After beating the Dallas Cowboys in decisive fashion on Monday Night Football, the Chicago Bears (3-1) take to the road for the second week in a row as they head to Jacksonville. This week’s game will not be in primetime, nor will it be in the spotlight, as the Jaguars are 1-3 and don’t exactly have a strong national following. Chicago is the clear favorite to win here, but this is the NFL, where anything can happen on any given Sunday.
With that in mind, here are some keys for Chicago as they look to avoid a letdown against the Jaguars.
Run the Ball
The Jaguars are vulnerable against the run, giving up 150 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry through their first 4 games. Chicago has struggled running the ball so far this year, average only 3.6 yards per carry with their running backs. Look for them to get their running game on track here.
Improve the OL Confidence
Chicago has given up 13 sacks through 4 games, with at least 2 surrendered in each game. Jacksonville only has 2 sacks in 4 games, and there pass rush is graded as a -17.4 by Pro Football Focus (with 0 indicating an average performance), the 4th worst mark in the NFL. Something has to give here. Hopefully Chicago will be able to have their first game in which they do not give up a sack, or at least only give up one. If they can do that, Jay Cutler should have a good day against Jacksonville’s suspect pass defense (allowed 4 TDs, recorded 2 INTs, and allowed an opponent passer rating of 89.1).
Stop the Run
If there is one thing Jacksonville does well, it is run the football. Led by Maurice Jones-Drew (352 yards, 4.9 yards per carry), they boast a rushing attack that is averaging 108 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry. Chicago has been very good against the run so far this year, giving up only 67 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. Stopping the run here is the key to stopping Jacksonville’s offense.
Bother Blaine Gabbert
Jacksonville’s second year QB Blaine Gabbert has actually had a solid 2012 so far, throwing 5 TDs to only 1 interception and recording a passer rating of 83.7, which is slightly above the league average. He has struggled with accuracy, though, completing only 55.8% of his passes, and he has only 5.8 yards per attempt, which is not very good. He has also been sacked 12 times behind a porous offensive line, while Chicago has used a ferocious pass rush to notch 15 sacks. The Bears’ defensive line should be able to get to Gabbert fairly consistently, especially if they can contain the running game and focus on rushing the passer.
Build a Lead
Jacksonville is a team built to run the ball and control the clock. If Chicago can get a sizeable lead on them, it will force them to shift to more of a pass-oriented offense, which plays right into Chicago’s hands. Houston did this to Jacksonville in week 2, and the result was that Jacksonville only gained 117 yards, a franchise low.
Barring an absolute letdown, Chicago should win this game, as Jacksonville is simply not a very good team. The Bears have done an excellent job so far this year of beating the opponents they should beat in a convincing fashion; look for this trend to continue here. Jacksonville is likely to gain more than the 117 yards they did against Houston, but I would be surprised to see them score more than 14 points against Chicago’s defense, which has been firing on all cylinders so far this year.