The New England Patriots continued their strong play in the 2022 NFL season last week defeating the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, OH 38 to 15. Don’t be fooled by that score. While New England led 24-6 going into the fourth quarter, Cleveland had cut the lead to 24 to 15 and a two-point conversion could have made it a one-score game before Cleveland imploded.
New England plays on Monday Night Football this week (a boon for us fans of NFL Red Zone who won’t have to switch back and forth during commercials during the Patriots game). The struggling Chicago Bears come to Gillette Stadium coming off a mini-bye week (they played on Thursday Night Football).
The game features the Bears dynamic quarterback Justin Fields (picked ahead of Mac Jones) and the return of former Patriots first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry. While the offense has struggled, don’t sleep on the Chicago defense. This is a top defense led by linebacker Roquan Smith, a deep group of young and developing pass rushers, and one of the best young safeties in the game in rookie Jaquan Brisker.
This week’s Monday Night Football match-up will be broadcast on ESPN and can be seen locally on NBC Boston Channel 10. Joe Buck will handle play-by-play duties with Troy Aikman as the color analyst. Lisa Salters will provide analysis from the sidelines.
As a prime-time game, fans on the South Coast get a treat near Halloween as Monday’s game will be broadcast to a national audience on Westwood One Sports. The best announcer in the game, Kevin Harlan, will call the game with NFL media regular and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner providing analysis. Locally, the game is found on WBSM-AM 1420 out of New Bedford. In Connecticut, the game can be found on Fox Sports Radio 1410 in Hartford, ESPN Radio 1300 in New Haven, and 97.9 ESPN Radio in the beautiful Hartford suburb of Windsor Locks just up Route 91.
Locally, 98.5 The Sports Hub remains the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network and will carry the game as usual. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci will call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who will provide his own unique brand of sound effects, grunts, singing and other colorful color analysis.
Three hours prior to kickoff, during halftime and after the game, Marc “the Beetle” Bertrand and Boston Globe scribe Chris Gasper will be providing the relevant news and information, while “Big” Jim Murray will join Joe Murray for the postgame news late into the night. Hopefully, the drinking establishments around Foxboro will be closed by the time the Murray boys wrap up coverage and head out into the night.
With 10 radio affiliates in Massachusetts, four in Maine, three in Connecticut, eight in New Hampshire, four in Vermont, two in Rhode Island and even one infringing into Buffalo Bills’ territory in Rochester, NY the Patriots radio network truly puts the “New England” in the New England Patriots.
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Last Week Recap:
The Patriots’ offense again had a strong performance last week as rookie Bailey Zappe continued his strong play completing 24 of 34 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns good for a 118.4 passer rating (all statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted). The offensive line, other than the struggling Isaiah Wynn at right tackle, was dominant with solid pass blocking across the line and allowing just two sacks by Myles Garrett (one a strip-sack turnover).
Zappe spread the ball to his receivers with DeVante Parker (four receptions for 64 yards) leading the way and setting the tone with an acrobatic 29-yard reception. Jakobi Meyers was solid as ever (four receptions for 60 yards) and tight ends Hunter Henry (four receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown) and Jonnu Smith (two catches for 63 yards) getting involved in the offense.
Rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton made his presence felt with four catches for 37 yards and a touchdown. He added 16 yards on three carries and a touchdown on an end around where the rookie was in the end zone before Cleveland knew where he went as he showed off his top-end speed.
Cleveland was dialed in on running back Rhamondre Stevenson, committing to heavier fronts to dare the Patriots to have Zappe air it out to beat them. Stevens still finished with 76 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns, outrushing Nick Chubb on the day.
Last week the Bears played on Thursday Night Football and lost their third game in a row after a 2-1 start. Despite carrying a lead into the fourth quarter and rushing for 237 yards, the defense faltered in the fourth quarter as they were outscored 9-0 by the Commanders (ugh, Washington, why did you just not go with the RedHawks. That was such a better choice for a team name!).
The defense held Carson Wentz to just 99 yards passing and while Washington rushed for 128 yards, it took 28 attempts to get there. The Bears held the Commanders to just two third-down conversions on 11 attempts in the game.
Justin Fields led the way for the Bears passing for 190 yards and rushing for 88 more. Dynamic backup running back Khalil Herbert ripped off a 63-yard run but had just six other carries the entire game. David Montgomery had a respectable 67 yards on 15 attempts.
The Bears gave up five sacks, however, and a special teams miscue set-up Washington’s go-ahead touchdown after Velus Jones muffed a punt with under eight minutes left in the game to give the Commanders the ball inside the 10-yard line. The Bears still had a chance to win but the offense fell just short at the goal line on fourth down.
Patriots Offense vs Bears’ Defense:
New England should be getting starter Mac Jones back at quarterback on Monday night. While rookie Bailey Zappe has kept the seat warm at quarterback while Jones recovered, New England is making the correct move putting Mac back behind center.
Jones should take advantage of the changes on offense in his absence. New England has been able to get the running game going early with Rhamondre Stevenson as the lead back with Damien Harris injured. Also, they have gone back to leaning on the play-action passing game under center and an emphasis on mass protection packages.
The Patriots will try to continue their improvements on offense converting third downs and in the red zone. They’ve improved to 14th in the league on third down (40.6%) after converting 7 of 14 third downs last week against Cleveland.
In the red zone, the Patriots continue to struggle to get in the end zone. Last year they converted red zone trips into touchdowns on 63.1% of their drives, good for seventh in the league. In 2022 they converted just 45% (9 of 20) of their red zone trips into touchdowns, which is a dismal 29th in the NFL. Without Mac Jones for the past three weeks, that number has been 36.6% conversion rate.
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Fortunately for New England, they face a defense that has struggled mightily on third down and in the red zone. The Bears allow opponents to convert 46.2% of their third downs (36 of 78) which is 30th in the league. In the red zone, the Bears’ defense ranks 22nd overall allowing opponents into the end zone 60% of the time in the red zone (12 of 20).
Three Matchups to Watch:
WRs DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers and Tyquan Thornton vs CBs Jaylon Johnson, Kindle Vildor and Kyler Gordon
It’s easy for us East Coast Bias types to look at the Bears trio of cornerbacks and say, “Eh, never heard of them–they must be terrible”, but that is overlooking the depth of quality cornerbacks in the NFL right now.
Not a household name, Jaylon Johnson is a legitimate number-one cornerback. Heck, he wasn’t even targeted by Aaron Rodgers in week two as Rodgers stayed far away from the 2020 second-round draft pick out of Utah. Johnson was injured and missed three games earlier this season, but was back playing a key role shutting down Washington in week six.
Draft aficionados were aware of Kyler Gordon, the Washington cornerback the Bears picked in round two of this year’s NFL Draft. Many prognosticators had the athletic and aggressive cornerback mocked to be scooped up by the Patriots on draft day. It is easy to see why as Gordon has speed, size, strength and smarts. He struggled earlier but his talent is shining through in recent weeks.
Finally, Kindle Vildor holds down the outside cornerback slot opposite Johnson with Gordon sliding to the slot or nickel role. Vildor was a fifth-round draft pick in 2020 out of Georgia Southern. He didn’t play much as a rookie but began carving a role last season for Chicago. He has been targeted often, but has held up well. He had his first career interception in week five against Minnesota and last week allowed just one catch for three yards being targeted three times against Washington.
New England is down a few receivers with Nelson Agholor out with a hamstring injury and Kendrick Bourne leaving the win over Cleveland with turf toe. Last week the trio of Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker and rookie Tyquan Thornton all stepped up.
Parker set the tone with an acrobatic 29-yard catch to convert a third-and-nine on the first drive before the drive stalled at the one yard line and New England settled for three points. Parker impressed with four catches for a team-leading 64 yards.
Meyers was his usual reliable self and pulled in four catches for 60 yards. Again a reliable outlet for rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe, Meyers continues to thrive regardless of the quarterback. In a contract year, Meyers continues to add to his future value as he leads the team in receptions and yards (24 for 321) despite missing two games due to injury.
Second-round draft pick Tyquan Thornton got his feet wet last week but looked part of the game plan on Sunday in Cleveland. After his first two end-arounds went for negative yardage, he took a quick handoff while in motion and jetted to the end zone for 19 yards before most Cleveland defenders even knew where he was on the field.
He added four receptions for 37 yards and most impressively worked his way open on the back of the end zone as Zappe moved in the pocket. Desperate for red zone targets as the offense struggles to turn those trips into touchdowns, Thornton helping out his quarterback in the end zone is a great step forward for the offense.
RB Rhamondre Stevenson vs ILB Roquan Smith
Mondre Mania is taking hold in New England. Stepping into the lead back role with Damien Harris sidelined with a hamstring injury, the second-year running back from Oklahoma followed up his 25 carry and 161 yard performance against Detroit with a 19 carry and 76 yards and two touchdowns against the Browns.
Cleveland loaded the box and was determined to take away Stevenson. It was a rough going on the ground, but his presence opened up the passing game on play-action passes on early downs. Stevenson found the end zone twice and broke four tackles while getting 35 of his 76 yards after contact.
Chicago has struggled mightily against the run in 2022. While the defense has allowed less than 100 yards passing twice in six games, they have held only one opponent under 100 yards rushing and twice have allowed more than 200 yards. Much of that blame falls on the interior defensive line. Justin Jones, who joined the Bears after four seasons with the Chargers, has been a turnstile for running backs.
Jones, for some reason, made a few cracks about Deflategate (is Tom Brady still playing in New England?). Apparently, Matt Eberflus doesn’t have control of his locker room and is allowing the Bears to give Bill Belichick extra motivation on Monday night. Jones apparently got his name in the news as he hoped, but he’s going to be under the microscope Monday night.
Roquan Smith will get the attention on the broadcast for being responsible for run stops, but Nicholas Morrow is the middle linebacker filling gaps and expected to make those plays. THe former Raiders linebacker is not a run stuffer and never professed to be.
Morrow was known for his speed and coverage ability, not for sticking his nose in the middle of the offensive line and shedding blocks. Smith has the size for that role, but Bears brought in the Tampa-2 style 4-3 with head coach Matt Eberflus and Smith is transitioning from a 3-4 inside linebacker to a 4-3 weakside linebacker.
The Bears run defense problems come down to talent and scheme. Not a ton of talent as far as the defensive tackle position, and at linebacker players in new roles in new schemes still struggling to pick-up their assignments. If New England get the running game going, it could be a long night for the Bears defense.
TEs Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith vs SS Jaquan Brisker and ILB Nicholas Morrow
After being signed in free agency before the 2021 season, Patriots fans’ eyes were aglow as thoughts of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith making plays in the middle of the field against opponents. Then, former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels made the strange decision not to play the two tight ends at the same time.
One positive of McDaniels being hired at Las Vegas is that the two-tight end offense is back in New England. The potential was seen last week as Jonnu Smith had a 52-yard catch and rumble and Hunter Henry was usual steady self with four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown.
The Bears’ pass defense has been a strength, although some of that may be related to the easy pickings in the run game. However, tight ends have not had big games this season against the Bears. A big part of that has been rookie safety Jaquan Brisker.
Brisker arrived NFL-ready from Penn State. Not a thumper at six-foot-one and 200 lbs, he is fast, athletic and always around the ball. Brisker has missed a few tackles, but as a blitzer and in coverage he has been fantastic.
Brisker has allowed just five completions on 16 targets for 49 yards. Working against both tight ends, slot receivers and running backs, Brisker is used similarly to Kyle Dugger is used in New England–the Bears put him in position to attack the ball. Just six games into the season, the rookie looks like a building block for the future.
Nicholas Morrow is not generating the media attention, but he has been a perfect fit for the defense imported by head coach Matt Eberflus. Morrow played four years for Oakland/Las Vegas and is more of a large safety than a traditional middle linebacker.
However, Morrow’s game is speed. He flies to the ball. He sticks to running backs out in coverage. When in zone defense, Morrow can drop deep and be a third safety in the defense. He and Brisker will be tasked with keeping Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry from making
With Smith looking to be on the verge of a long-anticipated breakout and Henry remaining a steadying target no matter who is at quarterback, New England needs their tight ends to continue to contribute in the passing game. If they can, it will be a big advantage on Monday night.
Patriots Score Prediction:
New England 24 – Chicago 19
The Bears have an underrated defense, they’re coming off a mini-bye after having played on Thursday Night Football and they have a very strong rushing attack. As much as most fans are looking at the Monday Night home match-up against Chicago as an easy win, the Bears are going to be a tough team to just brush aside.
I would not be surprised to see the Bears in the lead in the first half and the Patriots taking some time to make some progress against the fast and dynamic Bears’ defense–especially with Mac Jones possibly playing for the first time in three weeks.
However, I do think the New England defense will rise up and create either a game-changing turnover or a big stop to change momentum. It will probably be ugly, but the Patriots should pull it out in the end.
– Hal Bent has covered the New England Patriots for the past five years at FullPressCoverage.com and can be found at @Halbent01 on Twitter. He also is found manning the @FPC_Patriots account each game day providing game updates, instant analysis, complaining about uncalled holding penalties and calling out Steven Belichick for playing too much zone coverage in crucial situations.
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