Every week leading into the Patriots' next game, ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss preview the matchup. This week, it's Sunday's home game against the Chicago Bears (Fox, 1 p.m. ET):
Mike: The Bears made some headlines this week but not necessarily for the right reasons. Receiver Brandon Marshall was reportedly fiery in the locker room after Sunday's loss to the Dolphins and later said he regretted not his actions but that the door wasn't closed.
Tedy: When something like this happens and Marshall calls out his team and uses the word "unacceptable," one way to look at it is that you have a player showing how much he cares. That can spark the Bears to come out this week with an inspired effort. That type of attitude can be contagious to a locker room, and you can almost say you'd feel differently about that team if there wasn't that emotion. This all comes back to something I believe: The emotions, mentalities and state of motivation of a team are huge factors in football.
Mike: That's a positive outlook. What about the other side of it?
Tedy: With the recent news about Percy Harvin in Seattle, you can see how locker room attitudes can become contagious. Players are highly impressionable, and younger guys look up to the older players who have had success and been rewarded with big contracts in this league. If there is a negative influence, you can see the effect that can have, and I think of Seattle and how receiver Doug Baldwin was arguing with quarterback Russell Wilson on the sideline. Whoa. You hadn't seen much of that up to that point.
Mike: Let's get into the Bears' personnel with Jay Cutler, who one week can look like one of the NFL's best quarterbacks and then the next week can look like one of the worst.
Tedy: When I watch him play, I think he has an "arrogant arm": He can make any throw, and he knows it. That can lead to mistakes at times, because it almost looks like he thinks his arm can make up for any other deficiencies. For example, although he might be able to look off the safety, he might just throw it without doing so because of the belief that he can fit the ball into such a tight window. It doesn't matter if his footwork is bad, either; he'll still throw it. That's the impression I've received from him, and it shows up on the field consistently because of that rocket right arm.
Mike: If you're a coach, how do you manage that?
Tedy: You definitely try to cut down on the turnovers from him (10), but there is also a thought that if he changes the way he is, it might hurt him. Cutler really does have a fantastic arm, and not only does he know it, he also hears it all the time from people who analyze his play. So you can sort of see the conflict he might have there.
Mike: Here's a thought -- don't put as much of the offensive burden on him. When I watched last week's Bears loss to the Dolphins, it was almost as if the running game was an inconvenience to them, with the first drive an example of it (a long pass on third-and-1). I was a little surprised to see that given the presence of running back Matt Forte.
Tedy: I'd agree that this offense isn't dedicated to the run. The Bears have shown under-center traditional runs and pistol-formation runs, but what they really do is spread you out and try to show you how smart and talented they are. With Forte, whose 52 receptions lead the NFL, it almost reminds me of Marshall Faulk on the old Rams teams. That's why the defensive ends will be key for the Patriots because they always have to identify whether Forte lines up on their side, and when he does and flashes, they have to make contact with him. There are a few examples of how defenses can be hurt when they don't do this: In Week 1, Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes just flew up the field with no awareness (third quarter, 12:08), and Forte had an 18-yard catch-and-run to that side on a screen. The next week, against the 49ers, Forte was offset to Cutler's left and edge rusher Corey Lemonier blindly rushed up the field amid another successful screen (fourth quarter, 15:00). Same thing happened against the Packers in Week 4, when Forte was offset, and Clay Matthews rushed in off the defensive left edge and Forte slipped out for a 25-yard catch-and-run on the screen (third quarter, 10:51). These are the things the coaching staff will be showing Patriots defensive ends while giving them the following message: "If Forte is offset, get him!"
Mike: This is where losing Chandler Jones hurts the Patriots a little bit because that would be him a lot of the time. Can rookies Dominique Easley and Zach Moore be as effective in that area? Let's keep an eye on it.
Tedy: The first thing to stress with Forte defensively is identifying where he is. Is he in the "home" position directly behind the quarterback under center? Is he offset in the shotgun? Then, once you identify him, it's determining the coverage and where your help is because Forte can run the full route tree; he's that skilled. Patriots linebackers have been beaten in the flat all season long, and I'm sure the Bears have seen that. After the defense identifies where Forte is, then it's about covering him through the entire down. In last week's game against the Dolphins, linebacker Koa Misi had good coverage on Forte initially, which made Cutler hold on to the ball longer and step up in the pocket to extend the play before Forte spun away from Misi, who slipped, and it was a 24-yard catch-and-run just like that (fourth quarter, 9:07). So whether it's Forte or others, this offense counts on running after the catch. They're explosive down the field, and it won't take them long to test you down the field (e.g., first drive versus Miami last week), but they also rely on tear screens to receiver Alshon Jeffery.
Mike: Jeffery and Brandon Marshall are a solid one-two combination at receiver with good size. Bill Belichick has made the point that with their size (Marshall is 6-foot-4, Jeffery is 6-2), they can effectively box out defenders. Cutler is completing only 31.3 percent of his throws 15 yards or more down the field, but that doesn't stop him from trying them.
Tedy: Because the receivers are so big and physical, you can almost count on contact. They've drawn some penalties down the field because of it. When this happens, back at the line of scrimmage, you see a lot of deep drop-backs, and pass-rushers love that because when a quarterback drops back 8 yards you know you can use your pure speed to run up the field and turn the corner to beat an offensive tackle. Look at the Cameron Wake sack, forced fumble and recovery last week (fourth quarter, 14:32), and contact was made on Cutler -- who dropped back to pass after receiving the snap in the shotgun -- 9 yards behind the line of scrimmage. That asks a lot of an offensive tackle and is a pass-rusher's dream -- you almost feel like you can beat any offensive tackle to the 9-yard setup spot.
Mike: That puts some stress on offensive tackles Jermon Bushrod (left) and Jordan Mills (right). In particular, Mills has struggled a bit. He was a fifth-round draft pick out of Louisiana Tech in 2013.
Tedy: I think tight end Martellus Bennett is a key for the Bears, and here's why. The Patriots probably will be OK on the outside by putting cornerback Darrelle Revis on Marshall and then double-teaming Jeffery over the top with safety help. You also know they'll have a plan for Forte with the linebackers and defensive ends. So that leaves Bennett in the middle of the field, and I'll be interested to see if the Bears can exploit that. Also, will the Bears be able to show the same type of discipline the Jets did last week and stick to the run? That isn't really who they are; it's almost like they prefer to be flashy at times, but it's clear the Patriots have a weakness there. So I sort of look at it as coach Marc Trestman's offensive mind against Belichick's defensive plan.
Mike: What do you see from the Bears' defense?
Tedy: The strength is up front on the defensive line. Last week, defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff took Dolphins offensive lineman Mike Pouncey (playing right guard) and drove him right back on the first play for a sack. That opens your eyes. The other player who stands out is defensive end Willie Young, who has seven sacks on the season. But he's showing more than just the ability to sack the quarterback; it's also his ball awareness and hustle. In the first quarter last week against the Dolphins (2:33 remaining), he played his run responsibility, read the bootleg and shed the tight end to contain the quarterback at right end. The ball was completed down the left sideline for a 14-yard gain, and who made the tackle? It's Young, with textbook work when it comes to play responsibility, ball awareness and hustle. So between Ratliff, Young, and then a stout presence inside with Stephen Paea and a few of their other free-agent signings in Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen -- some accomplished pass-rushers -- it's a good group.
Mike: Belichick has described the Bears as a zone-based defense, and when I hear that, it's often an approach that Tom Brady has great success against if the offensive line can protect up front.
Tedy: Misdirection seems to hurt this defense, which is read-heavy. I notice an overaggressive approach, and the Patriots were hurt by the Dolphins' use of play-action and screens. This may be a week that the Patriots try to get the outside running game going. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill exposed the Bears' lack of awareness and discipline by edge-setting defenders who might always be thinking sacks. Obviously Brady doesn't have the same ability to do that, but let's see if offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels introduces some play designs with receiver sweeps and outside runs with the backs. It's the same concept, just a different way to attack it. When I watch the Bears' defense, I get the sense that sometimes the simple things are hard for it. For example, on Dolphins tight end Charles Clay's touchdown last week (first quarter, 6:56), linebacker Shea McClellin took too long to diagnose the pass and tried to get a jam on the tight end. He missed, his weight went forward and he tried to make up for it by accelerating his backpedal and turn (the right thing to do), but he slipped to make it an easy touchdown. I think it's fair to say his eyes should have seen the stance of the offensive tackle through the tight end, as the pre-snap read of the entire offensive line shows pass tendencies.
Mike: The Bears are hurting in the secondary after losing Charles Tillman to injury and now might be without rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller. At linebacker, there's a familiar face in Lance Briggs, a 2003 third-round draft pick who has spent his entire career in Chicago and is still getting after it. He missed last week's game and was limited in practice early this week with a rib injury.
Tedy: Briggs has been beaten up, but he's an instinctive player -- one of the best linebackers in the NFL -- and you need instinct to be in this defense. I always admire a linebacker who spends his entire career with one team; I can speak from experience: That can be a good way to go. Then you have some younger linebackers like Khaseem Greene (second year), Jon Bostic (second year) and Christian Jones (rookie) to go along with Darryl Sharpton (fifth year). Some of the Bears' struggles on defense are a result of this group. One example came late in last week's game against the Dolphins when Jones ran a delayed blitz and got burned (fourth quarter, 4:11). You see him rush when tight end Dion Sims initially stays in to block, but after Sims notices Jones on the delayed blitz, he releases and catches a short pass for what is ultimately a 26-yard gain.
Mike: Any pressure packages the Patriots need to be aware of?
Tedy: They will overload pressure from one side at times while dropping one of their defensive ends. Other times they will use their linebackers to run "games" with an interior defensive lineman. In the second quarter last week (:54 remaining), you see Sharpton team with Houston and Ratliff -- Houston and Sharpton slanted to the defensive left and Ratliff looped around and they had a team meeting at the quarterback. It almost looked like Sharpton held center Samson Satele, and if he did, that was a smart play.
Mike: Before we get to our predictions, a quick note on Bears special teams. One thing people may not realize is that kicker Robbie Gould entered the NFL with the Patriots in 2005. What do you remember about him at the time?
Tedy: We had Adam Vinatieri as the kicker, so this is similar to what we've seen with quarterbacks like Matt Cassel, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett -- "You can be good, but you aren't going to play because we have Tom Brady here." So that was my thought with Robbie Gould -- "you're doing well, kid, but you won't be making it here with that guy Vinatieri over there." I think it's a testament to him, and before him, Phil Dawson, that they went on to have long, successful careers. It's a reminder that just because you start in one place doesn't mean it will be your destination. Other teams are always watching. Chicago can be a tough place to kick, and he's done it well. The other point on special teams for the Bears is this: Why did they move on from Devin Hester as their returner? He's a special player, and I don't see anything like that on their current roster. It's just not the same Bears special-teams unit without him.
Mike: I view this as a matchup between a careless team (Bears) and one that protects the ball with good discipline (Patriots). The turnover numbers reflect that -- 13 giveaways for the Bears to just five for the Patriots. If the Patriots can protect Brady, I see opportunities for the offense to move the ball and score points much like Miami did last week when Tannehill completed his first 14 passes of the game. If Tannehill can do that, I think the chances are good that Brady will exceed it. Prediction: Patriots 34, Bears 28
Tedy: Brady has been great at getting the ball out quickly to protect his health this season. He will have to do that again. That means quick passes with short gains, if the Bears tackle well, then having to convert on third down. Jeffery is a dangerous weapon who will give the Patriots problems, but it won't be enough to overcome the sloppy way his quarterback will give the ball away. Prediction: Patriots 31, Bears 24