The New England Patriots are 5-2 and streaking in the AFC East, having won three games in a row after a mediocre start.
The Chicago Bears are 3-4 and have lost all three of their home games. There have been loud voices and finger-pointing in the locker room as they fall further behind the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.
On the surface, the Patriots appear to have a major advantage when the two teams meet in Foxboro this Sunday. Start off with Tom Brady vs. Jay Cutler. One is cool, calm, and collected, while the other has a tendency to panic and force the ball into coverage. Advantage, Brady.
Bill Belichick vs. Marc Trestman? This is an even bigger blowout than the quarterback matchup. Belichick is one of the greatest coaches of all-time, perhaps ranking behind only Vince Lombardi. What he does better than anyone else is isolate his strengths against his opponents’ weaknesses, and hide his own team’s weaknesses vs. his opponents’ strengths.
We are still trying to figure out what Trestman does best. A supposed quarterback whisperer, he has not been able to work any kind of magic with Cutler. The Bears have a losing record since the start of the 2013 season when Cutler is in the lineup. Additionally, Trestman comes across more like a summer camp counselor who is trying to get his campers to sing Kumbaya around the campfire. He talks of family and togetherness, not of blocking and tackling.
George Halas has to be retching as he peruses the team he founded from beyond. (No judgment on whether Halas is looking up, down, or sideways.)
Trestman’s excuse-making is just sickening. “That was a miscommunication between Jay and Brandon (Marshall.) Brandon was supposed to run a hook route deep at 18 yards, and he turned it into a go route,” Trestman said as he tried to explain a Cutler interception.
A football coach needs to be a football coach, and not public relations firm.
But having said all that, the Bears have a chance to go into New England and come away with a season-changing win. All they have to do is look at the stats and make a decision to run the football and take it out of Cutler’s hands.
Running back Matt Forte is the Bears’ best player, and it’s not even close at this point. While big-name receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are certainly talented, and tight end Martellus Bennett is capable of making a big contribution, it’s Forte who comes to play every week and always does the job.
Forte is a beast who has rushed 111 times for 448 yards and scored three touchdowns. He is also the team’s leading receiver with 52 catches for 436 yards and two touchdowns. Forte is a sensational athlete who can avoid tacklers when he’s running the ball and adjust to Cutler’s off-target throws and bring them in. He needs to get the football throughout the game.
The Patriots are going to come at the Bears with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner at the cornerback positions. They are capable of slowing down – if not shutting down – Marshall and Jeffery. But the Patriots will not have middle linebacker Jerod Mayo or defensive end Chandler Jones.
Mayo was injured in Week Six vs. the Buffalo Bills, and he was the Patriots’ best all-around defensive player. Jones is a top-notch pass rusher, but he was also solid against the run. Jones has a hip problem that will keep him out for a month, while Mayo’s knee injury will keep him on the sidelines for the rest of the year.
The one-dimensional Jets tore apart the New England defense with Chris Ivory running the ball last Thursday night. Time after time, the Jets offensive line opened creases for Ivory who ran with a nasty edge and gained 107 yards on 21 carries. Chris Johnson, who is supposed to be the Jets’ No. 1 runner, gained another 61 yards on 13 carries.
The Patriots are almost certainly going to be able to adjust to life without Mayo and Jones, but not right away. The Bears are catching the Pats at the right time.
The Bears have a chance if they try to play old-school football and shove the ball down the Patriots’ throats. However, if they try to challenge Revis with Marshall or Jeffery and try to beat New England with long or medium routes, that will play right into New England’s hands.
The Patriots are vulnerable against the run, ranking 24th in yards allowed. However, Belichick’s crew can play pass defense, as they rank first in that department.
Whatever the Bears do, they don’t want to get into a must-throw situation. If they get behind by double-digits and Cutler and Trestman decide to throw the ball on nearly every play, that’s not going to work. Cutler may be able to throw the ball as hard and far as anyone in the league, but he makes too many mistakes.
His stats are not terrible, as he is completing 67.3 percent of his passes and he has a 14-7 TD-interception ratio. However, when the Bears need Cutler to make a big throw in the second half, that’s when he makes his mistakes.
Notice we haven’t mentioned Cutler’s scowling face and sulking demeanor. Those factors don’t work in his favor, but the Bears don’t lose big games because he has “punch-me” face. They lose because the Cutler-Trestman combination is not a good one, and if they try to depend on the passing game here, they will have another long afternoon.
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