The NFL’s highest scoring team visits Soldier Field this weekend. Fresh off a 45-3 pounding of the New York Jets, the New England Patriots are the NFL’s team of the moment.
If the Bears hope to hang with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and company, they’ll need big games from these four guys:
Patriots rookie punter, Zoltan Mesko: Please meet the NFL’s greatest punt returner of all time. After putting 45 points on the board against the Jets defense, it’s likely Hester could only get three opportunities for punt returns against the Patriots. But when he does, Hester – who’s averaging 15 yards per return – will need to make the most of his limited opportunities.
And knowing the Pats will put points on the board (they average 31 per game), Hester should get plenty of touches via kickoff returns. Even if he doesn’t return a punt/kick for a TD, he’ll be crucial to helping the Bears offense start in good field position.
In the Patriots 2007 Super Bowl loss to the Giants, Brady was continuously harassed by the Giants front four, which featured Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Michael Strahan. The Bears will need a similar effort to keep the Patriots high-scoring offense in check…and leading that charge will be #90 in blue.
Peppers doesn’t have the luxury of all those Giant playmakers around him, but he has a strong supporting cast – most notably Izzy Idonije (6.5 sacks) – who will need to disrupt the Patriots timing offense. If Peppers can bully Brady’s bodyguards on the edges, NE will have to bring an extra man to help the O-tackle, which could open things up for Izzy, Toeaina, Melton, etc.
The Bears were able to corral the elusive Mike Vick with consistent pressure from their front four. They’ll need a similar effort to disrupt the Patriots short-drop, quick-strike pass offense.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think Jay Cutler needs to have a huge day for the Bears to beat the Patriots. A mistake-free, even occasionally conservative, Cutler can manage the offense enough to keep the Bears in the game…as long as he’s supported by a decent ground game, which leads us to Mr. Kreutz and Co.
Kreutz will be responsible for making protection calls against the defensive mastermind of Belichick. The Patriots run a 3-4 defense, which allows them to bring pressure from all over the field.
Kreutz will also be asked to keep the Patriots mammoth D-tackles, Vince Wilfolk and Gerard Warren, off Chicago ball carriers Matt Forte and Chester Taylor. If Kreutz and his improving linemates can open enough running room, the Bears can control the clock…and keep Brady off the field.
That’s not a typo. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs will be busy men vs. Tom Brady. The Patriots have two talented rookie tight ends – Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski – who have become important pieces of their high-scoring offense.
The rookies are often on the field together, and when they are, they’re much more than complimentary targets to Deion Branch and Wes Welker. So far this year, they’ve produced to the tune of a combined 65 catches and 10 TDs. Urlacher and Briggs will be matched up with the TEs often – Briggs on underneath routes and Urlacher down the middle of the field.
The two-TE formation also gives the Patriots the flexibility to run out of their one-back set, setting the TEs and LBs up for match-ups in the running game too. While they’ve faced talented LB corps in both the Jets and Steelers, the Patriots young TE tandem hasn’t met a LB duo like Briggs and Urlacher.
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