For the first half of last week’s game, the New England Patriots defense was able to do what no other unit had done before this season: slow down the Kansas City Chiefs’ high-flying offense. The Patriots held Patrick Mahomes and company to just nine points while also registering two takeaways. It was a terrific and encouraging performance – and one that was not sustained through the second half at all.
Over the final 30 minutes, the Chiefs hung 31 points on New England in a ferocious but ultimately unsuccessful attempt at a comeback: the Patriots prevailed 43-40 in a game that once again illustrated the team’s shortcomings and inconsistency on defense. This week, the unit will try to get back on track against an offense that has plenty of similarities when compared to Kansas City: the Chicago Bears’.
Led by former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, who took the role of Chicago’s head coach this offseason, the Bears’ offensive attack also features an explosive arsenal of pass catchers, a versatile running back, and a young and efficient quarterback. To further break the unit down and what to expect from it, we once again spoke to Jeff Berckes who covers the Bears as a contributor for our sister site Windy City Gridiron.
The first name that came up, naturally was second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. “He’s very much an inexperienced quarterback and while he’s shown some encouraging signs, I’m fascinated to see how Bill Belichick attacks him,” Jeff said about the second overall pick of last year’s draft. Trubisky has shown obvious improvement this season, completing 70.2% of his passes for a combined 1,261 yards, 11 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
“I personally believe I’ve seen Trubisky improve in all facets of his game and he’s starting to build a rapport with his new, talented pass-catching corps,” Jeff continued. “He’s more of a factor in the run game/scrambling than you might expect and he’s starting to have confidence going downfield.” This combination of big play potential and an ability to extend plays with his legs is something that the aforementioned Patrick Mahomes also brought to the table on Sunday.
The similarities between the two passers do not end there. Trubisky – much like fellow 2017 first-round selection Mahomes – is also having an encouraging second year in the league. And like Mahomes, the 24-year old is also still relatively new when it comes to playing at the NFL level. Consequently, Jeff sees the Patriots potentially using a similar defensive game plan than the one they used last week to slow down the Chiefs’ potent offense.
“I really liked how the Patriots attacked Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense,” Jeff said during our conversation about what New England might opt to do to take advantage of his inexperience and thus limit his impact. “Showing a lot of different looks and varying coverages. Obviously, Mahomes got it going in the second half, but slowing that offense down makes me think Belichick will throw something at Trubisky that he hasn’t seen before.”
But while the passer has not yet faced a Belichick-coached team in his short career, his head coach is not stranger to tackling this kind of challenge. “A positive note [for the Bears] is that Matt Nagy has faced Belichick before as the coordinator of the Chiefs offense,” Jeff pointed out. “While Nagy is still learning too, the experience of facing Belichick before should hopefully put Trubisky in a position to succeed.”
During Nagy’s time on the Chiefs’ offensive staff, he has prepared for and played against the Patriots three times – winning two of the contests in blowout fashion (2014, 2017). But of course, every season and team is different, so drawing definitive conclusions from past meetings is a foolish move to make. That being said, the Bears – like Nagy’s Chiefs squads – also come with a set of weapons that can put pressure on all three levels of a defense.
“I’m, in a weird way, excited to see what Belichick comes up with,” Jeff said about the matchup between New England’s defense and Chicago’s talented offense. “The Bears don’t have a target hog – Allen Robinson II is the number one wide receiver and leads the team with 38 targets, but Taylor Gabriel has 34 and has been impressive as of late. Add in rookie Anthony Miller in the slot (15 targets), Trey Burton at tight end (23), and Tarik Cohen (25), and they’ve done a nice job of spreading the ball around.”
When asked about which of those weapons could give the Patriots the most issues, Cohen was Jeff’s choice. “I think I would be most worried about Cohen, just based on what I’ve seen from Patriots linebackers in the passing game,” he said about the second-year running back. “I wonder if the Patriots will sacrifice a linebacker for an additional defensive back to put on Cohen, which may open up more opportunities in the run game.”
“I could be totally off, but that’s the type of big play ability that would keep me up at night,” continued Jeff. And while New England is still one of the better defenses in the NFL when it comes to stopping the big play, the unit has had its issues last week when it came to the Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt – a player similar to Cohen. Whether or not the Patriots can slow the versatile back down could come a long way to decide who will win the matchup between Chicago’s offense and New England’s defense.