New England Patriots Have Match-up Options to Beat the Bears


Oct 12, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) after the game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

At five wins and two losses through seven games the New England Patriots are sitting atop the AFC East once again in a familiar position of strength after defeating their division rivals the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets these last two weeks. Now the Patriots are moving forward likely without top pass-rusher Chandler Jones as he is out for a few weeks with a hip injury. The Patriots face the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.


For the Patriots, the loss of Jones is huge. He has been their most consistent pass rusher and puts pressure on his replacement to pick-up the slack. Look for first-round draft pick Dominique Easley to pick-up playing time in Jones’ place, particularly on third down. Also, sixth-round draft pick Zach Moore generated some pressure inside in the past two weeks and could step in for Easley inside if he slides out to the edge. Rob Ninkovich will be expected to bring pressure Sunday, especially with young right tackle Jordan Mills the weak link of the Bears offensive line.


On the interior, the Patriots may have additional help with reports of the Patriots being interested in signing veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch to shore up some veteran depth. The former Arizona and Seattle defensive tackle is a strong run-stuffer and has primarily played inside in a 3-4 defensive front. The Patriots also are adding some linebacker depth with the reported trade for Tennessee linebacker Akeem Ayers. This could give them an extra linebacker to play inside and free up Jamie Collins to do more in blitzing and pass coverage.


Oct 19, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) attempts to make a catch against Miami Dolphins cornerback Cortland Finnegan (24) during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

With the Bears receiving threats, New England will have a tough test this weekend. Both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are big, physical receivers. Old friend Santonio Holmes has landed as the third receiver in Chicago after injuries and a high salary cap number ended his time with the Jets. Oddly enough, the Patriots had cornerback Alfonzo Dennard playing in the slot instead of Kyle Arrington against the Jets and Dennard was burnt on multiple occasions. Physical cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner will be key to slowing Marshall and Jeffery while Arrington should be locked on the quick and shifty Holmes.


Tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte also present match-up problems for the Patriots. Bennett is six-foot-six and 260 pounds and has 41 receptions for 422 yards and four touchdowns in just seven games. A preponderance of nickel defense and extra defensive backs seems to be a given considering how Chicago has abandoned the running game every game this season other than their loss to Green Bay in week four. In that game the Bears rushed for over 200 yards and still lost the game handily to the Packers. Getting an early lead on the Bears should have offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer out of any plan to rush the ball base on their tendencies this year.


The Bears’ issues have not necessarily on the offense (although inconsistency has been an issue), but rather on defense. Top cornerback Charles Tillman is on injured reserve and impressive rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller has a broken hand and hip injury. Top coverage linebacker and heart-and-soul of the defense Lance Briggs is questionable with a rib injury, fellow linebacker Jonathan Bostic may miss another game with a back injury, and starting free safety Chris Conte has missed time with a shoulder injury.


Oct 12, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Chicago Bears defensive end Jared Allen (69) celebrates after a play in the fourth quarter of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The Bears won 27-14. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The injuries at linebacker and in the secondary have decimated a Bears defense that was not a top defense with everyone healthy. With quarterback Tom Brady in a groove the past three weeks, the Patriots should be able to put up points without running back Stevan Ridley. Former Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston and former Vikings edge rusher Jared Allen were added in the offseason to add to the pass rush. Former Lions end Willie Young has been a revelation this season in Chicago clogging running lanes while veteran interior lineman and former Cowboy Jay Ratliff has been disruptive when on the field, but he has spent much of the past two seasons on the sidelines with injuries.


A return to health on the offensive line could put New England in position to exploit the Bears’ decimated secondary. Covering tight end Rob Gronkowski will be a chore for the Bears and Chicago has to decide whether they use top cornerback Tim Jennings on Gronk (which is a huge size mismatch), Julian Edelman, or Brandon LaFell (another size mismatch). The Patriots’ offensive weapons in the passing game are a tough test for the Bears a week after they were lit-up at home by the Miami Dolphins. Outside of Jennings, the secondary was torched by Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill and other than Ratliff exploiting the weak belly of the Dolphins’ offensive line, Houston and Allen were stoned by the Dolphins’ tackles.


Look for the Patriots on defense to flood the middle of the field with defensive backs while cornerbacks Revis and Browner try to get physical on the line of scrimmage with Marshall and Jeffrey. On offense some good offensive line play could let Brady attack the Bears secondary as Miami did last week. Last week Tannehill was 14 of 15 for 176 yards and two touchdowns at halftime. The Bears struggled to contain Miami tight end Charles Clay last week–facing Gronkowski should be a real struggle for their defense this Sunday.