Joniak: Patriots A 'Great Challenge' For Bears

October 18, 2018 - 5:52 pm
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By Jeff Joniak--

LAKE FOREST (WBBM Newsradio) -- The Bears (3-2) were back at work Thursday preparing to face the Patriots (4-2), who visit Soldier Field on Sunday. Here are the notes and observations of the day.

First impression

The Patriots are a measuring stick game for the Bears, a chance to find out where coach Matt Nagy’s crew stacks up against a perennial powerhouse. 

"It's great challenge," Nagy said. "Ultimately as players, you always have great respect for great teams. Not that you don’t ever respect your opponents that you are playing, but this team here is proven. They’ve done it consistently for a long time with a lot of great coaches and a lot of great players. When you know you have that opportunity to go against that, you know you are playing the best.”

Experience is on the Patriots' side, of course. The score, they turn takeaways into points and they win. None of that should matter to the Bears, who can't afford to take the field in awe of the Patriots.

"This team is probably like the top confident team I have ever been around," said Bears insider linebacker Danny Trevathan, who won a Super Bowl while playing for the Broncos. "We didn’t play as well last game, but we’re still confident and we know what we are capable of as a team. We know it’s a long season, and we know that we can keep getting better. We’re not complacent here. Guys are buying in."

Second thought

If Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack misses Sunday's game with a bad ankle, teammates feel they will pick up the slack. The Bears were already a highly regarded unit before Mack’s arrival this season, so the confidence that Trevathan speaks of can carry the day if necessary.

"We’re going to step it up anyway," Trevathan said. "He’s going to handle his business. He’s a pro. He’s one of the best at it. We got to keep moving. He knows that, defense knows that. We know we just got to get this win with or without whoever is out on the field."

Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks feels the same way, believing the Bears have depth at outside linebacker to help fill in any absence. Mack didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday.

"Any one of them can step up and have a big day," Hicks said. "I don’t really see too much fall-off."

The confidence the Bears have in the locker room seems to be significant. 

Third degree

The New England defense has struggled mightily in five games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles dating back to 2014. The common thread between those two latter teams is an Andy Reid version of the West Coast offense, which out branched to Doug Pederson in Philadelphia and now also Nagy in Chicago. So the Bears should have a good idea of how to attack the Patriots.

Three times since 2014, the Chiefs have scored 40 or more points on the Patriots, including in a loss Sunday night. Back in January 2016, the Chiefs also had 38 minutes of possession against the Patriots but lost 27-20 in the AFC divisional round in the playoffs. 

In Philadelphia, Pederson's Eagles won the Super Bowl over the Patriots by scoring 41 points last season. Can Nagy’s offense do the same kind of damage with Mitchell Trubisky on Sunday?

It starts with a mindset of belief. 

"It’s crazy how that can help you in so many different ways," Nagy said. "That’s where I am trying to see where we are at as a group right now.  We’re hammering that home -- that it’s important to have respect for your opponents but also the belief in yourself too of where you’re coming and what we can do and where the future is for us."

Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich remain impressed with how Trubisky is improving in his second professional season, as he's doing a good job of simply focusing on improvement. 

Fourth-and-short

A key to the game could be Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd having a big game attacking Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the pocket and taking away his time to throw. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio feels Floyd played his best as far as "being active" last week. Floyd's surgically repaired hand is almost back to normal, and so is his confidence in using it to rush the passer. Fangio admitted that Floyd’s wrapped hand did effect his performance in the first month of the regular season.

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.