THREE KEYS FOR THE BEARS
Make sure tackles: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady isn’t greedy. So he’ll take what the defense gives. Look for him to throw plenty of short passes and checkdowns to the running backs. When Brady does that, Bears need to make quick, sure tackles on those 4- and 5-yard passes to keep them from becoming chain-moving plays. The Patriots’ receivers excel at running after the catch, so the Bears need to keep those gains to a minimum.
Run the ball effectively: Whether they utilize Matt Forte or backup Chester Taylor, the Bears need to run the ball well in this inclement weather. Besides that, by effectively running the ball, the Bears keep the Patriots off balance, which sets up Jay Cutler for play action. Forte and Taylor averaged 4.9 and 3.7 yards per carry, respectively, last week against the Lions. A similar average against the Patriots significantly increases Chicago’s chances for a victory.
Protect Jay Cutler: Footing should be a challenge in snowy conditions and a traditionally sloppy Solider Field. That could make pass protection a nightmare for the Bears, who have already given up four sacks in each of their last two games. The right side of the line is the key, where rookie J’Marcus Webb continues to struggle (mostly mental lapses). Veteran right guard Roberto Garza needs to make communication with the rookie a premium.
THREE KEYS FOR THE PATRIOTS
Neutralize Julius Peppers: Peppers lines up on both edges of the line over the course of a game. So Patriots tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Matt Light need to be at their best, and the coaching staff needs to be vigilant in deploying help on Peppers with a tight end or a running back chipping. The rest of New England’s offensive line, meanwhile, needs to neutralize Chicago’s rushers in one-on-one matchups. Chicago defensive end Israel Idonije has proven adept at defeating one-on-ones this year.
Kick it away from Devin Hester: The Patriots are already at a disadvantage because of what’s sure to be a raucous crowd at Soldier Field. A gamebreaking return by Hester will only make matters worse. Because Hester is now involved in both the kick- and punt-return game, the Patriots need to utilize directional kicking to keep the ball away from the return man. But that could be difficult given the weather conditions.
Make the Bears one dimensional: By stopping the backfield duo of Forte and Taylor, the Patriots would make the Bears lean heavily on the passing game to keep the chains moving. That would give the Patriots a huge advantage because the Bears have proven they struggle when the run-pass mix tilts more toward putting the ball in the air. In addition, by forcing the Bears to pass more, the likelihood for mistakes by quarterback Jay Cutler increases.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: TOM BRADY vs. COVER 2
Brady has made a living of carving up Cover 2 defenses, but the Bears excel at playing the coverage, which adds more intrigue to this matchup.
Brady is a disciplined passer, who will take the short throws afford him by Chicago’s Cover 2 defense. Brady will have to be patient enough to work the ball down the field for long drives. The Bears, meanwhile, have to be disciplined enough to resist taking chances that will allow Brady to hit the big play.
The Bears are banking on Brady completing plenty of short throws, hoping that over the course of a long drive he’ll make a mistake. Brady leads the league in touchdown passes of 10 yards or fewer, but the Bears are one of the best teams in the league at stopping teams from scoring the red zone.
So something has to give.
BY THE NUMBERS
6: Where the Bears rank in terms of balance on offense. Of 315 total plays, the Bears have run the ball 164 times and passed 151.
52.9: Chicago’s third-down conversion percentage over the past five games, which ranks as No. 2 in the NFL behind NFC North foe Green Bay.
27: Points scored by the Bears’ two-minute offense, which ties with Indianapolis for third in the NFL.
36: Tackles by Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher in three starts against the Patriots.