- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- With temperatures a searing 88 degrees at kickoff inside EverBank Field, the Chicago Bears struggled on both sides of the ball Sunday in fighting to a 3-3 halftime tie with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Off to yet another slow start, quarterback Jay Cutler completed 10 of 20 passes for 110 yards with an interception and a passer rating of 45.8, while the rushing attack put up strong first-half numbers (81 yards on 13 attempts). Despite the success on the ground, the team doesn’t seem to have truly committed to the run.
Defensively, the Bears shut down Maurice Jones-Drew (11 attempts, 29 yards), but allowed the Jaguars to convert 56 percent of third downs, partially because of a virtually non-existent pass rush.
Bears players admitted heat was an issue during Monday night’s win in Dallas. So with the club enduring even warmer temperatures and high humidity at EverBank Field, there’s a good chance heat could be a factor in this matchup.
Let’s look at some halftime adjustments the Bears might consider making:
RUN THE BALL: By the 4:30 mark of the second quarter, Matt Forte had gained 57 yards on 10 attempts while the team, collectively, had ripped off 81 yards on 13 carries for an average of 6.2 yards per run. Yet for whatever reason, the Bears hadn’t fully committed to running the ball, and that played a role in the team struggling on third downs (1 of 5) in the first half. The Bears have proven that running the ball well on first and second downs sets the team up for manageable situations on third down. The rushing attack would also set up the play action passing game.
REVERSE DEFENSIVE LETDOWN: The Bears gave Jones-Drew virtually no room early in the game, and it appeared the club was on the verge of making the home team one-dimensional. Jones-Drew gained just 3 yards on his first four attempts, before a lapse in run defense led to the running back busting a 20-yard gain during a pivotal drive that led to a Jags field goal. It’s no coincidence that once Jacksonville experienced success with Jones-Drew other elements of the game opened up for the Jags. So the Bears need to find a way to squelch any momentum gained by the Jacksonville offense and build some of its own. In hot conditions such as what the Bears are playing in at Everbank Stadium, the worse thing they can do is let the Jaguars get their ground game going.
CRANK UP THE PASS RUSH: Jacksonville deserves some credit for adequately protecting quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but somehow the Chicago defensive line needs to find a way to get to him. Gabbert has shown a tendency to fall apart under pressure. But if the Bears can’t disrupt the quarterback, he’ll continue to stand back there and hit open receivers. Jacksonville started off converting 4 of 8 on third down, and a big part of that was the fact Gabbert had seemingly all day to throw. Even if the Bears are forced to manufacture pressure by blitzing, it’s better than what they’re currently doing. Chicago managed to snuff out what seemed to be a sure scoring drive just before the two-minute warning when Corey Wootton knocked a ball out of Gabbert’s hand with Julius Peppers recovering for the Bears.