It’s all about the quarterbacks: Patriots vs. Bears key matchups
October 23rd, 2022
When the NFL schedule makers decided to make Patriots-Bears a primetime game, the focus was likely on the quarterbacks. Mac Jones and Justin Fields were the final two of the five QBs to get drafted within the top 15 in last year’s draft, and were two of the more polarizing quarterbacks in the class.
It appears the schedule makers will get their wish – and then some. Both quarterbacks figure to be heavily in the spotlight this week, perhaps more so than originally anticipated. Jones is expected to make his first start after missing three games with an ankle injury, and Fields continues to try to jumpstart the Chicago offense as things fall apart around him.
Since the storylines coming into this game are heavily quarterback-focused, this week’s edition of key matchup will take a close look at what both players need to do to succeed in the game. We’ll start with Jones…
When New England has the ball: Mac Jones vs. Eddie Jackson & Jaquan Brisker
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 02: Jaquan Brisker #9 and Eddie Jackson #4 of the Chicago Bears celebrate an interception against the New York Giants during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on October 02, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
As the ‘debate’ about the quarterback position raged during Jones’ absence, the second-year quarterback’s five interceptions through three games were cited often. While context negates some of those, it did appear at times Jones was losing track of lurking safeties.
The Bears have a couple of talented playmaking safeties in Eddie Jackson and rookie Jaquan Brisker. Jackson is really the name to know when it comes to this defense – he’s the 7th-ranked safety in football this season per PFF, and already has three interceptions and three additional pass breakups on the year. Jones can’t afford to lose track of where he is on the field.
Brisker can also impact the game both in coverage and as a pass-rusher – he has two sacks in the last three games. In fact, he plays a lot like a Patriots safety. They even got a good look at him leading up to the draft this year at the Penn State Pro Day. The Bears ended up taking him 48th overall.
Jones and the Patriots won’t get much of a break when it comes to dealing with either of these guys, who both play significant roles in the Bears’ defense. Brisker hasn’t been off the field yet for a snap this season, while Jackson has only been on the sidelines for seven plays – all coming in Chicago’s Week 3 win over the Texans.
When Chicago has the ball: Patriots defensive line vs. Justin Fields
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – OCTOBER 13: Justin Fields #1 of the Chicago Bears runs with the ball against the Washington Commanders at Soldier Field on October 13, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Simply put, the Bears’ offense doesn’t make a lot of sense for Justin Fields right now. It’s not built around his skillsets, and an up-and-down offensive line has only made things worse. Fields has been pressured on a league-high 31.2% of his drop backs, and is tied with Carson Wentz as the most-sacked quarterback in football through six weeks (23). This is all despite the fact that no team in the league has faced less blitzes than the Bears, who have seen 39 through their six games.
When Fields has been at his most dangerous, as Bill Belichick pointed out this week, is when he is able extend plays as protection breaks down around him. “He gets out of a lot of trouble with his athleticism, his speed, his size, balance,” Belichick noted on Wednesday. “They lead the league in yards per pass attempt. When they throw it, they’re a lot of down field plays. He’s accurate. He can throw on the run.”
“All 11,” Davon Godchaux said on Friday when asked about accounting for Fields’ ability to extend plays. “All 11 [defenders] got to fly to the ball. Kind of like [defending] Lamar Jackson. Very explosive, can break a 60-yard run at any moment. Very fast, so we’ve got to make sure all 11 guys are around the ball – I think we’ve been doing a great job of that at practice this week. Make sure all 11 effort to the ball.”
On the topic of defending Jackson, who the Patriots faced in Week 3, Godchaux mentioned the smiliarity is that both he and Fields “can make the first guy miss,” which increases in the importance of the defense swarming to the ball-carrier.
Based off the way the Bears’ offensive line has looked, there’s not a lot of incentive for the Patriots to blitz in this game. It makes more sense to have extra bodies in the secondary to help deal with the speed of Chicago’s offense. Keeping that in mind, it will be up the Patriots’ defensive linemen to play a disciplined game and not give Fields any extra opportunities to create, and the rest of the defense to be aware when he does take off.
Bonus: Jakobi Meyers vs. Kyler Gordon
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 09: Jakobi Meyers #16 of the New England Patriots reacts after a catch during the third quarter against the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images)
Let’s keep with the theme of quarterbacks and talk about a former quarterback – Patriots’ slot receiver Jakobi Meyers.
As Jones works his way back into game action, expect him to turn to his safety blanket early and often. That’s Meyers, who caught 13 passes for 150 yards in the two games he’s played with Jones this year.
Meyers’ production didn’t drop off without Jones though, and he still appears to be on a roll. After missing two weeks with a knee injury, he’s caught 11 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown over the last two games.
This week, Meyers gets a chance to work against a rookie in second-round pick Kyler Gordon. Gordon has been picked on quite a bit this season, allowing 33 catches for 383 yards on 44 targets. Opposing quarterbacks have a 108.4 passer rating when targeting him. It’s another winnable matchup for Meyers, and one the Patriots should exploit to help give Jones’ a softer reset back into live reps.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.