By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) The Bears (1-4) host the Jaguars (1-3) on Sunday at noon at Soldier Field. Here are my keys to the game.
Offense: Ground and pound
There’s continuity brewing in the Bears’ offensive line, which has taken every snap together so far. The line has created great opportunities for rookie running back Jordan Howard, who does a terrific job of setting up his blocks with a patient, determined style with great contact balance and tackle-breaking ability. Using him against a solid defense that doesn’t permit a lot of big plays will give Brian Hoyer a balanced attack. The Bears are the best team in the NFL at gaining four or more yards passing on first down, and they’re averaging nearly six yards rushing the ball on first down. If this continues against the Jaguars, the Bears will be in a position to make something happen on second and third down. As the field shrinks, they have to get it in the end zone, because the Jaguars are capable of scoring points.
Defense: Rhythm breakers
Look for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to dial up some pass rushes, blitzes and coverages that break the rhythm of quarterback Blake Bortles. When Bortles is in rhythm, he can torch a defense. When he’s not, he’s prone to interceptions. What Bortles has to work with is an outstanding and versatile receiving core and a one-two punch in the running game. The Jaguars haven’t run it much, but they’re capable of doing some damage with T. J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory. The Bears need a pass rush, period. Young quarterbacks don’t like pressure. If you can’t apply it with a four-man rush, then you need to be willing to live with the risk/reward of sending five or six and hoping the coverage holds up on the back end.
Special teams: Clean it up
On a team with little margin for error, this unit must play a clean game. Points are at a premium for this Bears team, so field position, field goals, extra points and all four phases of the return game must produce. Jacksonville kicker Jason Myers has missed two field goals, including a block, and a year ago missed seven extra points. With a game under his belt, maybe the decision making of the Bears’ Cre’von LeBlanc will improve after his first experience against the Colts on punt returns.
Intangibles: Third down
Eliminating those long third-down conversions defensively that lets a team off the hook will be big. Jacksonville struggles in this area on both sides of the ball. The Jaguars are 29th defensively and 32nd offensively in conversion rate on third downs. Four of Bortles’ six interceptions have come on third down.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.