When the Patriots Run – Edge: Patriots
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, especially lately: The Patriots will face a weak running defense this week. Chicago goes into Monday night’s game ranked 29th in rush defense, allowing for 163 yards per game and 24th in yards per attempt (4.8). After a rare underperforming rushing performance in Cleveland, expect the attack to rebound heavily. Rhamondre Stevenson still managed to run for two touchdowns, including a 31-yarder on a third and tenth draw, but only managed 76 yards against the league’s worst run defense. Overall, the Patriots averaged just 3.4 yards per carry against the Browns, and that number is expected to increase against a Bears front that includes Justin Jones and Angelo Blackson alongside Al-Quadin Muhammad and Robert Quinn . Roquan Smith is a standout middle linebacker, but is a bit undersized and can get pushed around at times. This group has struggled to contain the run for most of the year, despite facing off against San Francisco, Green Bay and the Giants, all of whom have strong running games. Make sure Stevenson continues to carry the load as Damien Harris tries to work his way back from a sore muscle. Rookies Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong filled in with four carries between them, but the game in progress will once again fall on Stevenson’s shoulders.
When the Patriots come around – Edge: Patriots
Chicago hasn’t done much right so far in 2022, but one element of the team that has performed well is their secondary squad. The Bears are fourth in the league and only allow 178.7 yards per play through the air, although the tally climbs to 11th at 6.5 yards per attempt, an indication that opponents have been largely willing to throw the ball to run against Chicago’s leaky front. Safety Eddie Jackson played well and led the team with three interceptions. But other than that, there aren’t many household names in the secondary school. Corners Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon are on the starting line-up along with Jackson and fellow safety Jaquan Brisker, although Johnson has been dealing with a quadriceps injury. Kindle Vildor serves as the nickel back that the bears use more than half the time. Quinn, the veteran pass rusher, hasn’t posed much of a threat with just one sack while the Bears have just 11 as a team. The Bears were helped by the preseason schedule as they faced the Niners in a monsoon on opening day and Washington’s Carson Wentz couldn’t crack triple digits after playing with a broken finger last week. Mac Jones is close to a return and could be ready by Monday night. He will join an offense that has rookie Tyquan Thornton in the lineup and is making plays. If Jones can’t walk, look for Bailey Zappe to spread the ball further and stay efficient.
When the Bears Run – Edge: Bears
Chicago’s offense hasn’t delivered much so far, but the same cannot be said for the ground game. Despite David Montgomery’s injuries, the Bears have been effectively shredding yards on the ground. Chicago is second in the league averaging 170.8 yards per game and seventh at 5.2 yards per carry. Montgomery averages 4 yards per carry as a lead back, but Khalil Herbert offers more explosiveness, averaging 6.4 yards on the same number of tries (Herbert has 63 to Montgomery’s 62). Quarterback Justin Fields also provides a running element with 54 carries for 282 yards and an average of 5.2 yards. Expect the Patriots to load the crate and bring additional bodies into the runways, effectively forcing Chicago to pitch. New England overcame the injuries to Lawrence Guy and Christian Barmore and put on their best performance of the season, holding Cleveland’s Nick Chubb for 56 yards with 12 carries. The Browns finished with just 70 rushing yards, which was more than 120 yards short of their season average. Of that Godchaux and Carl Davis were strong up front and will be tested again on Monday. As long as the game remains competitive, the Bears will continue to run football.
When the Bears Come Around – Edge: Patriots
The reason that last sentence is true is because first-year coach Matt Eberflus has yet to figure out how to protect his young quarterback, and asking him to throw 25+ passes, which he’s only done once, calls for trouble . While Fields struggled as the lowest-ranked passer in football, he was also sacked 23 times. That total is amazing considering he only attempted 115 passes. That means Fields is fired a whopping 20 percent of the time he falls behind to pass, a total that’s easily the worst in the league. Darnell Mooney is his favorite target and leads the Bears with 17 catches for 241 yards. Tight end Cole Kmet and Montgomery (10 each) are the only others with double-digit receptions. The impassive St. Brown and Dante Pettis account for three of Fields’ four touchdown passes for a pass attack that’s anything but dangerous. Expect the Patriots secondary to continue locking out, forcing Fields to show he can consistently pass to move the ball. Based on past records, which include the worst 122 yards per game through the air in the league, Fields reckons that won’t be possible Monday night.
Special Teams – Edge: Patriots
Nick Folk finally proved human when he missed a 45-yard field goal in Cleveland to snap his streak of 64 straight makes from 50 yards. Despite that hiccup, he remains a major strength for a Patriots offense that has had its struggles inside the red zone. Chicago’s Cairo Santos didn’t have many opportunities, but he was also solid, making all seven of his field goals, including three from over 50s. Punter Trenton Gill was effective with seven kicks in the 20 against just two touchbacks and averaging nearly 49 yards per Punt. Jake Bailey has been a bit inconsistent but comes from a game in which he pinned the Browns three times inside the 20 in his four tries. The Patriots’ kickoff coverage remains a concern as Cleveland’s Chester Rodgers made three to the 25 or beyond. But the Patriots also got another special team turnover by taking advantage of a muffed punt. Chicago’s Velus Jones handles both punts and kicks like Marcus Jones did for New England. Marcus Jones has provided boosts at punts in particular, and the Bears were vulnerable early in that department, allowing nearly 10 yards per return.