Patriots at Bears
Today, 4:15 p.m., Ch. 4 (Line: Patriots by 3)
When the Patriots runBenJarvus Green-Ellis keeps answering the doubters by turning in solid performance after solid performance. The 5-foot-11-inch, 215-pound tailback (he looks bigger, no?) is not spectacular in any one area, but he has strength, speed, and awareness. He thrives on contact, and the Patriots keep him fresh by limiting his carries. With Tom Brady carving up defenses, teams sometimes forget about Green-Ellis, and that’s when he rips off big runs. Danny Woodhead has tremendous instincts, vision, and quickness. His lack of size (5-7, 200) makes him tough to locate, and he has superior toughness. New England’s offensive line, led by the ferocious Logan Mankins (you want him on that wall) is playing at a high level. That will have to continue today against a ferocious Chicago front seven. Big tackles Matt Toeaina (he’s strong and athletic) and Anthony Adams (ditto) can anchor against the run. Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are special. The 6-4, 258-pound Urlacher has great recognition skills and an explosive first step. He sheds (or avoids) blocks with ease and is a powerful tackler (check for loose fillings after the game). Briggs is quick and relentless. He has great lateral movement and explodes into ball carriers.
When the Patriots passTom Brady has been playing at an otherworldly level since that stinker in Cleveland in Week 9. Over the past four games, Brady’s lowest passer rating is 117.4 and he has thrown 13 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions. Brady’s recognition skills and football intelligence are off the charts. No QB in the NFL is better at checking down than Brady (sorry, Peyton). That quick thinking will come in handy today as Brady faces a defense led by defensive end Julius Peppers, who combines explosive first-step quickness with great size and strength to wreak havoc. Double teaming and chip blocking the 6-foot-7-inch, 283-pound Peppers is a must. With time at a premium, Brady will get rid of the ball quickly to his many weapons. Wes Welker (great quickness and toughness) will be targeted often. Deion Branch (he’s fluid and explosive) will get his chances as well. Danny Woodhead’s shiftiness, vision, and hands make him an ideal receiver out of backfield. Rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez continue to gain Brady’s trust. Chicago corners Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are solid.
When the Bears runRunning back Matt Forte is playing more like the rampaging rookie beast he was in 2008 after dropping off a bit last season. The 6-foot-2-inch, 218-pounder is big, strong, and explosive. Forte possesses deceptive first-step quickness and the burst to blast through holes and get to the second level. He has impressive lower-body strength, allowing him to break tackles and gain yards after contact. This guy does not pussyfoot around the line of scrimmage. Chester Taylor still runs with good pop. The 5-11, 213-pounder has a very similar skill set to Forte. Taylor is instinctive and has the patience to wait for his blocks to develop. Forte and Taylor have combined for almost 1,000 yards — an impressive number considering their offensive line is among the worst in the game. Center Olin Kreutz is the best of the bunch by default. A once dominant player, Kreutz (6-2, 292) has lost his explosiveness but is still a solid technician and his toughness is unquestioned. New England’s big defenders will dominate up front — massive tackle Vince Wilfork is a hitting machine — allowing athletic and instinctive linebackers Jerod Mayo (he’s always around the ball) and Gary Guyton (he has tremendous athleticism) to make hits and wrap up ball carriers.
When the Bears passJay Cutler has impressive physical skills. A big, meaty quarterback, the 6-3, 233-pounder has the strongest arm in the league and throws picture-perfect spirals. He has a quick release and has developed a nice touch on screen passes. Cutler uses his quick feet to buy extra time in the pocket. He can make plays outside the pocket, as his accuracy doesn’t suffer much on the run. The fifth-year veteran has taken a beating this year (41 sacks, 9 fumbles) as the Bears have struggled with pass protection. Tackles Frank Omiyale (he’s big but plays stiff) and 6-8, 335-pound rookie J’Marcus Webb (still finding his way) have underachieved. Johnny Knox is Chicago’s best receiver. Knox (6-0, 185) is small, strong, and smart. He’s not a great route runner but he has exceptional body control and strong hands. Earl Bennett is a solid contributor who combines strength and athleticism to get open. Tight end Greg Olsen (6-5, 255) has receiver speed and hands and has turned into an excellent safety valve for Cutler. Matt Forte is a demon on screens. Patriots corners Devin McCourty (great awareness) and Kyle Arrington (good mirror skills) continue to develop.
Bears' key playerDevin Hester
A threat to score from anywhere at any time, the 5-foot-11-inch, 190-pound Hester is explosive, shifty, and just plain fun to watch. Always a dangerous returner, Hester has become a more reliable receiver. Would you believe he was a cornerback in college?
How he beats you: With speed and vision. Hester has tremendous acceleration and change-of-direction skills. He’s one of the best open-field runners in NFL history.
How to shut him down: By not kicking to him. Squib your kickoffs and angle your punts out of bounds. He can’t hurt you if he never touches the ball.
Patriots' keys to victory1. Screen savers: The Bears, specifically Matt Forte and Johnny Knox, are great on screens and dump-offs. Spying these two is a way to keep them contained.
2. Jail-break blitzes: Bring everyone. Chicago’s offensive line has been in shambles since August. Keep blitzing until they prove they can stop you. They can’t.
3. Balanced books: Sure, Tom Brady is the offense’s driving force. But the running back committee is getting the job done, so keep the game plan even-steven.
Bears' keys to victory1. Cold shoulder: Defensive ends Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, and Henry Melton have to hit Tom Brady as often as possible to keep him from finding his rhythm.
2. Mistake free: Jay Cutler has to continue to play it safe. He has gone back-to-back games without a pick for the first time in his Bear tenure and that needs to continue.
3. Good as Gould: Chicago has a great kicker in Robbie Gould. He has proven he can be effective even in bad weather. Take the points, not the risks.