The Patriots need a victory against a high quality team after losing to the Colts and the Broncos at home earlier this season. Here are five things they'll need to do if they want to beat the Bears:
1. Pressure Grossman
Quarterback Rex Grossman was plagued by injuries during his first three NFL seasons, leading many prognosticators to write him off. He's doing well this season, but is still relatively inexperienced – he had only been healthy for eight career games entering this season. He's small for his position, which helps him be more evasive under pursuit, but he will try to force things under pressure. He's had five games with a quarterback rating over 100, but he's also had some bad games. The Bears success or failure is largely contingent on his play, and his play is directly correlated to the amount of pressure defense are able to put on him. For example, in the Bears only loss of the season to Miami, Grossman was sacked a season-high 3 times. He was sacked twice in the Arizona game, and only completed 37.8 percent of his passes. The Bears narrowly escaped that one with Arizona's coach Dennis Green left with nothing but a confirmation that "they are who we thought they were." The bottom line is that Grossman will throw interceptions if he's pressured. The Pats will still have to deal with the Bears defense, but collapsing Grossman's pocket can seriously shake his game.
2. Protect the football
This will be the 100th start for Tom Brady, and coincidentally, it will be No. 100 for the Bears middle linebacker, Brian Urlacher as well. Urlacher thrives on big games and managed to record a career-high 25 tackles when Grossman fell apart against Arizona. He and his ball-hawking defense thrive on sacks and turnovers. They've recorded 29 takeaways this season and are tied for the second-highest takeaway margin at plus-9. They'll be looking to intercept Brady's passes and strip ball carriers every chance they get. This is an unusual defense in that they have the potential to outscore the Bears offense if Grossman isn't getting it done. They're leading the NFL by scoring 119 points off turnovers and having 42.2 percent of their 282 points scored as a result of takeaways. That's why Patriots coach Bill Belichick referred to this defense as "piranhas" during his Wednesday press conference. Running backs Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon have done a pretty good job of hanging onto the football this season, but coach Belichick said everyone will need to concentrate on maintaining three points of contact with the ball whenever it's in their hands this week. The Patriots let the ball hit the ground four times last week, and only one of those fumbles was recovered by the Packers, but the Bears will be much hungrier than Green Bay was. The Pats will need to protect the ball better in this game.
3. Force turnovers
The Patriots had some trouble creating takeaways at the beginning of the season, but turned things around as the defense progressed. Cornerback Asante Samuel leads the team with three interceptions andChad Scott has two. Artrell Hawkins, Tedy Bruschi, Ellis Hobbs, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison each have one. This is not a rinky-dink defense, but their turnover differential is at plus-2 and they'll need to improve it as the postseason approaches. The team is entering the part of the season that Belichick's teams always do well in – the final stretch. The defense is working well together and essentially shut down all of Green Bay's offensive weapons last week, but didn't record an interception from Brett Favre or his backup Aaron Rodgers. They need to fly around this week and create some turnovers, because the Bears defense will be looking to do the same. Big plays like fourth-down stops and sacks also have the potential to play a huge role in this game.
4. Be special on special teams
The Bears have ex-Patriot training camper Robbie Gould, who hasn't missed a kick all season long. He's the leading scorer among kickers in the NFL this season, and if he finishes the season in that spot, he'll be one more reason to compare this Bears team to the legendary '85 Bears – then-kicker Kevin Butler led the league's kickers in scoring that year. The Patriots kick and punt coverage units have struggled a bit recently, though they started the season very strong. They'll be facing return specialist Devin Hester who, despite being a rookie, has score touchdowns twice on punt returns this season. You may remember him as the Bears returner who caught a field goal attempt in the end zone against the Giants and faked their coverage team into thinking he wasn't going anywhere with it before taking off for a record-tying 108-yard runback for a touchdown. He must be contained in this game if the Pats defense wants to keep Chicago out of the end zone. The Patriots starting punter, Josh Miller was placed on injured reserve Friday with a shoulder injury. His replacement, Ken Walter, spoke to the media for the first time Friday, saying that he feels great and has a lot of respect for the Patriots. Coach Belichick explained that Walter is also an excellent holder, so he'll be able to take over Miller's holding responsibilities for kicker Stephen Gostkowski this week, as well. He's not known for his ability to drive the ball down field, but that reportedly improved while he was out of the league last season. He'll be another special teamer to watch in this game, because the Pats field position will be important in this game.
5. Control the line of scrimmage
The Pats need to play smart football and get the running game going if they want to put the Bears defense on it's heels. Bears nose tackle Tank Johnson is having another great year and he'll be looking to stop that running game along with the rest of the Bears front seven. The Pats defense will need to work together to open holes for the runner and maintain the integrity of Brady's pocket. The Bears defense thrives on big plays and the odds say they'll find a few of them this week, but if the Pats can dictate their style of offense against this team, they can move the ball against anyone in the league. This game will be a great measuring stick for the Patriots linemen on both sides of the ball. The Bears running back Thomas Jones is good, but the Bears offense is averaging just 3.5 yards-per carry. Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour and Ty Warren should be able to shut him down up front, which will make Grossman's offense much more 1-dimensional. The Bears defense is fast and will be flying to the line of scrimmage, so that's where the offensive battles will be won or lost. Another aspect of controlling the line of scrimmage is avoiding careless penalties. The Patriots have had a few hiccups in that department this season, and they'll definitely be up for this big game, so they'll need to keep their heads if they want field position on their side.
Notes:The Patriots practiced on the FieldTurf inside the stadium again today, though they weren't in full pads. Safety Rodney Harrison (out) and running back Kevin Faulk were the only players reportedly not at practice while media was allowed on the field. … Faulk was added to the injury report today, listed as "questionable" due to the Flu. Seven other Patriots are listed as "questionable." Brady and Seymour are both listed as "probable," and neither of them missed any practice all week. … In the locker room, replacement punter Ken Walter drew a big crowd, as he'll be the Pats punter starting this weekend now that Josh Miller was placed on IR with a shoulder injury.