By Jeff Joniak-
(WBBM) Below are Jeff Joniak’s “Keys to the Game” for the Bears’ trip to Jacksonville Sunday afternoon:
OFFENSE: SNAP-BY-SNAP IMPROVEMENT
Build on the second half performance in Dallas by starting fast in Jacksonville. The Bears have scored only 10 first quarter points in four games and Jay Cutler’s first quarter quarterback rating is the lowest in the league. A sterling second half in Dallas could serve as a momentum boost in Jacksonville. Cutler was 11-of-12 for 219 yards and two touchdowns. He was money on third down, completing 7-of-8 including six explosion plays, which under coordinator Mike Tice are pass plays 16-yards or greater. The Jacksonville defense is big and sturdy, but lacks unit wide speed. They have a league worst two sacks, and only four takeaways. Against the run, the Jaguars are 30th allowing 150.3yds/game, on an average of 35 carries and 4.29 yards/carry. It’s an every down process, but the Bears are equipped to move the ball by land and by air in Jacksonville.
DEFENSE: STOP MJD
Stopping 3x Pro Bowler Maurice Jones Drew is the essence of the Bears defensive game plan. The NFL ‘s rushing leader a year ago is seventh this season with 352 yards and Jacksonville’s only touchdown run, which covered 59 yards. He also tops the team in receptions and is ninth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage. However, he’s done little in the big picture to boost the NFL’s lowest rated offense. However, Jacksonville is earning 4.92 yards on first down rushing, and has only three negative runs. If the Bears take away the run and put the game in the hands of young quarterback Blaine Gabbert, it could be another big day for the defense. Gabbert has thrown only one interception, but he’s been sacked 12 times. He’s been good on first down with a 110.5 QBR, but on third down he dips to 57.6. The Bears are tied with Seattle for forcing the most negative plays in the league with 30 and own 14 takeaways, which are best in the NFL. The Bears lead the league with 11 interceptions and have the third most sacks in the league with 15.
SPECIAL TEAMS: CONSISTENCY
After a month of the season, Dave Toub’s special teams unit is once again highly rated. According to the Dallas Morning News rankings, the Bears are sixth overall. They are top 10 in seven different categories. On kickoff return coverage they are seven. They are getting good starting field position ranking fifth after kickoffs, and they are top five in opponent’s starting field position. Robbie Gould is perfect on field goals, and will be booting in a comfortable climate in Jacksonville on some great southern grass. The Jaguars are 27th in those same rankings. They are getting very little out of their return game. Covering kicks they are 24th, and 20th in punts.
INTANGIBLES: SCORE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE — NO LET UP
Keep scoring every way possible. The Bears already have three defensive touchdowns, and are tied with Houston for second in the league with 41 takeaways points, just two behind Atlanta’s 43. Jacksonville is a -35 in scoring differential and winless in two home games. The scoring mindset on defense takes pressure off the offense and continues to parlay into good field position for the team. Hidden yardage is adding up significantly for the Bears in many different areas including interception return yardage (216) and in the kick return game (241). Only eight of Robbie Gould’s 24 kickoffs have been returned (for 166 yards). In comparison, Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee has permitted 325 return yards while punter Bryan Anger is tied for the most returns allowed in the league with Oakland’s Shane Lechler. There may be opportunities for big plays for the Bears.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Bears on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffJoniak.