The last time Bears fans were this anxious for a game at Soldier Field was, well, two weeks ago when the red-hot Philadelphia Eagles, led by Michael Vick, strolled into town. The Bears prepared well for Eagles and dominated just about every phase of the game in the 31-26 victory. Not only did the Bears just prepare well for that game, but quarterback Jay Cutler played, arguably, the best game of his career.
I'm not going to sugar coat it: Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense look mighty ferocious, averaging 31.6 points per game. Brady has already thrown 25 touchdown passes this season, while simultaneously managing to avoid throwing any interceptions through 228 consecutive pass attempts.
Despite the Patriots' 31.6 average points per game, the Bears are one of just three teams in the NFL who have not given up a 30+ point game all season. In addition to that, the Patriots have the 31st ranked defense (second to last) in the NFL. But, that may well be a misleading statistic. The Patriots' defense is opportunistic; tied for second in the NFL in interceptions gained with 18 on the season. Jay Cutler and the Bears' offense will likely have to have another season-high game in order to keep pace with the Pats, and avoid costly mistakes.
Keys to a Bears Victory
1. Protect Jay Cutler: Seems like this is a key every week, doesn't it? That's because, while the Bears' offensive line has played better as of late, most of their success has been due to the offensive adjustments made by Mike Martz. But, last week against the Lions, the Bears' o-line was exposed once again, and allowed Jay Cutler to be sacked four times. Jay's pretty good, but he won't be able to win this game lying on his back, I promise you that. Patriots' defensive end Mike Wright has 5.5 sacks through just 10 games this season and will likely find favorable match ups against Bears' rookie right tackle J'Marcus Webb. Webb needs to know his assignments inside and out so he doesn't allow Wright to blow past him, while assuming he's supposed to get running back help out of the backfield.
2. The Good Jay Cutler Must Show Up: This one clearly goes hand-in-hand with key number one, but it all starts with pass-protection. So having gotten that out of the way, Jay Cutler needs to, once again, step up and win this game for the Bears. He needs to maintain the third down and rezone efficiency we've seen through the team's current five-game win streak. He has to continue to make quick-decisions and turn the Patriots' pressure against them with his legs. He needs to do all of this, while continuing his two-game streak of zero interceptions.
3. Pressure Tom Brady: It's simple really; the Bears' Cover-2 will work, especially against this Patriots team, if they can manage to disrupt Tom Brady. If they cannot get to the QB, it's game over. Brady will dink and dunk all over the field, and turn the Bears secondary into swiss-cheese. I really don't care who is making the play. While I'd like to see Julius Peppers have a career game, the Bears defensive line has had multiple contributors as of late, and if Peppers is getting the attention, Idonije or Melton will need to continue to step up. Side note: No blitzes, please. It won't work against Brady. This is going to have to be the most ferocious four-man rush we've seen out of the Bears all season.
4. D.J Moore, Show Us Some More: Bears' nickel back D.J. Moore has played well this season, recording four interceptions (manly off tipped passes) early on in the year. Moore needs to have that same "Johnny-on-the-Spot" type of day. If Peppers and Idonije are doing their jobs effectively, D.J. will get his chances to create turnovers more than once or twice. Moore will likely be matched up against Wes Welker quite a bit, who currently leads the Patriots in receptions. But hopefully, focusing on solid tackling and waiting for the right moment to make a play on the ball will be something the Bears' defense stresses this week.
5. Continue Offensive Balance: It's easy to walk into a game, against what appears to be an offensive juggernaut, feeling like you're already playing from behind and trying to air it out. The Bears need to respect the Patriots, not "crown their as...." It's going to be a cold and snowy day in Soldier Field. The Patriots' offense will be operating on a short week, on the road, on freshly laid sod, in snow conditions. It's going to be tough for them to come out lighting the world on fire against the Bears' defense. The Pats' defense ranks 19th in the NFL against the run, and while they're 31st against the pass, it's much easier to keep control of the ball when you put in on the ground. Besides, it's probably a good idea to eat the clock and keep Tom Brady off the field, just a thought...
Odds and Ends
A Patriots win over the Bears would advance them to 11-2, and clinch a playoff birth. The Bears do not clinch with a win if they advance to 10-3.
Of the Bears' 47 regular season losses under head coach Lovie Smith, just five have come in Soldier Field when the offense scored 20 points or more.
Since the NFL extended its regular season to a 16-game schedule, the Bears have started the season 9-3, three times. They made the playoffs each time.
Since Super Bowl XX, the Patriots have recorded a 5-1 record against the Bears, while holding their offense to a touchdown or less in three straight games from 1988-1997.
Patriots' kick returner Brandon Tate is currently averaging 26.3 yards per return and has two returns for touchdowns this season.
Bears' kick returner Devin Hester is still waiting to eclipse Brian Mitchell for the all-time combined returns for touchdown record. The two players are currently tied with 13 each.