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What the Patriots defense has to do to beat the Bears

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Three keys to the game for New England’s defense.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

While the New England Patriots offense appears to have finally hit its groove, the team’s defense continues to be a work in progress. Today, the unit will have its next chance to fully get back on track and finally display some of the consistency that it has lacked over the first six games of the year. Standing in its way is a Chicago Bears team that is using plenty of the same concepts last week’s opponent – the Kansas City Chiefs, who scored 40 points against New England – likes to run but without quite the same firepower.

That being said, the Patriots cannot afford to take the Bears lightly and need to make sure that the following is done

Challenge Mitchell Trubisky’s decision making

Last week against Kansas City, the Patriots had a productive first half and a big reason for that was the defense’s ability to make life hard for second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes. New England used diverse pre-snap looks and fake blitzes time and again to challenge the talented but relatively inexperienced passer in terms of his reads and decision making.

While Mahomes adapted nicely at times and made plenty of terrific plays, this approach also led to two takeaways and helped the Patriots keep one of the NFL’s best defenses off rhythm. Fast forward to this week and the Patriots will face another player similar to Mahomes: the Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky comes with more starting experience but is still a player that can be challenged by odd formations or rarely seen coverage concepts.

New England should therefore use a similar approach as it used last week to try to make the former first-round draft pick feel uncomfortable in the pocket even without necessarily having to generate plenty of pressure up front. It worked against Bears head coach Matt Nagy’s former pupil, it might work against his new one as well. Nevertheless, the Patriots need to make life as hard as possible for Trubisky.

Be disciplined against option plays

As noted last week, Kansas City likes to regularly use the run-pass-option to put its explosive players in a position to succeed. The concept, which allows the quarterback to either hand the football off after the snap or keep it to pass depending on the movements of the defense, is also a staple of Chicago’s attack: the Bears, coached by former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, also use RPOs more often than the average NFL team.

New England therefore again needs to be disciplined against such plays. The linebackers in particular will be challenged by RPO concepts and other option plays the Bears like to run – like a read option that allows the quarterback to keep the football and advance it himself as a runner. Last week, the group faired pretty well in such situations and it again needs to stay patient and not give away its hand too early to allow Trubisky to regularly make the correct reads.

Get on the same page in the secondary

Versus the Chiefs, the New England defense tied a season-high by giving up six plays of more than 20 yards. Four of those gains happened on passes – which is not unexpected when going against a highly explosive offense like Kansas City’s but still troublesome from the Patriots’ defensive perspective. After all, the team again faces a group of offensive skill position players this week that has a knack for making big plays down the field and a passer that is not afraid to target them.

It is therefore imperative for the Patriots’ defense – particularly the secondary – to be on the same page when it comes to stopping talented wide receivers like Allen Robinson II and Taylor Gabriel, or running back Tarik Cohen and tight end Trey Burton. Together, the four form a quartet similar to the one the Chiefs presented last week: Robinson II and Gabriel are reminiscent of Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill, Cohen of Kareem Hunt, and Burton of Travis Kelce.

And even though the Chiefs’ group is a notch above Chicago’s, the New England defense needs to be on top of its game to slow it down. One way to do that is by taking away the big play down the field, and having solid communication and displaying sound play diagnosis in the defensive back end – unlike on two long touchdowns last week – will be important yet again to make it happen.