Another Big Game, Another Explosive Offense
The New England Patriots are off to the Windy City this week as they take on the Chicago Bears for what is a rare 1:00 p.m. start for the visiting team. The last two games have been prime time affairs and next week, it is back to another late game as the Pats will be on Monday Night Football against the Bills.
This week, the Bears return home disappointed after they let the chance to return 4-1 and atop the division with some breathing room slip away. They melted late in the game in the South Florida heat, something the Patriots are well familiar with dropped the game in overtime. At 3-2, they have a half-game lead on the Vikings and Packers.
The Patriots at 4-2, have won three in a row and are tied with Miami for the top spot in the AFC East. They’re entering a tough stretch with KC, Chicago, the MNF on the road and the Packers, before taking on Tennessee before their bye.
The Bears offensively run a similar offense to what the Chiefs do and have some explosive offensive players in Tarik Cohen, Taylor Gabriel, and Allen Robinson to go along with the mobile quarterback Mitch Trubiski. The Bears and Trubiski exploded a few weeks for six touchdown passes in the blowout win over Tampa Bay.
So, from a Patriots perspective, here are our Players to Watch on Sunday:
The Patriots swing tackle will no doubt get the start this week at right tackle as Marcus Cannon hasn’t practiced this week after leaving the KC game with a concussion. This is the reason the Patriots resigned Waddle this spring when he was a free agent. They knew that at some point they’d need him.
He may or may not be facing the Bears’ Khalil Mack, who also hasn’t practiced this week with an ankle injury and is considered day-to-day. Waddle faced Mack a year ago when Mack was a member of the Raiders defense. The Patriots beat Oakland in Mexico City 33-8 and Waddle was in for Cannon that day. Mack against Waddle that day had a sack, a tackle for a loss and three QB hits.
But regardless of whether Mack plays or not, Waddle will have a very important role in the Patriots game plan this week. Not only will he be responsible with protecting Brady’s right side from whoever rushes off the edge (Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks), but he’ll have to be solid in the running game as well.
The Patriots wide receiver is still working on his chemistry with Tom Brady. The deep out routes, the comebacks, and the back shoulder throws are all things that they’ve not worked the kinks out of yet. Those things will come in time, but this week, Gordon could see his role expanded a bit more.
The Bears have a pretty stout front seven and the running game may need the passing game to get it going instead of the opposite. Gordon has the size and athleticism to stretch the field vertically a bit more this week. They tried it a few times against KC. On one play, Gordon was open and ready to catch a deep ball before being interfered with, drawing a 37-yard penalty.
We’d look for the offense to begin expanding Gordon’s range more and more as he gets a bigger comfort level in the offense. Gordon will probably draw Prince Amukamara on the outside, the big, veteran corner should be an intriguing matchup to watch this week.
The Patriots big linebacker had a pretty productive game against the Chiefs despite the team allowing 31 second-half points. Hightower had an interception, a tipped pass and had quarterback pressure on Patrick Mahomes which forced him to throw an interception in the end zone, wiping out a Chiefs scoring threat.
This week the Patriots will have to contend with the diminutive but lightning-fast Tarik Cohen out of the Bears backfield. He’s a threat to run the ball or catch it out of the backfield and can be the Bears “X-Factor” in their offense this week.
How well (or badly) the Patriots defense does this week, will have a lot to do with how well they defend Cohen. While a bit different, the Bears offense does run a similar look to the Chiefs and they utilize the RPO (run/pass option) concepts which try to freeze and take advantage of the opposing linebackers. And for New England, that begins with the big man in the middle.
With a Bears defense that gets a lot of sacks (18) and is much better at stopping the run that the past few opponents that the Patriots have faced, they’ll look to what has always worked for them. The short passing game with Julian Edelman will be key this week, helping Tom Brady get the ball out fast and keeping the chains moving.
Edelman’s short area quickness and ability to find the open seams of the defense are a hallmark at the chemistry that he’s enjoyed with Tom Brady for many years.
The Bears defense will have their hands full with trying to jam, throw off the timing and re-route Edelman off the line. That will no doubt fall to the veteran corner Bryce Callahan. The Bears are really happy with the play of Callahan and resigned the smaller (5’9, 188), but very feisty cornerback this spring.
With the Patriots looking to use the middle of the field, players like Callahan and Danny Trevathan will be tasked with taking that away. The matchup between Edelman and Callahan will be an intriguing one to watch this week.
The Patriots defense has not been good at getting home against opposing quarterbacks and creating consistent pressure this year. Now they’re facing another mobile quarterback that can move and more importantly, throw on the move in Trubiski. That means the defense will have to set the edge and keep him in the pocket.
Flowers has been the best Patriots defensive lineman and although he has only two sacks on the season, he’s played very well. He got a lot of praise from the Bears’ coach Matt Nagy this week, “He’s not the ‘big-name guy,’ but he’s the big-name guy among the coaching world,” Nagy said. “He can hold the point. He’s strong, he’s quick, he’s fast, he plays in front of the quarterback. So, we know that he’s a good football player. … We have a lot of respect for his game.”
The Patriots are going to need a big game out of Flowers this week, setting the edge, and getting after Trubiski if they want their defense to have a better showing than they had with Kansas City. And they’ll need their best defensive player to lead the way.