The Chicago Bears haven’t gotten many opportunities to run the ball this season, as they’ve faced some of the best rushing defenses in the NFL in the first seven weeks. Sunday’s game should be a big exception to that rule, as they face a New England Patriots team that is currently ranked 24th in the league in that category.
This isn’t just a matter of one team gashing the Patriots either. They’ve had a few good weeks, only allowing 54 rushing yards to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2 for example, but they’ve also had some really bad weeks. In a Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots were gashed for 191 yards, with Knowshon Moreno picking up 134 for the team. In Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs, things were even worse for New England as they coughed up 207 rushing yards and nearly had a pair of 100-yard rushers against them as Knile Davis and Jamaal Charles both ran roughshod over them.
The big game that the Bears need to pay attention to is the Week 7 game the Patriots won over the New York Jets. A blocked field goal at the end of the game preserved the win for New England, but before that they had given up 218 yards on the ground to Chris Ivory and company. In total, the Jets averaged 5.1 yards per carry against the Patriots’ defense.
While the Patriots do have some really good weapons to use against the Bears, such as defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive end Rob Ninkovich, but they will be missing a couple of key pieces too. Linebacker Jerod Mayo will still be out of their lineup, a huge loss up the middle, and defensive end Chandler Jones will also be out for the game, depriving them of one of their best pass rushers and run defenders.
As the Patriots deal with those losses, the Bears have got to be able to get Matt Forte and Ka’Deem Carey going early. Against the Green Bay Packers (who also vary up their defensive fronts in a similar way to the Patriots), both players were able to get some serious yards both up the middle and around the edge, and Sunday should provide similar opportunities. Having healthy linemen in Matt Slauson and Roberto Garza will only help in that regard, and if Jordan Mills can go on Sunday (he’s been limited in practice this week), he is a much better run blocker than he is a pass blocker.
Adding to the urgency for the Bears is that the Patriots’ pass defense is currently the best in the NFL, only allowing 204 yards per game through the air. Cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard and Darrelle Revis are among the best in the league, and safety Devin McCourty is a dangerous weapon in the middle of the field. Jay Cutler will have to tread carefully against them, and having a solid running performance from Forte and Carey could open things up in the passing game too.
Ultimately, this game is going to come down to time of possession and the Bears’ ability to establish that they aren’t just a one-trick pony. This isn’t the kind of game that’s going to be won with deep passes and Cutler’s arm. This game will be won or lost based on the Bears’ ability to show the Patriots that they can run the ball, and if they can’t, it’s going to be a long afternoon in Foxboro.