|10.24.14 at 11:01 pm ET|
Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s contest between the Patriots and Bears:
Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon (other than the Darrelle Revis-Brandon Marshall showdown, which we detailed here):
1. Running back Matt Forte against the Patriots defense: Forte is the driving aspect to the Bears defense — no other back in the league presents himself as much of a dual threat than the 29-year-old, at least according to Vince Wilfork. Forte leads the league in receptions (52, to go along with 436 receiving yards), is second in the league in combined yards from scrimmage (884, trailing only Dallas’ DeMarco Murray, who has 1,072), and is tops on the team in rushing (111 carries, 448 yards, three touchdowns). Stopping (or at least minimizing) the impact of the 6-foot-1, 221-pound Forte figures to be the top priority for the New England defense. With their size and depth in the secondary — the deepest part of the defense after the injuries up front and at linebacker — the Patriots likely feel pretty good about their chances when it comes to slowing down the supersize tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. While tight end Martellus Bennett remains a different story (more on him in a second), their ability to slow down Forte will likely play sizable role on Sunday afternoon.
2. Tight end Rob Gronkowski against the Bears linebackers and safeties: The Bears have struggled to defend tight ends in the passing game all year long — according to Football Outsiders, they are 30th in the league against opposing tight ends at 29.7 percent, having yielded an average of 7.8 catches and 69.9 passing yards per game against tight ends. And with Gronk back to what appears to be full-on Gronk status (18 catches on 30 targets for 262 yards and a touchdown in his last three games), this sets up to be a winnable matchup for New England. Last week against the Dolphins, Chicago frequently gave free release to Charles Clay and Dion Sims, and then struggled to catch up — the Miami duo ended up with a combined six catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. If the Bears show the same sort of issues this week against Gronkowski and Tim Wright, the Patriots should make them pay.
3. Quarterback Jay Cutler against his instincts: Cutler against himself is really going to be one of the more fascinating battles of the afternoon. The Vandy product has some of the best arm strength in the league. At the same time, on a weekly basis, he manages to make at least one questionable decision. The quarterback tossed two interceptions in each of the team’s three previous losses heading into Sunday’s game against the Dolphins, and last week, he committed two more turnovers (an interception and a fumble) against Miami. According to ESPN, in each of the team’s four losses this season, Cutler’s turnovers have led to a total of 37 points for the opponent. That doesn’t bode well for Chicago, which is facing a New England team that enters this week’s action best in the league at plus-9, a stat that includes 14 takeaways (seven fumbles, seven interceptions).
4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’ fans need to know: It’s easy to get lost in an offense with high-profile names like Marshall, Jeffery and Forte, but Martellus Bennett has really done a good job as a consistent pass-catching presence for the Bears. The occasionally quirky 6-foot-6, 265-pound Bennett — who answers to the nickname “Black Unicorn” — has 41 catches for 422 yards and four touchdowns over the first seven games of the season. He’s been limited by a hamstring issue as of late, but given the fact that the Patriots have had issues when it comes to defending even mediocre tight ends in the passing game, he’ll be one to watch come Sunday afternoon.
5. By the numbers: 1 – Only one running back has more than four catches in a game against the Patriots this season (Minnesota’s Matt Asiata, who finished with five), while only two backs have more than 20 receiving yards against New England’s defense this season (Asiata with 48 and Minnesota’s Rhett Ellison, who had one catch for 24 yards in the same game). On the other side of the equation, Forte, who leads the league leader in receptions with 52, has caught at least five passes in every game this season and gone over 60 yards receiving four times. As they say, something has got to give on Sunday. (One more: Tom Brady and the Patriots have a 12-game winning streak against the NFC North — the only game Brady lost to an NFC North team was when he and the Patriots lost to the Packers at Gillette on Oct. 13, 2002 by a 28-10 margin.)
|10.24.14 at 4:22 pm ET|
The Patriots will officially be without Chandler Jones on Sunday when they take on the Bears, as he is listed as out on the injury report with a hip injury. The injury is reportedly going to keep him sidelined for about a month.
Shane Vereen popped up on the injury report for the first time this week on Friday as he missed practice with an illness. He is officially listed as questionable. With Stevan Ridley going down for the year two weeks ago against Buffalo, Vereen has taken over the No. 1 running back role, so his status is worth monitoring.
After missing last weeks game against the Jets due to concussions, offensive linemen Bryan Stork and Dan Connolly are listed as questionable, but it is promising the two practiced everyday this week, although on a limited basis.
Here is the complete injury report:
DE Chandler Jones (hip, did not practice)
OL Dan Connolly (concussion, limited participation)
DL Dominique Easley (shoulder/knee, limited participation)
DB Nate Ebner (finger, limited participation)
OL Cameron Fleming (finger, limited participation)
WR Matthew Slater (shoulder, limited participation)
OL Bryan Stork (concussion, limited participation)
RB Shane Vereen (illness, did not practice)
QB Tom Brady (ankle, full participation)
DB Brandon Browner (ankle, full participation)
LB Jamie Collins (thigh, full participation)
LB Dont’a Hightower (knee, full participation)
S Devin McCourty (rib, full participation)
|10.24.14 at 4:06 pm ET|
The Patriots have announced two signings to the practice squad as they have re-signed linebacker Ja’Gared Davis and signed rookie wide receiver Jonathan Krause.
Here is a portion of the press release from the team:
Davis, 24, was signed to the 53-man roster form the practice on Oct. 4 and played in three games before being released on Oct. 22. He did not record any statistics. The 6-foot, 238-pounder began the regular season on the practice squad after being released at the end of training camp. Davis spent the majority of his rookie season in 2013 on the Patriots’ practice squad, but did see action in one regular-season game and both postseason games after joining the 53-man roster. He was originally signed by Houston as a rookie free agent out of Southern Methodist on May 10, 2013, released by Houston on Aug. 27, 2013, and claimed off waivers and awarded to the Patriots on Aug. 28, 2013.
Krause, 22, was originally signed by Cleveland as a rookie free agent out of Vanderbilt on May 12, 2014. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder, was released by Cleveland on Aug. 25, 2014. Krause had a career-year in 2013 for Vanderbilt, starting in 11 of 13 games and setting career highs with 42 receptions for 714 yards and three touchdowns. He finished his college career with 98 receptions for 1,197 yards and five touchdowns. Krause was also used as a punt returner in college, returning two punts for touchdowns as a junior in 2012.
|10.24.14 at 1:04 pm ET|
ESPN’s Adam Schefter made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Friday to preview the Patriots-Bears game and discuss other NFL news. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.
Darrelle Revis reportedly was sent home Tuesday after arriving late to practice. Coach Bill Belichick would not discuss the matter with the media, and it’s not known if Belichick plans to hold Revis out of the starting lineup Sunday against the Bears.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he doesn’t start. That wouldn’t surprise me at all based on the way they’ve handled things in the past. I could see that happening,” Schefter said. “This is a game you obviously want him out there. Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Santonio Holmes, Martellus Bennett — [the Bears are] loaded in the air, and they’re more formidable on the road.”
The Patriots are heading into a challenging stretch of six games against some strong competition, and they’ll be doing it without some key players who are out with injuries.
“Let’s be honest, the Patriots’ issues have compounded a little,” Schefter said. “You lose [Jerod] Mayo, you lose Chandler Jones, Revis is late, whatever that means, we don’t know. You’ve got all these issues out there. Now you’ve got really, arguably, the toughest teams in the NFL all on deck. You could make an argument that the Broncos, Colts, Packers and Chargers are four of the top five teams in the NFL right now.”
Looking at league news, reports out of Seattle indicate there are some issues in the Seahawks locker room, with quarterback Russell Wilson apparently viewed as “not black enough” for some teammates’ liking.
“A locker room is a melting pot — different races, different backgrounds, different ideologies, different everything,” Schefter said. “Russell Wilson seems to, by all accounts, lead a very clean existence. That doesn’t match up with everybody in that locker room. So, so what? So what? …
“I look at it this way: Last weekend Russell Wilson became the first quarterback in NFL history that threw for over 300 yards and ran for over a hundred yards in one game. Last season, in his second season, he led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl title. And, oh, by the way, we don’t even talk about the fact that a black quarterback won the Super Bowl. I thought we moved past that. And now, to hear that, it sounds so ‘street’ to me. Like, just so immature. That’s how it sounds to me.
“And I will say this, I’m sure there are some people in that locker room — I know this — that have some issues with Russell Wilson — that I know. So what? So what? … They have some questions about his character — not lack of, but just the way he handles himself. You know what it is? The teacher’s pet, goody-goody, ‘Go ‘hawks’ kind of thing.”
|10.24.14 at 12:47 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots are in pretty dire straits when it comes to depth at linebacker.
With the loss of Jerod Mayo for the season to a torn patellar tendon and light depth in terms of proven performers at the beginning of the season, the Patriots want to make sure they aren’t caught short at linebacker.
Right now, the Patriots go into Sunday with a group that includes Rob Ninkovich, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Deontae Skinner and Chris White. And maybe Akeem Ayers. The linebacker coming off a pair of patellar knee surgeries 10 months ago was acquired this week from Tennessee.
But Bill Belichick isn’t about to put a player on the field cold without having some idea of what he’s doing. Will the outside linebacker known for his pass rushing skills be ready for the Bears this weekend?
“Well, the only thing we can evaluate until he plays is practice,” Belichick said Friday morning before the fourth and final practice of the week. “Between the walkthroughs and maybe the meetings to a degree but more importantly practice then that’s what we have to try to evaluate. Certainly it’s a small window. It’s a brief snapshot relative to what we’ve seen other players do, but it is what it is. Akeem is a guy that’s played, he had three years of a lot of playing time so it’s not like he’s never played before.
“But he hasn’t played in this system. It’s a question of how comfortable he is, we are with that and once you put him in the game then evaluating how the game, how that part of it goes. Like the same conversation we would have had a month ago with let’s say Casey Walker. You practice them. Now Casey was on the [Carolina] practice squad for a couple weeks so it was a little bit different but similar ‘ a new guy coming in, learning the system, seeing some things that you feel positive about in practice then being able to feel like mentally the player is ready to execute the assignments and the game then put them in the game and evaluate that.
As Belichick continued, you got the sense that he’s more willing to take a chance to let Ayers learn on the fly, if only because of the position the Patriots are in.
“Of course it’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to get some kind of game evaluation,” Belichick said. “Again, similar but different in the case of [Brandon] Browner and [Brian] Tyms because those guys were here all camp and we saw them in games and in a lot more practices but I think Casey Walker is another good example of a similar situation to Akeem. We’ll just have to see how ready we feel like he is for game action this week.
“Whether that’s this week, next week or whenever it is, then evaluate how he does when he gets that opportunity in game situations. But that’s all based on practice and again to a degree walkthroughs and meetings because you can’t get a sense of how well prepared a player is in that setting. Practice is in a way a better evaluation, there are just fewer opportunities. You only have, call it 30-35 plays defensively that you’re running so whatever fractional number of plays he’s in there for, that’s part of the evaluation. I’d say you have to supplement that with some other things.”
Will Ayers play? Tune in Sunday to find out for sure.
|10.24.14 at 12:10 pm ET|
Each week, we’ll present The Darrelle Revis Report, a look at what’s on tap for the Patriots cornerback. This week, New England will host the Bears.
Last week: Because the game was now over a week ago, we won’t spend too much time looking back, but in his first game against the Jets as a member of the Patriots, Revis didn’t have anything special lined up on the night. Instead, it was a relative mix of zone and man coverage throughout the evening — mostly against Eric Decker, at least when it was man coverage. In all, it was a relatively uneventful night for Revis, who yielded three catches on the night (one appeared to be in man coverage and two in zone), while adding two tackles and a big pass deflection on third down with 11:02 left in the fourth quarter in the 27-25 win over the Jets. By our highly unscientific count, in seven games, Revis has now allowed 18 catches on 32 targets for 263 yards this year, with one touchdown and one interception.
Looking ahead: The Patriots will host the Bears in a showdown between corners and receivers that could get very interesting. Revis and Brandon Marshall already have a history together (more on that in a bit), but in addition, Alfonzo Dennard and Alshon Jeffery mixed it up as collegians. In the Capital One Bowl, the two went head-to-head and ended up throwing punches.
The challenge of facing the biggest receiving tandem of the year — Marshall is 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, while Jeffery is 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds — will certainly make for an interesting afternoon.
“You just have to cover them the best you can,” Revis said. “When you’re playing against bigger guys, [they] will try and shield their body and try and catch the ball and try and shield you away from the ball. We’ve had our fair share of [covering] bigger guys. The Bengals game, those guys were very big. This is probably the biggest yet, across the board at tight end and wide receiver. Like I said, we just have to try and play through them to get to the ball.”
Possible man matchups this week (with the understanding that it won’t solely be one on one): The Revis-Marshall matchup might be the best and most intriguing one-on-one battle for the Patriots corner to this point in the season. Marshall, who has 31 catches for 349 yards with five touchdowns this season, has gone head-to-head with Revis on a number of occasions, and the New England corner spoke fondly of those battles this week.
“Great receiver, man. This week, we have our hands full in two big receivers in him and Jeffery. We’re looking forward to it — I’m sure he is too,” Revis said when he was asked about Marshall. “I know Brandon personally. It’s football, man. We compete … that’s what we do for a living. We had our battles in the past. It’s great, man. This week is going to be great.”
In all, Marshall has lined up across from Revis on four separate occasions, but the cornerback has usually gotten the better of the 6-foot-4, 230-pound receiver. According to Pro Football Focus, Revis has allowed nine receptions on 23 targets for 112 yards without a touchdown when facing Marshall. Revis also has an interception (in 2011) and seven deflected passes when facing Marshall.
Here’s a relatively good breakdown of a 2011 contest between the Jets and Dolphins that featured Revis against Marshall, a game that included that aforementioned pick against Marshall. (You’re going to want to mute the audio, or at least pop on some earphones.)
As for going against Cutler, Revis has faced him twice, and the corner has been beaten twice, both when he was with the Jets: In a Nov. 30, 2008 contest against the Broncos, Revis had three tackles in a 34-17 defeat to Denver. And on Dec. 26, 2010 against Chicago, Revis had four tackles in a 38-34 loss. He has no interceptions against Cutler.
Money quotes: “He’s smart and he’s big. Probably about 6-foot-4 or something. Very physical at the line. A possession type receiver who can go deep as well and run after catches — he’s taken hitches 60, 70, 80 yards. Like I said, we know what type of players they are. We respect them a lot. We know how explosive they are in the passing game, and we have to be able to stop that.” — Revis on Marshall
“Darrelle Revis is one of the best in the business; has been for a long time. A lot of times he goes with the No. 1 receiver and matches him and shadows him throughout the game. We’ll see what he does against us.” — Cutler on Revis
One more thing: The size of the Chicago receivers could make the Patriots switch things up — at least in the red zone –when it comes to man coverage. After all, New England does have one of the only cornerback combos in Revis (5-foot-11, 198 pounds) and Brandon Browner (6-foot-4, 221 pounds) who are built to handle the size of a pairing like Jeffery and Marshall. If Browner is in a better place than he was last week when it comes to his football fitness, Browner could end up getting more snaps than Dennard.
|10.24.14 at 12:02 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Shane Vereen joined Chandler Jones Friday as missing at Patriots practice in sweats and shells on the upper grass fields.
Jones has missed all week with a hip injury suffered against the Jets, and will reportedly be out of action for the next 4-6 weeks as he heals. Vereen, meanwhile, has not been on the injury report at all this week. The team will disclose its final injury report later Friday afternoon. The Boston Herald reported via a source that Vereen was given the day off due to an illness.
Newcomer Akeem Ayers was on the practice field again as the team tries to determine if the linebacker – acquired this week in a trade with the Titans – is ready to play in a game. Free agent defensive lineman Alan Branch was not on the field. Branch was in this week to meet with the players and was spotted in the team’s locker room on Thursday.
“I don’t know. We work out a lot of players around here over the course of the season,” coach Bill Belichick said Friday morning. “So, the ones that we bring on the roster and sign we work with and the ones that we don’t are there if we decide to do it.”
Vereen’s brother Brock is a safety for the Bears and Vereen’s parents are expected in town this weekend to spend time with their NFL sons.
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