By Bryan Dietzler
Fresh off of a heartbreaking 29-23 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Chicago Bears will return to Soldier Field to take on the 1-3 Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville is coming off of a bye week. The week prior to that, they took on the same opponent the Bears had last week, Indianapolis, playing in England. There, they beat the Colts 30-27.
Jacksonville was supposed to have a breakout season this year but they haven’t been able to “get over the hump” and win. This team, coming in playing the way they are, could be just what the doctor ordered for the Bears.
Chicago has been having some good success at the quarterback position with Brian Hoyer playing for the injured Jay Cutler. They have gotten consistency, error free play and great effort which is something that has been lacking over the last few years at quarterback. But with that, what they haven’t been getting is wins.
Right now, Hoyer has just one win in his time as a starter (with the Bears) but he has kept the team in games and nearly delivered another victory. Like we learned against the Colts last Sunday, he just can’t seem to come up with that one big play to seal it. That’s what he failed to do against the Colts.
We can talk about there being a quarterback controversy all day long. When Cutler is finally able to return from his injury, it is likely he will not be the starter. Hoyer will need to play consistently over the next few games to prove he can remain the starter. Can he sty consistent against Jacksonville?
The Jaguars are allowing opponents to pass for an average of 245.5 yards per game. That is considered to be middle of the road. Chicago’s offense is putting up some decent numbers throwing the ball. They are averaging 281.6 yards per game through the air so things could shake out in the Bears favor on Sunday. If Hoyer can continue to play well the Bears should see some success.
Similar to last season, the Bear’s wide receiver corps is working with second and third string talent. Granted, they do have Alshon Jeffery healthy and available but the rest of the group is not overloaded with immense talent. If the Bears plan to win this game, or any game coming, they need to get Jeffery more involved in the offense. Through five games so far, he has caught 22 passes for 394 yards and no touchdowns. That is far below what he normally averages and well below what he is capable of. He just isn’t getting the ball despite the Bears are throwing a lot of passes.
The formula for success in the passing game is to get the ball to Jeffery. Hoyer has had time, his protection has been good but he needs to get the ball to his big playmaker. The other receivers (Cameron Meredith, tight end Zach Miller and others) are well adept at catching the ball and can make plays but not like Jeffery can. And there aren’t too many cornerbacks in the NFL, or on the Jaguars for that matter, that can cover Jeffery.
Chicago’s rushing attack has been solid over the past two games and rookie Jordan Howard is having a good start. One thing that was observed last week was that the Bears shied away from their rushing attack as the game progressed last week. This despite the fact the two teams were close for the entire game. Chicago could have run the ball and been effective but they chose to throw it much more. If the Bears want to win this game, they need to give Howard the ball early and often to control the ball and the clock.
The offensive line has progressively has gotten better over the course of the last couple of games except for Bobby Massie. Massie has struggled greatly this season and should be looked at to be replaced sooner or later. Sooner might be better. Kyle Long is doing very well and doing it quietly. The rest of the group is getting along well. They are great run blockers, pretty stout pass blockers and have given this offense a good base from which to operate.
Chicago’s defense was a little bit porous against the Colts after being pretty solid against the Lions the previous week. The Colts have a pretty good passing game and that ate away at the Bears defense till it broke and gave up a significant amount of yardage through the air. This, despite the fact they were able to get good pass pressure on Luck. Most of that pass pressure came from the linebackers. To beat the Jaguars, the Bears are going to need to get pass pressure from both the line (as well as the linebackers).
The defensive line has gotten a little bit better at getting pressure and taking care of the run. Right now, the Jaguars are averaging 75 yards on the ground per game. This is not good (it ranks 30th in the NFL) but the Bear’s rushing defense isn’t the strongest. Chicago is allowing an average of 118 yards per game so they haven’t been too stout against the run. It all starts up front and the Bears should (and need) be able to shut things down up at the line this Sunday.
The Jaguars are gaining an average of 245.5 yards through the air per game. That is good for 19th in the NFL so they are just under middle of the pack in that category. The Bears have struggled keeping the opponents passing games in check this season so they need to get better. They can’t allow the Jaguars to pass the ball all over the field Sunday because if they do, it will be another close game. The Bears struggle to finish the close ones.
The true heart and soul of the Bear’s defense is their linebackers. They have a solid group, when healthy, and these guys make a lot of plays. Jerrell Freeman is the star and he should have his usual big game. Danny Trevethan is back and will contribute. Willie Young had a breakout (three sack) game against the Colts and can continue to play well against Jacksonville. If this unit plays solid, the defense will be solid. It’s likely they will have their way with the Jaguars offense.
The secondary was quite suspect against the Colts and allowed a lot of yardage through the air. The Bears are allowing teams to throw for an average of 227.6 yards per game. This is a little less than what the Jaguars are getting via the pass. If Chicago can get to quarterback Blake Bortels and apply pressure, forcing him to make mistakes, they could see a lot of success against Jacksonville. Turnovers will also be key. If they allow the Jaguars to throw the ball all over the field, like they did for Andrew Luck, they will lose.
The secondary has had some injury concerns (tarter Kyle Fuller is on injured reserve) and their depth, although good on paper, hasn’t been living up to it’s potential at times this season (especially last week). If the guys can play better and the line and linebackers can get good pressure on the quarterback, Chicago’s defense should rise up and help the team win this game. Jacksonville can be pressured and be forced into making mistakes. Chicago’s defense needs to do that.
After last week’s kicking debacle, you would have thought that Chicago would have looked at other kickers. But, they are sticking with Connor Barth, at least for now. If he has a repeat of last week he could be gone next week. The Bears, because they struggle to score points, need everyone to be able to contribute and be consistent. If they are missing three or six points a game thanks to the ineffectiveness of one player, that means they are probably losing games. They can’t afford to have someone like that on the roster.
Other than Barth, the remainder of the Bear’s special teams are pretty solid. Punting is great and coverage is pretty good. They need their star return specialist, Eddie Royal, to break another long one (like he did earlier this season). Royal is a little banged up so it’s hard to tell what he will be able to do but he can be electric at times.
The coaching staff called a good game against the Lions two weeks ago but reverted back to the odd play calling that got them in trouble to start the season. Then it happened again against Indianapolis. They tend to forget the running game and go to the passing game hoping that will lead them to victory. That was the Bear’s mantra last week and they can’t do it that way this week. They need to balance it out, run the ball to start and control the ball and the clock. If they can do that, they will win this game.
Just like last week, this week’s game puts two of the league’s worst teams together in a battle that will most likely be a slugfest. You can expect this to be a close game but the Bears should end up being the better team. You can also forget that the game is at Soldier Field. Home field advantage hasn’t meant that much to the Bears over the past couple of seasons.
Prediction: Chicago 25 Jacksonville 17
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