Peppers And Picks: Keys to the Patriots-Bears Matchup
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Coming off of a complete demolition of the New York Jets on Monday Night Football, some media and fans are afraid that the short week after such an emotional victory could make this Sunday’s meeting with the Bears a “let-down game.”
I’ll tell you right now, though the Patriots might lose this game, it won’t be a classic let-down game. They can’t and won’t come out and start the game sloppy or sluggish. They can’t and won’t make dumb mistakes or get blown off the field.
They could still lose, however.
Listen, the Patriots are undisputedly the best team in the league right now, I don’t care what ESPN’s or anyone else’s power rankings say. But the Bears are a good team, especially over the past five games. And they’re at home.
And, with all likelihood of it being a game heavily affected by weather, it could just come down to a few lucky plays made by the team that eventually wins. Remember the Bills-Pats game at Buffalo in 2008? The wind was blowing so hard the goal posts were almost sideways. The Pats were out-gained in the game, and won in large part because of a few great kicks by Stephen Gostkowski and punter Chris Hanson in the windy conditions.
If that happens again, and looking at the weather report there is a good chance that it does, a few lucky or great individual plays could decide this game. With the sun expected to set an hour after game time and the potential for high winds and snow during the game, the running game and short passing game for both teams will be incredibly important on Sunday.
I expect that the Patriots offense will handle the Bears defensively. All week we have heard about Brady’s ability to carve up cover two defenses. When Brady has such a great relationship with his two top receivers, Welker and Branch, who are both incredible route runners with an exceptional ability to find holes in a zone defense, picking apart zones is easy.
That is, it’s easy if you have the time to do it. And that is the first key, and probably the most important one, for this game.
Julius Peppers. He’s an incredible talent, and even played both basketball and football in college. Bill Belichick in his Wednesday press conference (found on patriots.com) had some high praise for the Bears defensive end:
“He's added a lot to that football team…He was a problem at Carolina. He's a problem in Chicago.” Belichick especially noted how Peppers' athletic ability could translate to other positions. “He can definitely play on his feet and play linebacker…you could probably put him at strong safety…He could play inside on the defensive line. He could play outside; he's got great length to play outside…He's got power. He's got quickness and he plays on his feet. You could pretty much put him anywhere. You could put him at tight end. [You could] probably make a left tackle out of him.”
Peppers’ athletic ability is what will make him a problem for left tackle Matt Light and the rest of the offensive line. It is expected that Peppers will play on both sides of the line, so right tackle Sebastian Vollmer will need to be aware as well.
I would expect the Patriots to put a tight end, most likely it will be the great blocker Alge Crumpler, on whichever side Peppers is. Time is important for the Patriots in this game. If Peppers is controlled, then Brady will have enough of it to find his receivers in the soft spots of the defense.
Defensively, this game is all about turnovers for the Patriots. In pretty much every game, they have given up a lot of yards, which is one of the reasons that they are one of the worst ranked defenses in the league. But, they have been able to force turnovers, which is the reason that the team is 10-2. I am confident that Chicago will be able to gain yards, so timely turnovers are going to be important for the Patriots defense to get off the field.
Turnovers will be big in the game, but with weather conditions predicted to be poor, the Bears probably won’t be taking many shots down the field. Actually, the Bears haven’t been doing that as much during their five game winning streak. Instead, they have relied on their running game, tight end Greg Olsen and wide receivers Johnny Knox and Devin Hester running short to intermediate slant drag and in-cut routes.
For the Pats to make plays, the defensive backs will have to sit on these short routes and maybe even jump a slant or in-cut in order to get interceptions. This might make them susceptible to a double-move, but if conditions are to be windy and snowy, I doubt that even Jay Cutler’s cannon arm would be able to make deep throws with consistency.
Linebackers will have a large part to play in this game as well.
Who wins on Sunday?
Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton and Brandon Spikes will have to be sure tacklers during the game, especially if the Bears concentrate on throwing short passes across the middle of the field. Covering Olsen will also be a big responsibility for either the more athletic linebackers like Mayo, Guyton or Rob Ninkovich or safeties Jarrad Page, James Sanders or Patrick Chung.
Rattling Cutler is very important for the Patriots on Sunday. Though they have struggled getting a pass rush this season, they might be able to find some opportunities to get sacks or hits on Cutler because of the Bears’ weak offensive line.
But the Patriots can rattle him in other ways. Genius coach Belichick will certainly be able to create some schemes and formations to confuse Cutler, and maybe this would be enough to get him to make a poor throw or misread the defensive coverage. If he throws a pick early, I would expect him to get a little frustrated and force some passes later on in the game, which would give the Pats a few more opportunities to get turnovers.
Sunday’s game between the Bears and Patriots is a battle between two hot teams that are at the tops of their respective divisions. I do not expect Brady and his offense to have much trouble with the Bears defense, as long as Peppers is controlled by offensive linemen with some tight end help.
Defensively, the Patriots will have some trouble. They need to get turnovers. I expect them to, but this prediction is mostly based on recent history. The Pats have gotten interceptions in each of their last four games, all victories.
I don’t think that the Bears or Pats will be able to consistently run the football on either defense, so it will come down to the quarterbacks. Brady is just plain better and more proven. I expect him to make better decisions, even if the weather is poor, while Cutler could make a few mistakes against the Pats aggressive, but unproven, defense.
It will be a close game otherwise, Pats win 28-24.
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