W2W4: Bears at Jaguars
October, 5, 2012
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com
CHICAGO BEARS (3-1) at JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (1-3)3:05 Sunday at EverBank Field on FOX
|A second-year pro, Blaine Gabbert hasn’t yet thrown a touchdown pass in the first quarter of a game and that doesn’t bode well for his team’s chances. After all, the Bears are 16-1 since Jay Cutler joined the team when they lead after the first quarter. Cutler is coming off a game in which he produced a perfect passer rating in the third quarter against a fierce Dallas Cowboys pass rush. So he could be in for another strong outing against a Jaguars defense that ranks No. 20 against the pass.|| |
|Matt Forte is listed as probable for Sunday’s game, and there’s no reason to think -- even with the upcoming week off -- the Bears will rest him to prevent injury. Besides, Forte wants to play as much as possible so he can get into a rhythm as the team attempts to get the running game back on track. Maurice Jones-Drew, meanwhile, enters the game with a target squarely on his chest because he’s Jacksonville’s only legitimate threat on offense. The Jaguars will feed Jones-Drew the ball, and their chances for victory lie almost solely on how he performs.|
|Brandon Marshall is on pace for a 1,400-yard season, and it’ll be interesting to see whether the Jaguars will look to neutralize him by devoting coverage to him or just play their base schemes. If the Jaguars take Marshall out of the game, Cutler still has plenty of capable targets in rookie Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester, who is still trying to find a consistent role in the offense. Jacksonville rookie Justin Blackmon is coming off a career-high six catches, and it’s likely Mike Thomas will start in place of Laurent Robinson (concussion).|
|Jacksonville general manager Gene Smith made it a priority in 2009 to use a first- and a second-round pick on bookend tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Brittain, who have started a combined 73 games. Center Brad Meester isn’t exactly stout in the middle, but he provides veteran leadership along with RG Uche Nwaneri. The Bears put together a solid effort in protection against a strong Cowboys pass rush last week, but consistency -- or lack of -- remains a concern for this group.
|The Jaguars feature some young talent up front in DTs Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu, and upgraded the RDE spot by using a second-round pick on Clemson’s Andre Branch. But it’s worth pondering whether the Bears would be suffering a case of buyer’s remorse had they signed Jaguars DE Jeremy Mincey, who opted to stay with his club, but hasn’t made a sack all season. Chicago’s defensive line, led by DE Julius Peppers, and DT Henry Melton meanwhile, has been the strength of the entire unit and is putting up some of the best numbers in the league.
|Bears MLB Brian Urlacher is on the verge of returning to form, and WLB Lance Briggs showed during an interception return touchdown last week that he hasn’t lost a step. Nick Roach hasn’t put together strong performances over the last two weeks, but he’s been solid. Jacksonville will play without one of the league’s most underrated linebackers in Daryl Smith (groin), but Paul Posluszny and Russell Allen are strong performers. Posluszny has generated 100 tackles or more in four straight years and Allen currently leads the Jags with 65 stops.|
|Brandon Marshall torched Jaguars CB Rashean Mathis in 2007 for the first 100-yard receiving game in his career, with Cutler throwing the passes. The other corner, Derek Cox, has missed lots of time with nagging injuries. Similar to the Bears, the Jags have struggled over the years with subpar safety play but have solidified the position with Dawan Landry and Dwight Lowery. The Bears currently lead the league in takeaways and strong secondary play has been a big part of that with Tim Jennings (leads league with 4 INTs), Charles Tillman (INT returned for TD last week), Major Wright (three INTs) and Chris Conte.|
|Jaguars K Josh Scobee has hit on his last 13 field goal attempts dating back to 2011, and has made seven game-winning field goals, in addition to connecting on 92 percent of his attempts in 2011. Rookie third-round P Bryan Anger currently ranks fifth in the NFL in net punting average (43.2 yards). But the Bears possess a pair of impressive players in the kicking game, too, in K Robbie Gould and P Adam Podlesh, a former Jag. Jacksonville’s return game, however, doesn’t measure up to Chicago’s with Devin Hester leading the way on punt and kick returns.|
|In his second stint as a head coach in the NFL, Mike Mularkey said he’s learned quite a bit from flaming out in Buffalo (2004-05). But he’s still got a way to go before reaching the standard of Lovie Smith, the league’s fourth-longest tenured coach in the NFL, who appears to be poised to win his fourth division title. The Jaguars have a strong staff that includes defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who might be an NFL head coach in waiting. But the Bears’ staff has two former head coaches in Mike Tice and Rod Marinelli.|
|There’s the perception the Bears could take this game lightly, but we don’t believe that’s the case considering what’s on the line. The Bears want to go into their week off with a 4-1 record as they prepare to face the Detroit Lions when they return on Oct. 22. So just like last week, look for the Bears to establish the run early against Jacksonville’s 15th-ranked rush defense before working the aerial attack off play-action. Defensively, the Bears know that Jones-Drew is Jacksonville’s lone weapon. So they’ll look to shut him down early and make the Jaguars-one dimensional so they can disrupt erratic QB Blaine Gabbert.|
|PREDICTION: Bears 24, Jaguars 13|