Four Downs: Keys to beating the Patriots (12/12/10)

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A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.

1. Collapse the pocket on Tom Brady
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the game and given time to set up and go through his progressions, he’s downright deadly. It’s a foregone conclusion that the Patriots are going to get a lot of yards in this game and will be able to move the ball down the field at will. The two reasons for that are that the Bears’ Cover 2 defense permits it and the Patriots offense thrives on it. Without Randy Moss, the Patriots are not a deep-threat team, but the Bears’ defense is set up to prevent the big play, anyway. That’s not to say Brady won’t try to go deep if one of the Bears’ safeties has a misstep. But Brady will pick apart the defense with small chunks of yards at a time by using receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch and tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. The only thing the Bears can do, frankly, is collapse the pocket as quickly as possible and don’t let Brady get comfortable. He’s not a mobile quarterback and has just 17 rushing yards on 28 attempts this season. If the Bears can line up Peppers at left end and he forces Brady to move to his left, it might disrupt the passing game.

2. Attack the Patriots defense with the run
The Patriots, once revered for their defensive prowess, have now become a finesse defense, and not a very good one at that. They’re ranked second-to-last in overall defense, 31st against the pass and 19th against the run. Although they’re better at defending the run, they’re still not very good at it and the Bears need to exploit it. The Bears haven’t had a great deal of success at playing power football this season and the majority of their running plays have gone to the outside rather than up the middle. Still, the most effective way to keep the football out of Brady’s hands is to keep him and his offense on the sideline and prolong drives by running the ball at the Patriots’ defense. Last month, Browns running back Peyton Hillis ran for 184 yards. While that was probably just an anomaly, it proves that they can be run on if the Bears are able to “man up” and play power football.

3. Score quickly and play with the lead
Two weeks ago, the Bears had the challenge of stopping the NFL’s second-highest scoring offense, the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bears rose to the challenge and also scored a season-high 31 points. This week, they’ll face a Patriots offense that, after scoring 45 points against the Jets on Monday, is averaging 31.6 points per game. Not only is that technically higher than the Bears’ season-high mark, it’s also 11 points more than their season average. I know the Bears like to defer and let their defense take the field first, but if they win the coin toss on Sunday, I think it’s best to receive the ball and let their most dangerous weapon get his hands on the ball first. The Bears then need to take the ball down the field and score right away and try to play with the lead, forcing the Patriots to play catchup all game. Along the same lines, while the Patriots offense may move the ball at will down the field, it’s imperative that the defense holds them to field goals as much as possible.

4. Protect the football and force turnovers
The Bears are ranked 11th in the league with a plus-3 turnover ratio. As admirable as that is, the Patriots are second in the league with an astounding plus-14. The only team with a better ratio is the Eagles, whom the Bears defeated while forcing Michael Vick to throw his first interception of the season. Vick’s two interceptions are fewest in the league. Who’s second on the list? Yep, Tom Brady, with just four. Brady is a smart quarterback who is careful with the football and won’t make mental mistakes. He leads the league with a 109.5 passer rating. Probably the only way the Bears can get turnovers this week is by tipping passes and punching the ball loose. Clean interceptions will be hard to come by. Because the Patriots are so good at protecting the football, the Bears offense needs to be equally protective. New England’s defense is second in the league with 18 interceptions and they’ve recovered five fumbles. One of the reasons the Bears have been on a five-game win streak is because of ball security. And while the Redskins were an opponent the Bears could still have beaten if Jay Cutler had thrown three interceptions instead of four, if he throws even one against the Patriots, that may be one too many.

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