The New England Patriots and Chicago Bears are entering their Week 7 primetime matchup trending in different directions. Whereas New England has won back-to-back games to improve to 3-3 on the season, the Bears have dropped three in a row to turn a 2-1 start into a 2-4 record.
Nobody is going to confuse Chicago with the best teams in the NFL, especially after the team’s recent performances. And yet, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spent the first seven-and-a-half minutes of his press conference call on Wednesday gushing about the Bears, their coaching and their players.
Frankly, his statements in a vacuum could generate the impression he was talking about one of the league’s top teams in all three phases.
“This is a pretty impressive group and really a young team that you can see getting better all the time,” Belichick said. “[Matt Eberflus] has done a really good job here with installing his system and I think adapting to the personnel that they have there.”
New England’s head coach went on to praise quarterback Justin Fields and his supporting cast, singling out wide receiver Darnell Mooney as well as running backs Khalil Herbert and David Montgomery.
“They’re very hard to tackle,” he said. “They do a real good job with their running game and the play action game as well. A lot of explosive plays. Lead the league in yards per pass attempt. They’ve hit some big plays. Some of those are catch-and-run plays and then when you add on Fields’ scrambles, which might count as running plays in the stats, but they’re actually passing plays, in terms of having to defend them.”
The Bears have indeed had a lot of success especially on the ground. They are ranked second in rushing yards (1,025) through six games, and seventh in yards per attempt (5.2). However, their expected points added through the ground game (-0.050) is only the 18th best in football.
Additionally, their passing offense has struggled. The Fields-led operation is ranked dead-last in the NFL in pass attempts (115) and passing yards (737), and 25th in EPA per play (-0.035). They are also only ranked seventh in yards per attempt (7.6) and an abysmal 29th (5.3) in net yards per attempt.
Belichick also went on to gush about Chicago’s special teams and defensive units — praise that is somewhat justified based on the club’s performance so far this season. All in all, however, the Bears have played some disappointing football recently.
Belichick knows this, but his goal is to set the tone for this team coming off two straight blowout victories. And that tone is easy to hear: don’t underestimate the Bears.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “They’ve had some time here and talked about some of the things that they’re going to change or do differently or whatever, so we’ll have to be prepared for maybe something that we haven’t seen from them, whatever adjustments Coach Eberflus and his staff decide to make. Need a good week of preparation here and be ready to go Monday night.”
The full 1,081-word transcript of Belichick’s opening remarks, provided by the Patriots’ media relations, reads as follows:
We’ve had a chance here to spend some time looking at the Bears. This is a pretty impressive group and really a young team that you can see getting better all the time. Coach [Matt Eberflus] has done a really good job here with installing his system and I think adapting to the personnel that they have there. Obviously, getting a lot of young players involved. It’s one of the youngest teams in the league. Offensively, [Justin] Fields is a major threat every time he touches the ball, very athletic kid. [Darnell] Mooney is really an outstanding receiver. He’s had a ton of production and I can see why. He’s very good at everything, plays multiple positions. In the slot a lot, but they’ll move him around and he’s had a ton of production. Then, of course the backs, [Khalil] Herbert and [David] Montgomery are very good. This running game is right there with Cleveland. I mean they literally have about the same exact amount of yardage. I think [Khalil] Herbert is leading the league in yards per carry. They’re very hard to tackle. They do a real good job with their running game and the play action game as well. A lot of explosive plays. Lead the league in yards per pass attempt. They’ve hit some big plays. Some of those are catch-and-run plays and then when you add on [Justin] Fields’ scrambles, which might count as running plays in the stats, but they’re actually passing plays, in terms of having to defend them. They’re really a lot of explosive plays there that are a problem. Young offensive line, talented offensive line, two young tackles. But, really the backs, [Darnell] Mooney, [Justin] Fields, guys that can really score on any play. A good group of tight ends that they use in there, so they give us multiple formations and personnel groups. Special teams is another young group, core group of players. [DeAndre] Houston-Carson is really one of the better coverage players that we’ll see all year. [Velus] Jones [Jr.], the rookie, has been great for them and [Josh] Blackwell is very fast. They have a lot of team speed. [Dane] Cruikshank, and some of their linebackers, which those guys run well too. It’s really a good group. One of the better groups that we’ve played. [Cairo] Santos, really solid kicker, veteran guy. Just hits the ball straight through, very consistent. The skills, got a big leg, punter’s got a big leg. He [Trenton Gill] whacks it down there pretty good. So, they can change field position, especially with their fast coverage players, the three guys I mentioned there. They’ve done an excellent job of creating good field position for their defense. [Velus] Jones [Jr.] in the return game, strong, explosive guy. We spent a lot of time on him. Really dangerous with the ball in his hands. Then [Dante] Pettis and [Trestan] Ebner, Ebner on the kickoff returns, another fast guy. Plays really in all their special teams. [Dante] Pettis, an experienced guy back there, they use him some on punt returns. But, it’s a good special teams unit, very sound, good players and a lot of tough matchups there for us. Defensively, Matt’s [Eberflus] obviously brought his very successful system from Indianapolis with him. In Indy, they led the league in turnovers for four straight years. Forced a lot of fumbles. They’re very disruptive on the ball. Ball security is going to be a big issue. They’ve got a lot of outstanding players. They’re hard to block on the front. Obviously, [Robert] Quinn is one of the great defensive linemen in this era. I mean, his numbers are ridiculous and whatever it was last year, 17, 18 sacks. This guy is a major disruptive force on the edge. The two linebackers, [Roquan] Smith and [Nicholas] Morrow make a ton of tackles. Obviously, [Roquan] Smith leading the league in tackles. Been at the top of the league almost every year. He’s very hard to block and a very good tackler from sideline to sideline. He’s got a lot of range, very instinctive, gets off blocks well, obviously finds the ball and really is just a tackling machine. [Eddie] Jackson’s been a guy we’ve played against before that always is around the ball. Very instinctive player at the safety position. He does some different things, but he’s around the ball. Kind of quarterbacks the secondary back there. Makes a lot of plays, makes a lot of big plays, turnovers, returns for touchdowns and stuff like that. That’s kind of his play making style back there. That’s a problem. Coach Eberflus has really done a good job. I mean, in the second half, they’re the best defensive team in the second half of games in the league. Haven’t given up much of anything here in six games. I think they’re under seven points a game in the second half, or something like that. You watch them play in the second half and seems like as they gain confidence, figure out what the offense is doing, make some adjustments, they’ve been able to really shut almost everybody down. That’s obviously a big concern for us as well. Young players, guys that we don’t know very well, that have already jumped in and made a big impact for them, first and second year players. Guys like [Darnell] Mooney, [Kyler] Gordon on defense, [Velus] Jones [Jr.] in the kicking game, [Trenton] Gill in the kicking game, players like that. Then obviously, there’s a few guys, [Cairo] Santos and certainly [Robert] Quinn, guys like that, Roquan Smith, that have been around for a while, that are good players as well and have had good careers. We’ll again get to work on these guys from a schematic standpoint and get to know them from a personnel standpoint, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. They’ve had some time here and talked about some of the things that they’re going to change or do differently or whatever, so we’ll have to be prepared for maybe something that we haven’t seen from them, whatever adjustments Coach Eberflus and his staff decide to make. Need a good week of preparation here and be ready to go Monday night.