Joniak: Keys To The Game
Offense: Control the Clock
In the same key that was critical in ultimately defeating the NFC East leading Philadelphia Eagles, the Bears must control the clock against the New England Patriots: the longer the better. Like the Eagles two weeks ago, the Patriots enter Week 14 the highest scoring team in the NFL at over 31 points-per-game. Six times this season, the Patriots have scored more than 38-points. They have three forty-point-plus games including back-to-back 45-point outbursts. The more the Bears hold on to the ball and drain the clock, the better chance the NFL’s second-ranked scoring defense can limit the Tom Brady led attack. During a five game winning streak, the Bears are averaging just over 33-minutes of possession time, a huge upgrade thanks to a 53% conversion rate on third down. New England’s defense gives up yardage, but forces an offense to be patient.
Defense: Take it away
It remains the most significant element of Lovie Smith’s weekly speech on defense-Take the ball away. He is dissatisfied with only one takeaway in the last two games. The Bears are 11th in the NFL in turnover ratio, but the Patriots are 2nd at +14. They rarely turn it over. In fact, they have set a single season record by going turnover free four games in a row. New England is more unpredictable offensively since trading Randy Moss and maybe more dangerous. Receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch are complemented by rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski and diminutive running back Danny Woodhead, who is outstanding out of the backfield. This is a catch and run offense, so tackling and stripping the ball is critical.
New England has given up a touchdown on kickoff this season, and the Bears have allowed a punt touchdown. Both coverage units will be tested by outstanding schemes from Dave Toub of the Bears and Scottie O’Brien of the Patriots. Rookie Brandon Tate is averaging 26.3 yards on his returns and has two touchdowns. Julian Edelman averages more than 12-yards per punt return and Welker can return as well. The Patriots have a new kicker due to the injury to Stephen Gostkowski and have replaced him with veteran Shayne Graham. Robbie Gould is coming off one of his best games with five kicks to the end zone and a career long 54-yard field goal to help beat the Lions. New England safety Patrick Chung has blocked a punt and a field goal this season.
With snow and high wind in the weekend forecast, you will hear about Bear weather becoming a factor. However, the Patriots have no problem playing in disruptive conditions. The wind is more of a factor than the snow. Both Jay Cutler and Tom Brady are built to handle a gusty afternoon. Their throws cut through the wind with little resistance. Negative plays offensively are killers. This season the Bears have 68 combined sacks, interceptions and fumbles. The Patriots have 27. No matter the conditions, holding on to the ball and pass protection will figure prominently in the outcome.