What. A. Game.
After all the build-up to last week’s game against the Chiefs, it lived up to everything people said about it. It was an offensive shootout that left everyone waiting for the next outburst. I can safely say no one was disappointed and that the Patriots have also regained their spot amongst the top teams in the NFL and perhaps the top team in the AFC.
Now comes the next challenge against the Chicago Bears who, despite last week’s clunker against the Brock Osweiler led Dolphins, have gotten off to a strong start for the first time in a long time. Among the reasons for the strong start is a ferocious pass rush led by perhaps the best rush linebacker in football in Khalil Mack, and his acquisition has strengthened an already impressive defense.
The Patriots will have their hands full with the pass rush, but also with an offense that is as creative as any in the league with new head coach Matt Nagy (a disciple of the Andy Reid coaching tree).
Here is what to watch for on Sunday night:
1.) Will Khalil Mack play?
As mentioned above the acquisition of Khalil Mack has given the Bears a serious jolt as he already has five sacks, but the problem is Mack suffered a bad ankle injury in their last contest but was still able to finish the game in overtime.
If Mack is unable to go that will obviously be an enormous loss, but it is an even bigger loss considering the fact right tackle Marcus Cannon left the last game with a concussion and did not practice on Wednesday. Throw in the fact Trent Brown has been inconsistent at times and it would be a big relief in the Patriots didn’t have to prep for the potential future Hall of Famer.
2.) Will Patriots continue to lean on the run game?
There is no doubt the Patriots have leaned on the run much more in recent weeks as Sony Michel has gotten up to speed and felt more comfortable in the offense. The results have been staggering as they are now averaging 123 rushing yards per game, something that has given the offense a boost and made the passing game even more lethal. There is little doubt that Sony Michel’s talent level has helped them considering he really was their only true between the tackles runner with Dion Lewis now in Tennessee.
The obstacle in their way Sunday though is the fourth-ranked rushing defense of the Bears who have an extremely athletic linebacking core with rookie Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan patrolling the middle of the field and Eddie Goldman and old friend Akiem Hicks controlling the trenches. However the Patriots strong suit this season has been the interior offensive line and that will be the difference in this battle one way or another.
3.) Will long injury list result in any surprising inactives?
Unfortunately, we are now in the part of the NFL season where more and more players show up on the injury report due to the grueling nature of the NFL schedule and season. The Patriots this week have a very long list of limited participants but the good news is most of the players will probably be ready for game time but are just having snaps limited to keep them fresh for the game. However, there is a chance that some of them are unable to go which would be a big loss in some cases.
One name to keep an eye on is Sony Michel who was a game-time decision last week and has been critical to the Patriots offense recently. Another factor to consider if Michel is unable to go is that there are only two other running backs on the roster with James White and the coming and going Kenjon Barner. If Michel is unable to go, Kenneth Farrow is on the practice squad and could be promoted or they could go into the game with two backs, either way, it would be a tough loss for a rushing attack that has really given this offense a jolt.
Another note is the injury to Malcom Brown who missed last week’s game and has been a steady producer for the Patriots the last couple of years. Brown could be an important depth piece for the defensive line against a rushing attack that features an athletic quarterback, and a solid rushing attack with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen representing a strong tandem.
4.) Who will the Patriots deem the Bears most important weapons?
Last week the Patriots did their best to take Travis Kelce out of the picture for the Chiefs and it worked for the most part, but who will they deem the Bears’ most important cog in their offense? The Bears have gotten big performances from Tarik Cohen, Taylor Gabriel, Allen Robinson III, and Trey Burton recently some of whom play positions who have given the Patriots problems in the past.
One name that should be a priority for the Patriots is Tarik Cohen, who could give the Patriots some real problems if the Bears can get a linebacker on Cohen. Cohen should remind some Patriot fans of James White with his ability to catch the ball and make defenders miss, but Cohen is a more effective runner between the tackles while White is a bit more superior through the air.
As far as the other names, Allen Robinson III, who is banged up, should be a target of Stephon Gilmore as he fits the profile of someone Gilmore should be able to take on his own with minimal help. Gabriel if I had to guess would be a matchup for Jonathan Jones who has more quickness and speed, but also has the size profile to cover him.
Lastly, Trey Burton could be an issue with his athleticism and craftiness to find openings in the defense. Burton could be a tough cover, but if Patrick Chung performs as usual then the Patriots should feel confident in their ability to suppress his production.
Overall the Patriots match up well with the Bears weapons, but Matt Nagy is an effective play caller who should be able to scheme some openings and create some mismatches, but if the Patriots can keep Trubisky in the pocket and make him consistently threw into tight windows on the outside of the field, I think the Patriots will have some opportunities for some takeaways.
-David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani