Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Final Exam

Ok, Sunday's game against New England is not the Bears' final challenge of the regular season, but it's pretty darn close. Along with the Giants game, this is the Bears' toughest challenge of the season (although, in fairness, everyone thought the Seattle game was up there too at the time). New England is among the league's top-10 most efficient offense, defenses and special teams. They're coming off a really strong performance against the Packers, they're disciplined, and their coaches call the kind of varied schemes that seemed destined to confuse Young Rex Grossman. (I've decided after listening to talk radio lately that "Young" has been permanently appended to the beginning of Grossman's name.)

But the Bears are the better team. They have also been maddeningly inconsistent of late, and could lose to anyone at any given time, but if each team plays as well as it can, the Bears win this game. The Patriots do have an advantage when the Bears have the ball. The Bears are a below average offense at this point, and as mentioned, the Packers are ranked 10th in the league in defensive efficiency. The Patriots are especially stifling against the run. Against the pass, the Pats are passable, but they're vulnerable to teams' number-two receivers because they lack depth in the secondary. Lately, the Bears have relied on Thomas Jones and the running game to keep the ball moving. However, the Bears will need to relocate Big Play Rex to score on New England. In the last two weeks, Mark Bradley has emerged as a weapon for the offense. He's caught 64% of the 14 passes thrown his way for 164 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears need a big play from the Grossman to Bradley connection again this week to put points on the board against the Patriots.

The Patriots will be even harder pressed to find offensive traction against the Bears' defense. The Bears have the most efficient defense in the league, and absolutely stifle opposing passing attacks. Tom Brady is Tom Brady, but QUITE FRANKLY, that's not all you need. The Bears only weakness is against true number-one wide receivers. The Patriots don't have one. Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown and Doug Gabriel have all been relatively interchangeable as Brady's targets on the outside, but that kind of spread-the-ball-around attack doesn't work against the Bears' deep secondary. Meanwhile, for all the attention that rookie running back Laurence Maroney gets, the Pats' rushing attack is average at best. Maroney is not especially consistent or efficient. He ranks 29th in overall production adjusted for defense, 28th in efficiency adjusted for defense, and 16th in success rate. In other words, far too often he doesn't get the tough yards a team needs -- four yards on first down, picking up a first down on a third down carry.

The bottom line is that this should be a low scoring game. My guess is that the Bears will get the big play they need from Grossman and Bradley or Bernard Berrian, and enough control of field position to squeak it out 13-10 or so.


Blogger Jeeves said...

Looks like we didn't pass our exam with flying colors. It looked like we'd get by with a B, but Grossman threw a pick on that closing drive.

2:58 AM  

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