I know how all you Patriots’ fans are feeling. You are all on a high after New England crushed the division rival “Hard Knock” New York Jets 45-3. Now, New England continues to play in a cold weather environment as they take on the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. It is good to finally see Tom Brady being heralded as the frontrunner for the MVP award, and he rightfully deserves it with four games left in the season. True, maybe Brady’s MVP campaign has been aided by Manning’s struggles, or Rivers’ 6-6 record, but I’m sure Patrs fans will take it either way. This game on Sunday is something New England fans need to stay aware of as do the players coming off of an emotional win.
The Chicago Bears struggled in the beginning of the season because of the lack of pass blocking for quarterback Jay Cutler. Now, Cutler has found his groove in the offense and has seemed to fully understand offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s system. But, Chicago is well known for their pass rush, especially at home. Julius Peppers was signed in the offseason and has clearly made his impact and money’s worth with seven sacks on the season. The conditions are going to be possibly uglier than they were Monday night against the New York Jets, which is also a factor to consider when analyzing this game.
Here are my keys for the game…
1. Devin Hester: One of the more prolific, if not the most prolific, returner in the game is Devin Hester. This year, Hester has two returns for touchdowns. Hester’s role in the game all depends on how Belichick wants to approach him with rookie punter, Zoltan Mesko. If Mesko tries to kick it away from Hester in that environment, there is a good chance he can pull a Steve Weatherford from Monday night and only kick the ball 15 yards. This would give Cutler’s red hot offense good/great field position. Mesko in 44 punts has only kicked fourteen inside the 20 yard line. Mesko did go to Michigan, which has had its share of cold weather games, so we will see if he is capable of handling the tough conditions. If he’s not, Hester could be dancing in the endzone for a huge punt return for a touchdown.
2. Running the Football: In cold weather environments, you want to have a balanced offense, especially with Brady being one of the best cold weather quarterbacks in the league. This is the opportunity for Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, and Bears’ running back Matt Forte to have good games. Both teams are ranked no better than 19th in rush defense this year.
This key is more important to the Bears because the more yards that Forte can accumulate on the ground, the longer Tom Brady will have to sit on the sideline. With New England averaging 40 points per game over their four game winning streak, head coach Lovie Smith should not want to see Brady anywhere near the field of play. For New England, if Green-Ellis and Woodhead can get continuous 5-6 yard gains, the Pats will be set up for the famous Brady play-action pass downfield to the tight ends.
3. Pressure on Brady: One of the main things the New York Jets could not do against Brady was to make him uncomfortable in the pocket. They were only rushing three men at a time, which is not enough. Chicago will need to get to Brady with four man fronts for sixty minutes to have a shot in this game. As I mentioned in the introduction, defensive end Julius Peppers has seven sacks this season, so Brady will need to watch his blindside at times in this game. When you have a defense with playmakers like Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Israel Idonije and Peppers, they will get pressure at times in this game, but constant pressure for sixty minutes is a challenge.
Prediction: Once again, I will play the role of weatherman and give you the predicted forecast for the game at 4:15 EST on Sunday in Soldier Field.
23 degrees. 40% chance of snow, winds are North Northwest at 22 mph = Not a lot of scoring in this one
With the bad conditions, points in the red zone are going to be vital. This game is going to come down who is going to score touchdowns in the 4th quarter. Jay Cutler has been red hot as of late, but he always has the tendency to throw the huge interception. Look for Devin McCourty to increase his interception total and enhance his rookie of the year candidacy. This game will be close and come down to the final 2:00, but in the end, I have to go with Brady over Cutler. Don’t fret though if the Pats lose this game because Chicago is a legit. I liked the Bears early in the week until I heard this quote from Brian Urlacher:
“New England is the best team in the NFL, record-wise. But I feel like we’re the best team, period.
Whatever chance New England had at a letdown might have gone away with that line.
Patriots 24, Bears 20