The Chicago Bears square off against the New England Patriots at 7 p.m. CT tonight at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Ma.
It will be the second preseason contest for the Bears, who were pummeled 22-0 by the Denver Broncos in the opener. After three joint practices with the Patriots, John Fox's club will be looking to show improvement this evening.
"We didn’t play as crisp and solid as we could have in the very first outing, which seldom do you," Fox said yesterday. "So I expect to see everybody play better."
TE Zach Miller (concussion) returned to practice earlier this week but was in a non-contact jersey at practice yesterday, so it's unlikely he'll play. Same goes for CB Bryce Callahan (muscle strain), DE Cornelius Washington (knee/ankle) and RB Ka'Deem Carey (concussion). CB Kyle Fuller (knee) did not make the trip to New England, which raises serious questions about his short-term future.
The Bears will also likely be without WR Eddie Royal, LB Nick Kwiatkoski, TE Ben Braunecker and WR Derek Keaton.
What to Watch
In his first NFL game last week, WR Kevin White caught just one pass, a bubble screen that went for three yards. After sitting out his rookie season, White is still very much a work in progress and needs all the touches he can get in live game action.
Despite his lack of experience, the Bears are banking on White to contribute heavily as the club's No. 2 wideout this season. To accelerate that process, White needs more looks over the next two contests. He was dominant against the Patriots secondary during one-on-one drills this week, so a strong showing tonight should continue to help build his confidence heading into the regular season.
With Fuller down and Callahan unlikely to play, the Bears will be without two of their top three cornerbacks. Jacoby Glenn will likely start opposite Tracy Porter at the boundary corner position, while Demontre Hurst should see first-team reps at nickel.
Against Tom Brady and New England's starting offense, Glenn and Hurst will face a tough test. How they respond will go a long way toward securing their spots on the 53-man roster. This is especially true for Glenn (6-0, 185), who was impressive in practice last week. The second-year player has a golden opportunity tonight against an elite passing offense. If Glenn can rise up against the Patriots' high-powered passing attack, it could push him over the edge and onto the final roster.
In addition, expect to see a lot of DeVante' Bausby and rookie Deiondre Hall at the boundary corner positions. Hall will be looking to build on his showing in the preseason opener, in which he had two pass breakups. The fourth-rounder out of Northern Iowa could leapfrog Glenn in the starting lineup if he has another strong outing tonight. Bausby (6-2, 190) is in a battle for one of the final roster spots and will need to play very well during the final three preseason games if he's going to break camp on the 53.
With Fuller out for the foreseeable future, the competition at cornerback is about to really heat up.
The Bears gave up seven sacks to the Broncos last week, most of which were the result of Wade Phillips' blitz packages. All three offensive line units failed to recognize, react and adjust to Denver's constant pressure, which resulted in a goose egg on the scoreboard.
The front five is by far the biggest concern for Chicago's offense this year and last week's outing didn't do anything to alleviate those concerns. This is a unit with three new starters, including a rookie at left guard. They have yet to build any continuity and that will take time. Against the Patriots, some sort of incremental progress is needed to get this unit back on the right track.
Rookie Running Back
The starters will play roughly two quarters tonight, meaning the first-half backfield will feature a mixture of Jeremy Langford and Jacquizz Rodgers. With Carey on the shelf, the second half should be nothing but fifth-round rookie Jordan Howard, who had five carries for just 12 yards last week.
Howard is the type of running back who gets better the more carries he receives. His bruising style of running can physically wear down defenses, something we've yet to see from him in a Bears uniform. Expect Howard to receive around 15 touches tonight, which will further open the curtain on the rookie from Indiana.
ILB Danny Trevathan is still recovering from a minor knee injury suffered in training camp and was given the day off Tuesday in New England. Even if he starts the game, don't expect Trevathan to play much, as there's no need to risk further worsening the knee.
Fourth-round rookie Nick Kwiatkoski hasn't practiced in a month but, unless he goes on IR, he'll enter the season on the 53-man roster. That leaves only one or two spots for Jonathan Anderson, Lamin Barrow and John Timu. All three have special teams value but at least one will get cut. How they perform on defense the next three games will decide that competition.
If the season started today, Zach Miller and Tony Moeaki would be Chicago's top two pass-catching tight ends. Yet the blocking tight end role has yet to be determined, due in large part to the injury Greg Scruggs suffered in training camp, which forced him to miss last week's outing.
Scruggs is a converted defensive tackle who weighs nearly 280 pounds, so he has the size and power to be a weapon as a run blocker off the edge. The Bears have been happy with his development in camp but have yet to see him in live action. For a tight end position lacking talent and depth, a strong showing from Scruggs would help alleviate some of those concerns.
Last week the Bears returned three punts for a combined zero yards, while Deonte Thompson averaged less than 20 yards on three kick returns.
Chicago struggled in the return game last year and special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers is working in a number of new pieces in every unit. The Bears' third phase was sluggish and hesitant last week, and would benefit from a better showing tonight, so as to give them confidence moving forward.