The New England Patriots held on at home on Sunday Night Football last week against young gunslinger Patrick Mahomes and the previously undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots built a 24 to nine halftime lead before the Chiefs came storming back in second half to take a 33-30 lead.
The Patriots struggled on third down having to settle for a field goal on three of their first five drives on the second half (including one Tom Brady turnover). When the Patriots needed to score, it came down to Brady turning back to the much-maligned Chris Hogan for two big completions before Brady scrambled into the end zone to give the Patriots the lead back.
Another field goal gave the Patriots a seven point lead (quickly erased by Mahomes) and a final drive highlighted by Rob Gronkowski’s clutch 500th career reception set up the Patriots’ game-winner by Stephen Gostkowski. The Patriots prevailed 43-40 in one of the most entertaining games of the 2018 NFL season. The schedule-makers do not make it easy for the Patriots after defeating the AFC West’s best, they face the NFC North’s first place Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.
This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston and WPRI 12 in Providence. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Hall-of-Fame quarterback Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines.
On the radio, Sunday’s game will be broadcast to a national audience on Sports USA. Larry Kahn will call the with game with Doug Plank providing analysis. Locally, the New England Patriots are on the radio on 41 stations throughout the six states in New England, New York and Florida and will feature broadcasters Bob Socci doing play-by-play and local media member and former Patriots backup quarterback Scott Zolak adding color analysis.
Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on offense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious on Sunday.
The win over Kansas City killed some positive momentum from the defense–which had improved to ninth in points allowed and 16th in yards allowed (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference unless otherwise noted)–dropped back down to 18th in points allowed and 20th in yards allowed. The Chiefs converted just four of ten third downs so New England is currently ranked 27th in the league in third down defense allowing their opponents to convert 44% of the time (33 of 75).
Don’t Lose the Smaller Receivers
With the Chicago Bears offense, there is a natural inclination to focus on the larger targets for quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Outside wide receiver Allen Robinson is six-foot-three as is 2015 first round draft pick Kevin White. At tight end Trey Burton is six-foot-two and being slowly integrated as a receiving weapon for Chicago.
However, it has been the under-sized receivers who have starred for Chicago. Free agent Taylor Gabriel is familiar to the New England Patriots as he had a number of big catches in Super Bowl 52 while with Atlanta. In addition, the Bears are utilizing receiving running back to Tarik Cohen in a larger role mimicking what New Orleans has done with Alvin Kamara.
Last season in Chicago, Cohen had a very limited role rushing only for 370 yards. He did have 53 receptions, however he averaged less than seven yards per reception for the season. In 2018 through five games Cohen already has 21 receptions for 259 yards, averaging over 12 yards per reception.
For Gabriel, he had a slow start in Chicago in 2018. Although he had 15 receptions in the first 3 weeks combined, he totaled only 89 yards. In week four and last week against Miami, he combined for 12 receptions and 214 yards. Gabriel has 27 receptions for 303 yards for Chicago, his career-high for receptions is 36 during his rookie year in Cleveland.
The New England defense will have their hands full trying to keep up with Cohen and Gabriel. The defense simply does not have a cornerback with the speed to match up with Gabriel other than Jonathan Jones. If Gabriel is moved to the outside it may make sense for New England to have Jones follow him outside the numbers–which is not their norm. However, Jones and his 4.30 40 times speed should let him match up with Gabriel anywhere on the field.
Cohen coming out of the backfield is a real mismatch for New England. The Patriots will likely have strong safety Patrick Chung matching up with tight end Trey Burton. That leaves one of the linebackers–Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, or Elandon Roberts–trying to stay with the jitterbug back.
That is not a match-up that favors New England.
Show Something New
Mitch Trubisky has blossomed in his second season in Chicago. Through five games, he has completed over 70% of his passes. He has 11 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Last year as a rookie, Trubisky completed less than 60% of his passes and had seven touchdowns in 12 games to go with seven interceptions.
Trubisky after three games had not topped 220 yards passing in a game, topped out with a no higher than 83.0 quarterback rating, and had two touchdowns with three interceptions. All that changed against Tampa Bay, as Trubisky completed 73% of his passes throwing for 354 yards with six touchdowns and garnering a quarterback rating over 154.0. Last week and lost to Miami he completed over 70% of his passes with three touchdowns and again top 300 yards passing.
Like most young quarterbacks coming into the league, Trubisky can also run the ball. He makes plays outside of the pocket but as he evidenced with three rushes for 53 yards against Tampa Bay, if given the opportunity he will make the opposing team pay by using his legs.
Like the Patriots did last week against Patrick Mahomes, they need to come up with some looks, schemes, and formations that are unfamiliar to the young quarterback. The Patriots were able to generate pressure on Mahomes in the first half without letting him escape the pocket. This led to incompletions, particularly on third down, and allowed the defense to get off the field.
Last week the Patriots also held Kansas City to three field goals in the first half to go with their two interceptions. While Kansas City struck in the second half scoring for touchdowns, the defense did not play as bad as it looked allowing 40 points.
The Bears lack the skill-position players that Kansas City trotted out against New England last week. Trey Burton is no Travis Kelce. The Bears do not have a receiver with the speed, skill, and smarts of Tyreek Hill. Tarik Cohen is a very good running back but does not have the overall power and skill of Kareem Hunt.
Having faced offenses led by Frank Reich, Andy Reid and now Matt Nagy the Patriots have seen the same scheme for three consecutive weeks. This gives the defense an advantage having a familiarity with the offensive system.
The Patriots have the luxury of seeing what worked for the defense against Indianapolis and Kansas City and continue to roll out these looks with a new twist. If they can do so, they should have the opportunity to slow down the Bears’ offense.
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01