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Scouting the Matchup: Offense in a groove



Advantage: Bears

Run defense has been a strength for the Bears, who were the top-ranked run defense in the NFL before slipping a few notches after last week's loss in Miami. Chicago was allowing an average of 64.0 yards per game on the ground and an average of 3.37 yards per rushing attempt (No. 3 in the NFL) through four games but surrendered 161 yards on 31 carries against the Dolphins. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, a former Patriot, and nose tackle Eddie Goldman have been excellent at stopping the run up front. Linebackers Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd have also made significant contributions against the run. Injuries in New England's backfield have given running back Sony Michel an opportunity to put his skills on display, and he rushed for 112 yards against the Dolphins in Week 4, 98 against the Colts in Week 5 and 106 against the Chiefs last week. The Patriots will likely continue to give him opportunities but the rookie will find it a bit tougher on the road.


Advantage: Patriots

New England's passing game got a shot in the arm when slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension in Week 5 against the Colts. With Edelman and Josh Gordon both in the lineup, quarterback Tom Brady looked more like what we've come to expect, as he completed 34 of 44 pass attempts for 341 yards. The key to winning this matchup will likely be New England's offensive line. Mack, whom the Bears acquired from the Raiders before the start of the season, is among the league's top pass rushers, and no one is better than Mack at creating strip-sacks (he had one in each of his first four games). The Bears rank first among NFL teams in sacks per pass attempt and interception rate. Chicago has 10 interceptions in its five games but surrendered 380 yards passing to backup QB Brock Osweiler last week in Miami, and Mack's balky ankle has him questionable for this game. Given the Patriots recent offensive surge, those developments are tough to ignore.


Advantage: Bears

The Bears have been attacking teams on the ground with running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, who gives Chicago a change-of-pace back. Howard was the team's workhorse back for the last two seasons, but Cohen, who is averaging 5.3 yards per carry this season, has taken on a significant role this year. New England's run defense surrendered 56 yards against Miami and 84 yards against Indianapolis, but the Patriots jumped out to an early lead and played from ahead in both victories, which forced the Dolphins and Colts to rely more on their passing games. New England allowed 167 yards, 104 yards and 159 yards in its first three games, and the Chiefs averaged 5.5 yards per carry Sunday night with Kareem Hunt piling up 80 yards on just 10 carries.


Advantage: Bears

Second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky took advantage of a weak Tampa Bay pass defense in tossing a career-high six touchdown passes in a 48-10 victory in Week 4. Five of those TD passes came in the first half. Trubisky has done a good job spreading the ball around this season, as wide receiver Taylor Gabriel leads the team with 27 receptions, wide receiver Allen Robinson is second in both receptions (24) and receiving yards (281) and tight end Trey Burton is averaging a team-high 13.3 yards per catch. Six Chicago players have caught at least one touchdown pass this season. The Patriots haven't been great at getting to the opposing quarterback in passing situations this year. New England rank last in sacks through with just seven and didn't add to that total against the Chiefs. The coverage has suffered as a result, and with Chicago operating a system similar to Kansas City's, Trubisky is likely to find some open targets.


Advantage: Patriots

Covering kicks, something the Patriots have struggled to do well this season, should be a concern for New England in this contest since Cohen and the Bears entered last Sunday's game against Miami ranked fifth among NFL teams in punt-return average. The Patriots ranked 26th in punt-return average through Week 5 and allowed a 97-yard kickoff return against the Chiefs last Sunday. New England's punt-return game received a boost when Edelman rejoined the team in Week 5, and Stephen Gostkowski made five field goals in the victory over Kansas City. Chicago's Cody Parkey, who kicked for Miami last season, has made nine of his 11 field goal attempts this season but missed what would have been a game-winning field goal (53 yards) against Miami in overtime last week. Gostkowski's steady performance earns an otherwise shaky group on special teams the nod.


Advantage: Patriots

Although Chicago is at home, the Bears lost the momentum generated by a three-game winning streak when they blew an 11-point lead in last Sunday's 31-28 overtime loss to Miami. The Patriots, meanwhile, are coming off a frenetic 43-40 victory over Kansas City on Sunday night. Third-down success when the Bears have the ball could go a long way toward determining New England's ability to win this contest, since Chicago leads the NFL in time of possession. The Patriots defense has struggled getting off the field in virtually every game, with the Week 4 win over Miami being an exception. Even in the loss to Miami, the Bears were able to convert on eight of their 12 third-down situations. The Patriots are looking for their first road win of the season, and that has been a big point of emphasis in the locker room this week.

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