short passes and bubble screens to counter their lack of a competent rushing attack. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are slippery receivers who are dangerous after the catch. If the Bears don’t lock up in the secondary, the Patriots will turn short gains into back-breaking plays.
-Chicago cannot sleep on RB Shane Vereen, who is one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL. If he’s allowed room to work out of the backfield, he’ll beat the Bears in a number of different ways. This cannot be understated, as I believe Vereen will be the wildcard in this matchup. Shut down Vereen and the Bears have a great chance of keeping New England’s offense in check.
PREDICTION: Bears 24, New England 23
With as crazy as this season has been, it won’t surprise me at all if the Bears come out and play like world-beaters tomorrow. They did it against the 49ers on the road following a Week 1 loss to the Bills, then again to the Falcons after losing at home to the Packers.
The Bears are schizophrenic and follow the path Cutler clears for them. If Good Jay shows up tomorrow – which my gut tells me he will – the Bears will pull off another improbable upset.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.