We’re on to New England.
Bill Belichick’s famous line when asked about a subpar game, has to be the mindset of the Chicago Bears heading into Week 7 after a disastrous loss in Miami.
They can’t dwell on a few plays here and there that would have changed the outcome. All of the focus now has to be on the New England Patriots.
The Patriots are, and have been for nearly two decades, one of the best teams in the league, so coming away with a victory will be no easy task. But the Bears are better than what they showed last week, especially defensively. While it will be tough, expect another close game.
The biggest advantage the Bears have is they will be playing in front of their home crowd at Soldier Field.
More importantly, the Patriots will have to play on the road.
To start, Tom Brady has a .854 winning percentage in Foxborough and only a .690 winning percentage on the road.
Just this season, the Patriots are 0-2 and are averaging a meager 15 points per road game. Their defense has been equally inept, giving up 28.5 points per game. If those stats were over the full season, they would rank 29th and 27th in the NFL respectively.
Those two games were against the Blake Bortles led Jaguars and fourth-place Lions.
When the Patriots play at home, it is a completely different story. They average a tremendous 36.5 points and a more respectable 22.75 points allowed per game.
When diving deeper into the numbers, a pattern emerges that lays out a formula to beat them.
Here is how the Bears can do it.
Stop the run
It might sound insane saying the key to beating the Patriots is to force Brady to throw the ball more, but so far this season that has been the case.
In the Patriots four wins this season, they have averaged 30.75 rushing attempts for 141.75 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game. That’s good for a 4.6 yards per carry.
In their two losses, they have only run the ball 21 times for 80.5 yards and zero touchdowns on average. That amounts to a much more pedestrian 3.8 yards per carry.
In the last few weeks, they have relied much more heavily on rookie running back Sony Michel. He has been fantastic running the ball but has not contributed much in the passing game.
When Michel is in the game, the Patriots run the ball 75 percent of the time. On the other hand, when backup running back James White is in the game, the Patriots throw the ball 81 percent of the time.
The Patriots don’t try and hide what they are doing. They beat teams because they are better and more disciplined. But this pattern should alert them to what to expect each play.
They struggled to run the ball against a stout Jacksonville front seven, and the Bears fourth-ranked run defense should be able to limit them as well. This trend also means the defensive line can pin their ears back and rush the passer when White is in the game, which should allow them to …
Pressure Brady without blitzing
Creating pressure is how you beat any quarterback, but this is especially true for Brady.
Brady has been under pressure 60 times this season and has only completed 24 passes on 50 attempts for 266 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. That’s only 5.3 yards per attempt and a four percent interception rate; this is much worse than his career numbers of 7.5 yards and 1.8 percent.
Creating pressure will be key, but they will need to accomplish this only rushing four. Teams have blitzed Brady on 33 dropbacks this season and he has responded with 23 completions on 31 attempts for 314 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. That translates to 10.1 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 138.4.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio loves to bring Bryce Callahan on a zone blitz, but I would not expect to see that this weekend.
The health of Khalil Mack will be key to this game as well. We saw what happened to the pass rush when he was hobbled last week. Just look at the stats compared to the rest of the season:
Bears defensive line/outside linebackers pressure rates:
First four games: 11.1%
Khalil Mack: 19.4%
Against Miami: 2.7%
Khalil Mack: 3%
Khalil Mack needs to be 100% healthy if they have any hope of beating the Patriots
— Stephen Letizia (@StephenLetizia) October 17, 2018
If Mack is fully healthy and they can create pressure rushing only four, it should make it easier for the back seven to …
Limit Rob Gronkowski
While it is not easy, it’s proven that limiting Gronkowski is a big reason for success against the Patriots.
In their four wins this season, Gronkowski averages 6.5 targets, five receptions for 84.75 yards. In the two losses, he has been held to only 4.5 targets and three receptions for 34.5 yards. His lone touchdown this season also came in a win.
The same can be said for his entire career with the Patriots. Even though his receptions per game are fairly consistent whether they win (4.7) or lose (4.3), his yards (73 to 59.2) and touchdowns (.8 to .36) per game are way down in losses.
The Jaguars game was by far his worst this season, where he had only two receptions for 15 yards.
So how did the Jaguars slow down one of the most dominant players in football?
They played a good mix of zone and man defense. When in man, it was usually a safety matching up with him, specifically Tashaun Gipson, who is their best coverage safety. Gipson isn’t the biggest safety at only 5-foot-11, 212-pounds, so they opted for coverage ability rather than outmuscling Gronkowski.
In today’s NFL, where physical play is often met with penalties, this seems to be the best counter to Gronkowski. Look for Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson to be primarily matched up against the All-Pro tight end.
So there you have it!
Beating the Patriots is as simple as pressuring the most decorated quarterback of our generation without blitzing, containing the most dominant tight end ever to play the game with someone half his size all while still focusing tremendous effort to stop the run.
*sits back and waits for defensive coordinator job offers to come rolling in*
No one said it was going to be easy. The Patriots aren’t the most successful sports franchise in the last 20 years for nothing. But there is a way to do it.
But the key to success all starts with stopping the run. If they do that it will make containing Brady and Gronkowski easier. If any defense is built to do it, it’s these Chicago Bears.