Each week I am hoping to bring a view of the upcoming game from a writer who covers the Patriots opposition, and this week I have Bears beat writer Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Sean was nice enough to take some time to answer my questions, and itâ€™s always interesting to get some insight from someone who covers the opposing team on a daily basis.
Here are my â€œFive Questions About The Upcoming Bears Game with Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun Times.”
1. The Bears were 7-9 last season. I had a feeling that Coach Lovie Smith could have been on the “hot seat” this season if the Bears did not turn it around, yet they’re currently 9-3. What are the major factors for the turnaround this season compared to last year’s Bears team?
The Bears werenâ€™t a dreadful team last season, losing several by a close margin in the second half of the season. They had several key injuries that they had a hard time overcoming. Running back Matt Forte was playing through a couple of injuries, and he didnâ€™t have a proven backup. And, more importantly, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher missed all but one game.
Those two are back, and theyâ€™re playing well. But the Bears also added Julius Peppers, who has made the sort of impact that they had hoped. Beyond that, they also bolstered their coaching staff, hiring two former head coaches in Mike Martz and Mike Tice, and also getting improved play from quarterback Jay Cutler.
One of the keys to success this season is the Bearsâ€™ remarkable fortune, in terms of injuries. They have lost only one contributor to the injured reserve; backup middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer. Otherwise, theyâ€™ve missed a couple of starters, for a couple of games here an there, but theyâ€™ve been arguably the leagueâ€™s healthiest team.
2. In the upcoming game it looks like weather could play a role in the game with high winds and very cold temperatures. Which team do you think has an advantage in these types of conditions?
I donâ€™t think either team has a decisive advantage. But I would say the Bears have the edge, overall. With winds projected anywhere from 20 to 50 miles per hour, the Jay Cutler and Tom Brady will have a hard time controlling the passing game. But neither of these teams has a power running game.
They both rely on finesse and speed. That may be hard, with the winds, temperatures and even field conditions.
While the Pats do play in poor weather. Iâ€™m not sure they can relate to what may be in store at Soldier Field, on Lake Michigan. The weather may be more biting, and the winds are going to be intense.
3. On offense the wildcard for the Bears seems to be Jay Cutler, who has played well as of late. What do you think is the difference in his play and the offense as a whole?
Jay Cutler got off to a strong start this season, then he endured a lot of abuse because he was holding the ball too long and his offensive line couldnâ€™t buy him any time. Theyâ€™ve largely solved those issues since the bye, with Cutler getting rid of the ball faster and the team relying on more three- and five-step drops and fewer seven-step drops. They are also moving the pocket and empowering Cutler to roll out and make decisions.
But letâ€™s not forget about the teamâ€™s increased emphasis to run the ball. The balance has been markedly better, with the team consistently attempting more than 50 percent runs. In addition, Cutler is locking in on Earl Bennett, his former teammate at Vandy. Bennett was unable to do much in the preseason, with a hamstring injury, but he got healthy at the start of the season then worked his way back into the lineup. Since the bye, Bennettâ€™s scored three touchdowns, and he topped 100 yards against the Lions, coming up with several key third-down conversions.
4. On defense, the Bears are again one of the best in the league as they are currently ranked 3rd in the NFL. The front seven seem to be solid for the Bears with players like Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs. Is the weakness of this defense the secondary?
The weakness is clearly the secondary, more specifically the cornerbacks. Zack Bowman didnâ€™t have the sort of season the Bears had hoped, and Charles Tillman has continued to force turnovers, but heâ€™s been getting nickel and dimed quite a bit this season. The Bears corners may give a cushion, but they arenâ€™t afraid to punch receivers in the mouth and try to jar the ball loose.
Receivers will feel the pain after playing against these corners. D.J. Moore is the nickel, and heâ€™s one of the teamâ€™s best playmakers. He has a knack for coming up with timely plays, from sacks to interceptions, and they like him on the football field in key situations.
5. And finally what is your key matchup for the game?
I think the key match up will be Bears rookie RT Jâ€™Marcus Webb against whoever the Patriots throw at him. Webb was a seventh-round pick, and he has some athleticism. But, heâ€™s admittedly struggled with things opposing offenses have thrown at him, since he played at West Texas A&M (a Division II school).
I believe Belichick will come up with ways to try and confuse Webb, like blitzing different players from his side. Itâ€™s worked quite a bit in the past. Then again, Iâ€™m sure Tice and Martz know thatâ€™s what Belichick will do.
Thatâ€™s what I love about this game: the chess match. Two of the best minds going at it. Should be a fun game.
A special thanks to Sean for giving his time to give his thoughts on this weekendâ€™s match-up. You can follow him on twitter at Skjensen .