Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright will be looking to continue a recent streak of success for the Patriots offense against Chicago on Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)
The New England Patriots return to action after a 10 day â€śmini-byeâ€ť and take on the Chicago Bears Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. The game will be televised on Fox Sports with Sam Rosen and John Lynch on the call. Kickoff is slated for 1:05 p.m.
The Patriots (5-2) have won three in a row and defeated the New York Jets 27-25 last Thursday night as Chris Jones blocked a last second 58 yard field goal attempt to preserve the victory.
The run defense was gashed for over 200 yards and the Jets controlled the time of possession for over 40 minutes. Tom Brady and the Patriots offense had the ball for only 19 minutes but were able to score 27 points. Brady continued his recent sharp play passing for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns including two to RB Shane Vereen.
The Bears (3-4) lost to the Miami Dolphins 27-14 dropping their home record to 0-3 on the season. The Bears have dropped three of their past four games and there were reports of players having to be separated in the locker room after the game.
The offense which has been inconsistent this season, has also turned the ball over too much in 2014. They will be looking to get RB Matt Forte involved in a big way, Forte leads the NFL in pass receptions and has rushed for 448 yards on the season.
The Chicago defense which has been banged up at the linebacker position was victimized by Ryan Tannehill last week. Tannehill completed 25 of 32 for over 270 yards. However as much as Chicago has struggled at home, theyâ€™ve been a very good 3-1 road team thus far in 2014.
We here atÂ PatsFans.comÂ are continuing our Â â€śRazorâ€™s Edgeâ€ťÂ column in 2014 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
The Patriots and Bears have only met 12 times in their history with the biggest matchup being the Bears 46-10 rout in Super Bowl XX. Overall the Patriots hold an 8-4 edge over Chicago with the last meeting being a 36-7 win in a snowy Chicago in 2010. Sunday will mark the Bears only fourth trip to Foxboro with the Patriots winning the first three.
Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razorâ€™s Edge.
Patriots RBs vs Bears Front Seven- Razorâ€™s Edge Bears
The Patriots running game took a big hit with the season-ending loss of Stevan Ridley during the Pats win in Buffalo two weeks ago. They are still trying to figure out how to share the carries with Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Jonas Gray who was recently promoted from the practice squad.
The Bears defense, normally stout against the run has been banged up especially with LBs Lance Briggs and Jonathan Bostic missing the past two games. Both returned to practice this week, albeit in a limited role.
This matchup should favor the Bears defense although it is imperative that the NE offense continue to stick with the run as the balance is important in keeping the play action passing a threat.
Patriots WRs vs Bears Secondary-Razorâ€™s Edge Patriots
Tom Brady and the Patriots passing game has been catching fire lately, Brady has passed for over 900 yards and 9 TDs with 0 INTs in the past three games, a far cry from the first month of the season when the passing game was scuffling along.
The recent success has been buoyed by the return to health of TE Rob Gronkowski who is rounding into form after his ACL surgery from last year. Gronk, Julian Edelman and Brady have had good chemistry and as WR Brandon LaFell and TE Tim Wright become more comfortable with the Patriots offense, theyâ€™re becoming bigger parts of the passing game.
The Bears can bring a lot of pressure on opposing QBs, DEs Willie Young and Jared Allen provide good edge pressure and the interior pressure by Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea will be key against a NE OL that has struggled to protect Brady at times in 2014.
As always that protection is key with the good news that OL Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork have returned to practice this week. Brady will attempt to target the middle of the field against the banged up LBs and safeties with Gronkowski and Edelman. Look for Tim Wright to have a bigger role this week as the offense may go with more 2-TE sets.
Bears RBs vs NE Front Seven-Â Razorâ€™s Edge Bears
The Bears running game features the multi-dimensional Forte who has rushed for 448 yards this season. Forte is fifth in the league in rushing and provides a tough matchup for a banged up Patriots defense that has been gashed at times this season. It is interesting that the Bears only average 94.5 yards per game running the ball, as they should seem to doing it much more effectively.
The Patriots run defense took two big hits in the past two weeks as LB Jerod Mayo was lost for the season in the win over Buffalo and then early this week, it was reported that DE Chandler Jones injured his hip in the win over the Jets and will miss the next month.
With the changing faces along the defensive line and linebacker positions this week, look for the Bears to give the running game a renewed emphasis this week. They should be able to run and how effectively will go a long way in determining this one.
Bears WRs vs NE Secondary- Razorâ€™s Edge Patriots
Jay Cutler has some outstanding weapons in WRs Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey and TE Martellus Bennett along with Forte who has been very effective at catching the ball out of the backfield. They are all big and provide some matchup mismatches especially in the TE department as NE has seemed to continually struggle coverage there.
However, Cutler remains inconsistent in his second season with Trestman at the helm, at times like the Atlanta game he’s nearly unstoppable and then at others he makes awful decisions with the football and turns the ball over. His play will ultimately decide whether the offense takes off on Sunday or scuffles along. After the debacle on Sunday at home, maybe the road trip is a welcome relief.
The Patriots have been very good against the pass allowing only 208 yards per game, and this is a game that seems to fit exactly why they brought in CBs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to face the bigger WRs in Chicago. While the Jones absence takes away their best pass rusher, the other players on the defense will have to step up and the coaches more creative in getting some pressure.
The Pats get the slightest of edges here because of the turnover potential. This is a good ball-hawking defense that is currently listed at #2 in the NFL with a +9 differential. They always seem to find a way to create a key turnover or two. The Bears offense has had issues there, giving up 13 turnovers (7 INTs, 6 fumbles) so far in 2014. This is the week for Revis and Browner to step up.
Special Teams- Razorâ€™s Edge Push
Both teams are solid in the kicking game and have reliable kickers. Stephen Gostkowski for NE and Robbie Gould for the Bears are both reliable and have very good range. Gostkwoskiâ€™s only miss came on a bad snap in Buffalo.
Both punters are likewise having solid seasons with Ryan Allen for the Pats averaging 46.2 per punt while the Bears Pat Oâ€™Donnell is averaging a solid 45.2 per punt as well. Both teams are looking to getting the return games untracked, so this will be a matchup to watch in a close game.
This should be another good, hard-hitting close game. Expect the offenses to score more this week as each team should have some success in moving the ball. The key from a Patriots perspective on defense is to slow down Forte. The all-purpose threat can influence a game either running or receiving and has gained over 150 all-purpose yards in four of the Bears seven games.
For the Patriots offense to go, Brady will have to get Gronkowski going in the middle of the field to target the Bears safeties and LBs, an area where they are vulnerable. I look for the Patriots to play more 2-TE this week as their game plan specific offense changes from week to week.
The biggest tipping point may be in the turnover department, something the NE defense has been very good at. If they can force a turnover or two that should be enough to win the day and the Patriots are always good at home. Brady should have another good day throwing the ball as the Pats hold serve with a close 31-27 win.
Patriots Player to Watch-Â Rob Gronkowski
The big tight end is beginning to round into form as his recovery from ACL surgery continues to progress. The past three weeks has seen his playing time increase as he not only is involved in the passing game but as a run blocker as well.
Gronkâ€™s production in the past three games, 18 catches, 264 yards and 1 TD resemble pre-injury Gronkowski like numbers. He also opens up a lot of room for the other receivers as he tends to generate a lot of attention from opposing defenses.
This is a game tailor made for him to have a big influence in. He along with Brady are the two most important members of the Patriots offense. Look for him to have a big game on Sunday.