It’s really tough to be a Jaguars fan these days. I mean the season is young, almost everyone (besides maybe those in Cleveland) is looking forward to the game on Sunday with high expectations. Sadly that isn’t the case in Jacksonville right now. And it’s totally understanable. The team is dead last in total yards and passing yards on offense, just 31st in points, dead last in sacks, 30th against the run. You need a loupe to find any positive thing after the first 4 weeks. And the Chicago Bears are coming into town, who just crushed the Cowboys (mostly with their defense) in Dallas on Monday Night. So things aren’t looking good. Let’s dig deeper, if there is any hope for the Jaguars for this Sunday.
Despite the Bears offense having a lot of playmakers, the Jaguars defense might have a slightly better chance to stop Cutler and co. on Sunday. The 7th year pro is a gunslinger when he finds his groove, but he can also lose the game by himself. He takes risks, and isn’t afraid to throw the ball into double coverage if he sees the oppurtunity to make a play. Sadly for the Jaguars, Chicago upgraded their receivers this offseason. The Bears front office traded for Brandon Marshall to bring him back together with Cutler. They are already on the same page again, Marshall has 352 receiving yards and 2 TDs. They drafted my favorite WR of this draft class, Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina in the 2nd round, He has the most receiving yards (164) among rookie receivers. And let’s not forget about Devin Hester too. Other than their WRs, both RBs (Matt Forte and Michael Bush) can catch the ball. With the Jags’ struggles covering the tight end, the team will have to keep a close watch on Kellen Davis as well.
So it’s clear the Jaguars pass defense will, yet again, face a tough challenge on Sunday. However there is a way to cause problems in the passing game, and that is rushing the passer. Chicago has been having a tough time against a strong push to the quarterback (and not just this season). After 4 games, Cutker has been sacked 13 times (more than Gabbert, which shows they have major issues). The 2 tackles -LT J’Marcus Webb and last year’s 1st round pick Gabe Carimi are still strugling. Webb may be the worst starting LT in the game right now. They have issues at LG too. Chilo Rachal and Chris Spencer started 2 games each, but still that position is very shaky. The other 2, C Roberto Garza and RG Lance Louis, are solid players.
This game will be the ultimate barometer for the Jaguars pass rush. Joe Cullen’s “Rushmen” have done almost nothing so far. The Jaguars are dead last in sacks (2, neither of them from a DE), and they are on a worse pace compared to ’09 right now, when the Jaguars had a franchise-low 14 sacks on the season. Just to compare, there are 4 players on the Bears roster who have already recorded 2.0 sacks or more… I know Jeremy Mincey always has the effort, but sometimes he doesn’t always use the best approach. Andre Branch had a key role pressuring Andy Dalton last week in the Kyle Bosworth interception, but he is far from being an impact player. And the 2 DTs, Knighton and Alulau…Well something ain’t working there right now. Knighton is losing millions every week thanks to how poorly he has played in the last 2-3 games. Tyson Alualu (although he is at least good againt the run) is no threat at all as a pass rusher. Correct me if I’m wrong, but they drafted him so high because he could be a threat in the passing game. In fact, Vic Ketchman wrote 7 or 8 games into his rookie season that Tyson “can hold his point well, now he must find the way to be disruptive as a rusher.” 2 years later and this is still the case with him. I have heard a lot of talk lately from some Jaguars fans about how the Jaguars should’ve drafted Jason Pierre-Paul (or Tebow – but that is just stupid). I still defend the Alualu pick a bit because Jason Pierre-Paul was raw and a very, very risky prospect. So I give a pass to Gene Smith on the selection. Further, everybody praised Geno Atkins after last week’s game, about how dominant a pass rushing DT he is right now. Jeff Lagemany said he is the best among DTs in that area. Guess what? He was there in the 3rd round in ’10. And the Jaguars selected D’Anthony Smith instead (who is playing finally, but is nowhere near where Atkins is right now). Now that is one reason why this team has major talent issues. Missing on those players is clearly rasing big questions about Gene Smith’s and his scouts’ pre-draft talent evaluation.
Even if the Jaguars can somehow stop the Bears passing game, they are still pretty good on the ground too. Matt Forte is a little bit banged up, but he was on the field at the end on Monday night.His backup, Michael Bush, has more rushing yards than Forte thus far. The Jaguars rank next to last against he run, so Mike Tice (who spent enough time in Jacksonville to know where some weakspots in the Jaguars defense are) can balance the pass with an effective running game. The Jaguars defense must find a way to create turnovers to help out the Jaguars offense. Because as I wrote, this match-up is much, much more favorable than the Jaguars offense vs the Bears defense.
The real deal in this Bears team (as always) is its outstanding defense. They lead the league with 11 interceptions (5 from Tony Romo alone). CB Tim Jennings is leading the league in interceptions (4) and Major Wright leads the same category among the safteies (tied with Thomas Decoud). The Bears defensive line has 15 sacks already and they have allowed a minuscule 67.2 rushing yards per game all while playing games against running backs like Steven Jackson and DeMarco Murray. Julius Peppers (2.5 sacks) is a bit banged up, but he will play. Even without Peppers, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli can throw in 3 other quality players to chase Blaine Gabbert. The other DE, Israel Idonije, is playing almost as well as Peppers (2.5 sacks) and their backups Correy Wootton and their 1st round pick Shea McClellin have both recorded more than 1 sack already. One of the few bright spots is still the play of LT Eugene Monroe, he could handle Peppers, but Marinelli likes to throw him in on both sides, so Cameron Bradfield (who played solid last week) also might get a taste from the Bears’ best DE. The bad news for the Jaguars though is that a defensive tackle, not a defensive end is leading the Bears in sacks. Henry Melton is almost as good as Geno Atkins, and we know how he dominated Eben Britton. The Jaguars LG will retain his starting position this week. If he is fully heathy he could prove that last week was just a fluke. Just in case, I hope Mike Brewster is ready to play as well, if last week’s disaster happens again… Next to Melton the Bears have Stephen Paea, Matt Toeaina and Amobi Okoye in the mix. That’s where the Jaguars offensive line might create a hole for the running game.
How far can Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings run in this game though? Behind that great defensive line they must face the heart and soul of the Bears defense – Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Urlacher might have been injured in the preseason but he and Briggs showed no signs of weakness on Monday Night. Also Urlacher has unfinished business with Jones-Drew. Maurice said that the twitter feud between him and Jay Cutler back from the ’10 playoffs (where Jones-Drew tweeted he played on a bad knee in the entire season and asked why Cutler can’t play in a playoff game with one) is now behind them. Unfortunately for MJD, Urlacher who was also mad about that comment. I think Urlacher and his fellow LBs will try to punish the Jaguars’ best best offensive player for his words back then. I have the feeling they didn’t forget it.
As for the passing game, things don’t look good there either. I wrote about Tim Jennings and Major Wright and their 7 interceptions. The other starting DBs, FS Chris Conte and veteran CB Charles Tillman, have also recorded interceptions. Making things worse for the Jaguars will be the loss of “deep threat” Laurent Robinson – out with his second concussion this season. Justin Blackmon caught some passes last week, but he is far from Jeffery’s productivity. Either Cecil Shorts or Mike Thomas must step up and help out Gabbert, otherwise it will be an another ugly day for the offense.
Special teams will be an important factor for many reasons. One of the reasons is Devin Hester, who is a threat in the returning game, although he hasn’t scored a TD this season. The punter battle will be intriquing this week since Adam Podlesh played for Jaguars for 4 seasons and then Chicago “stole” him when the market opened after the lockout last year (sidenote: they almost did it again with Jeremy Mincey this year). The Jaguars shocked everybody by selecting Bryan Anger in the 3rd round this year and (sadly) other than Monroe he is the only real success story in Jacksonville. I’m sure Anger will punt often on Sunday, it would be great if at least on that front the Jaguaras came out positively.
Not a whole lot is in favor of the Jaguars. Cutler and his offensive line can play really badly after a good game (they dominated the Colts, then had an ugly game 4 days later against the Packers. Another factor which might be on the Jaguars side is that they are desperate. Or at least they should be. They are standing at 1-3 and two of those losses were horrible blowouts at home. One more loss in that fashion means that they will play for pride only in the rest of the season and possibly before half empty home crowds, if the visiting team’s fan base does not travel as well as the Bears this week (because of the high ticket demands the Jaguars are removing the tarp from section 403 in Everbank Field – thanks to Chicago fans ).
This game is important because of lot of reasons. It’s important for owner Shad Khan, who is from Illinois, and I guess he wants to see a great effort from his team against the Bears. It’s important for the team, because it will set the tone for the games past the bye week. If they lose again some players may start to think about quitting (looking at you Mike Thomas). But a victory against a great oppoinent can still turn the ship around. Remember Mike Mularkey’s teams in Buffalo struggled early, but were much better in the late period of the season. If the Jaguars can catch a break now, it can happen again. Also, this will be the 1st time the Jags play in their new black jerseys. I hope that colour will be a symbol for the remaining schedule and it will be because the Jaguars start to become scary (not dying). Still I just can’t pick the Jaguars in this game. They must show me this time why I should trust them.
Prediction: Jaguars 17- Bears 24
– Zoltan Paksa