Many Factors Combine to Make the Bears-Patriots Tilt Among the Most Interesting of the Season

Brad Biggs did a nice interview with Chicago Tribune colleague and former NFL safety Matt Bowen which concentrated on the special problems the Bears face against the Patriots.  Among the more interesting aspects of the match up which were addressed was this one:

“What is the challenge to covering their rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who have combined for 10 touchdowns?

“They want you to play your standard 4-3 and to use Gronkowski as the down tight end and Hernandez as a wide receiver so they give you a three-wide receiver look with that deuce (two tight end) personnel.”

“Do you leave your base personnel on the field? They’re going to throw the ball. OK, you’re going to play nickel. They have a ton of one-back runs with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead.”

This is exactly what Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz would like to accomplish with Greg Olsen.  He wants teams to guess whether the Bears will run with him in at tight end or if they will use him as a receiver.  He hopes to create mismatches.  That’s why it was and is so critical for Olsen to get better as a blocker.  He needs to be effective if the Bears are going to run with him in the game.  It prevents teams from simply playing a nickel defense and defending him strictly as a receiver.

The guess here is that’s exactly what the Bear will do to the Patriots tight ends.  They’ll keep nickel personnel on the field and try to stop the run with it as they did against the Lions.  With Nick Roach’s health being questionable anyway, they may want to keep nickel back D.J. Moore in the game more often anyway.  The Bears success defensively might hinge a lot on how much better the Patriots running game is than what the Bears saw last week.

Personally, if I were Lovie Smith, I’d try my best to disguise coverages more effectively than usual, something that they planned to do more of this year.  Even if in the end they still play cover-2 more often than not early, it will give them the option to subtly change the game plan to cover the shorter routes more effectively should the Patriots be executing their underneath game particularly well against it.

Smith has to be ready to be flexible.  He has to see what’s happening and adjust to the Patriot game plan and their execution.  In that respect, the Bears also have to worry about the other side of the ball:

“What should the Bears expect from Bill Belichick‘s defense?”

“Something they haven’t seen before.”

Although Bowen is a former defensive player, some of the more interesting aspects of the article focus on the Bear offense:

“Much has been made of the Bears not throwing the ball downfield. Are you surprised offensive coordinator Mike Martz resisted the urge to go deep during the five-game winning streak?”

“I’m not surprised, just because of how good the defense and the special teams are playing.

“He’s working within that role, ‘How many points do I need to win?’ It’s not a very high-risk offense right now. Matt Forte is running the ball and they’re not running deep routes. That’s why Earl Bennett is showing up so much. They’re running those three-step drops and he plays on the inside. It’s a quick, easy throw for (Jay) Cutler.”

It hard not to notice Cutler has been leaning a lot on Bennett recently.  Certainly if I can see it, the Patriots coaching staff can.  I think we can count on them concentrating upon taking away both Bennett and Olsen underneath.  Therefore it will be extremely important for Cutler to be ready to distribute the ball to other players.

I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight at least one of the more interesting factors that Biggs’ fellow journalist, Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times, pointed to as well:

“(Patriots offensive tackle Vince) Wilfork has size and mobility in the mold of the Redskins’ Albert Haynesworth, who gave the Bears plenty of trouble. (Bears Center Olin) Kreutz and guards Roberto Garza and Chris Williams containing Wilfork will be key. The Bears’ communication on the line has improved of late, and they’re better equipped to handle opponents of Wilfork’s ability.”

Kreutz traditionally has a tough time with large defensive linemen and it makes handling the 3-4 particularly difficult.  If Wilfork is pushing him and his fellow guards into the backfield all game it could be a long day.  The Bears undoubtedly will choose to attack the edges again rather than attack Wilfork.

Anyway you slice it, this will be a wonderful challenge for the Bears and a great game with many interesting facets to watch.

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