After a very strong week 4 showing, the Bears head down to Jacksonville for what should be a fun romp through Maurice Jones Drew’s stomping grounds. In keeping with my “maintain a good run/pass ratio and win” theme, Tice called 28 run plays and 26 pass plays against the Cowboys Monday night. Jay Cutler was sacked twice, one of which he blamed on himself and not his offensive line. As you may have noticed, Cutler also had an awesome day throwing the ball, going 18/26 for 275 yards, 2TDs and most importantly, no interceptions. His average pass completion went for over 15 yards. That’s impressive, as was his 140.1 QB Rating. When Cutler has confidence in his line, he’s almost unstoppable. This version of Jay is the man Bears fans want to see throwing the ball. The question is, can the Jaguars force Cutler into making mistakes?
Yesterday evening, I slogged through the atrocity that was the Bengals-Jaguars game to try to get a feel for what we could expect to see. I have to admit, I didn’t come away very impressed. The biggest thing I saw was simply lack of execution. The Jaguars defense set the tone early when LB Kyle Bosworth picked off Andy Dalton’s first pass of the game, returned it for a decent gain,then…just dropped the ball. It was recovered by the Bengals and the route was on. Here are some of the other things that stood out to me in watching this game.
- The Jaguars run a basic offense, running most plays out of 2 TE sets, often telegraphing that they’re going to run the ball. I did not watch too closely, but if I remember right, any time they had a man in motion, they ran to that side. If they can run effectively early in the game, this will open up play-action passing. They use their TEs and receivers rather effectively out of play-action. If their running game gets stifled early, they are simply not sophisticated enough to handle it. At halftime of last week’s game, they had 100 total yards of offense. That’s shocking, especially when you realize they had the ball for 15 minutes and 33 seconds in the half. They’re dead last in points per game and yards per game, reminiscent of the “Kyle Orton-led” Bears of 2005.
- That said, Blaine Gabbert is actually not nearly as bad as people make him out to be. The poor guy was thrown to the wolves last season after the Jags cut David Gerrard and “veteran” QB Luke McCown proved to be ineffective. Gabbert has skills, he has a good arm, good pocket awareness, and from what I saw is most dangerous when rolling out of the pocket and firing the ball down field on the run.
- The reason Gabbert is so effective when throwing after rolling out is because he doesn’t have to count on his O-line to block for him. He’s fast enough to run away from most DEs, often buying time for his receivers to get open. His offensive line performed very poorly against the Bengals. They looked terrible, to put it bluntly. Gabbert was sacked 6 times by the Bengals, which doubled his sack total to 12 for the year. The Bears will need to exploit this glaring weakness. If they can, the Jaguars offense will have a LOT of three and outs and turnovers. The Jags’ run-blocking was absolutely atrocious as well. When you line up 8 men in the box, you’re saying you’re running the ball. When you do that and FAIL MISERABLY, well, that’s a whole ‘nother story.
- Maurice Jones-Drew is a wrecking ball of a running back. He’s powerful, shifty, and can run through tackles that will bring down most other backs in the NFL. So it’s a real head-scratcher when you realize MJD only had 13 carries for 38 yards. (A paltry 2.9 yards per carry.) I honestly don’t understand why Offensive Coordinator Bob Bratkowski stopped trying to run the ball, the Jags were only down by 7 going into the 4th quarter. If I’m the Jags OC, MJD is getting the ball at least 25 times a game, and that’s that. He’s truly their best weapon and for the Jags to stop using him so early in the game really confused me.
- Marcedes Lewis is a big beast of a man with soft hands. He had a gorgeous full extension touchdown catch in the second quarter. It was a great throw by Gabbert and a fantastic catch by Lewis. If the Bears LBs and safeties don’t pay attention to this man he could gash them over the middle.
- The Jaguars have a banged up WR corps. Laurent Robinson unfortunately either re-aggravated his existing concussion or suffered another one early in the Bengals game, putting the pass catching duties squarely on rookie Justin Blackmon. Blackmon performed admirably, considering his newness to the NFL, and hauled in 6 catches for 48 yards. That might not sound like much, but considering Gabbert only threw for 186 yards total, that’s not bad. Blackmon is still obviously learning how to play in the NFL, but he showed flashes of the receiver he could become during this game.
- The Jags run a base 4-3 package and occasionally a 4-2-5 nickle package in obvious passing downs. Most of what I saw was man coverage with safety help over the top. The Jaguars defense was ranked 6th overall last year, and this year, they just haven’t been able to get it going. The Jags are currently ranked 30th against the run and 20th against the pass, meaning take your pick, do you want to run all over them or torch them in the passing game. Both? Okay, that’s doable. One thing I noticed is even their blitzing was predictable. They didn’t blitz much at all unless it was 3rd down and 5+ yards. Then they showed blitz with the LBs and ended up corner blitzing almost every single time. It was unreal, easily spotted, and Dalton smoked them when they blitzed him.
- The Jaguars defensive line is bad. There’s really no other way to put it. They’ve managed just 2 sacks in 4 games, and have given up an astonishing 150 yards per game on the ground. Stopping the run starts up front and these guys are failing miserably.
- The linebacker corps is actually pretty solid. MLB Paul Pozluszny is a poor man’s Briggs. He’s not the fastest, but when he makes a tackle, the offensive player stops in their tracks. Poz, Allen, and Bosworth are a solid grouping, but if they’re the ones constantly chasing running backs past the line of scrimmage, they’re going to look poor. The Bengals gashed the Jaguars running the ball in two places: straight up the gut (19 rushes 78 yards, 1 TD) and off the right edge (6 rushes for 56 yards) forcing the LBs to play straight up coverage, hampering them since they couldn’t hedge towards a run play or pass play.
- The secondary played very well for the first 28 minutes of the game, right up to the 2 minute warning when AJ Green caught a beautiful long pass from Dalton. After that catch, it seems like the fight just went out of them, as AJ ended the game with 6 catches for 117 yards and a TD. It seems big strong receivers like AJ Green give Rashean Mathis fits, which is something that Marshall and Jeffrey should be looking to exploit.
The Bears game plan offensively against the Jaguars should be pretty straight forward. I expect to see lots of running by Forte and Bush, and for once I expect that godawful run up the middle to actually work. The passing game absolutely should become effective later in the first half once the running game has been proven effective. When “forced” to pass, I expect Cutler to utilize Marshall and the TEs on short to intermediate routes over the middle. When doing play-action, I expect to see Jay target whichever receiver is being covered by Mathis, hoping that receiver can win the match-up.
Defensively, this game is an easy one to plan for: Stop Maurice Jones-Drew, render him ineffective and force the Jaguars to rely on Gabbert. Get good solid pressure with the front 4 and lay back waiting for the interception. The safeties and corner backs are going to be critical this game, especially when Gabbert uses play-action to draw the LBs up to the line of scrimmage. They will have to make open-field tackles with no safety net. Luckily Conte and Wright have proven themselves to be solid tacklers thus far this year, so this hopefully won’t be an issue.
Of concern to me thus far this year is the man in the picture up top, Brian Urlacher. He’s obviously still trying to get back up to game speed, but his play of late has been pretty sub-par compared to his usual stellar ability. How much of that is his knee still needing to heal and how much of that is simply Father Time eroding his speed? The man is a Bears legend, but he’s late getting to the ball, and last week this caused him to ineffectually flail at the receiver/running back and miss the tackle several times. I am hoping that this is just Url working himself into game shape, and if it is, then hopefully after the bye week in week 6 we’ll start to see some of his lateral quickness and speed to the ball return. If not, well, he’s one of the smartest MLBs to ever play the game, so hopefully his veteran wiles will get the job done.
Final score: Bears 31, Jaguars 9