Joniak: Keys To Bears-Patriots

Kickoff is set for noon Sunday at Soldier Field.

Jeff Joniak
October 19, 2018 - 4:47 pm
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(WBBM Newsradio) The Bears (3-2) host the Patriots (4-2) at noon Sunday at Soldier Field. Here are my keys to the game.

Offense

New England’s defense relies on a bend-but-don't-break approach. The Patriots were 29th in total defense last season but allowed the fifth-fewest points. This season, they're 20th in total defense and tied for 18th in scoring defense, permitting 24.7 points per game.

The Patriots stiffen in the red zone, where they're tied with the Bears defense with a 50-percent touchdown efficiency, ranking 12th in the league and having one takeaway. The Patriots' defensive linemen control blockers, opening up the linebackers like Dont'a Hightower to fill the gaps. Those linebackers are smart but not swift, creating some potential matchup advantages for the Bears with Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard and Trey Burton.

Bears coach Matt Nagy is preaching ball security this week -- and for good reason. The Patriots have turned 12 takeaways into a league-high 52 points. Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky caught the attention of Patriots coach Bill Belichick for his deep ball in the last few weeks. Look for the Patriots secondary to disguise, challenge and probe, with the goal of testing and challenging Trubisky. Nagy wants the offense to play fast, which is what the Bears do when they're at their best. 

Defense

Pressuring Tom Brady is critical for the Bears but also complicated. He gets rid of it quickly and, if need be, can be patient moving the offense with flares and screens out of the backfield to James White and short throws to chain-mover Julian Edelman. If the Bears' pass rush is muted, getting hands up in the air at the line of scrimmage could cloud passing lanes, but Brady has had only one pass batted down in 214 passing attempts. 

If the quick game is New England’s plan, Chicago must tackle. The Bears' yards allowed after contact skyrockets in a loss to the Dolphins last week, and they must be better against the Patriots in that regard. 

Brady is benefiting from a resurgent rushing attack led by rookie Sony Michel, who has 316 yards and four touchdowns during the Patriots' three-game winning streak. Throw in their new deep threat in Josh Gordon and the matchup nightmare that is tight end Rob Gronkowski, and New England has a complete offense that's equipped to threaten every blade of grass. The red zone is Brady’s friend. The Patriots led the NFL with 42 red-zone touchdowns in 2017 and already have 14 this season, including nine Brady touchdown passes.

Special teams

New England invests time and money into its special team units, which have always been an important phase for Belichick. This season, he's perturbed that his coverage units have permitted 568 yards, including a 97-yard return by Kansas City’s Tremon Smith last week. The Bears have to block Matthew Slater, one of the premier cover men in the league. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski is 12-of-13 on field goals this season. Patriots punter Ryan Allen gets the job done, but opportunities await Cohen in the Bears' return game. 

Bears kicker Cody Parkey is said to be a resilient individual, so moving on from his game-winning attempt that sailed slightly right last week in Miami isn't expected to have a lasting impact on his psyche.

Intangibles

New England is a on a record streak of 17 consecutive winning seasons and 15 playoff appearances during this stretch. The Patriots are 223-68 since 2002. Brady authored his 55th game-winning drive in the shootout win against the Chiefs last weekend. He has 200 regular-season wins. Teams, players, and coaches sometimes fall into the mystique trap against the Patriots, whose aura with Belichick and Brady gives them an edge that few teams claim. The Bears have done a good job all week of avoiding that trap. Now they have to do the same Sunday.

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