By Chris Emma–
(CBS) If the Bears can’t win Sunday, their season could really start on an ugly spiral.
Facing the 1-3 Jaguars at home presents opportunity for victory as the 1-4 Bears battle a similarly struggling foe. The Jaguars are young and building but going through growing pains. Their lone win came against the Colts two weeks ago in London.
Meanwhile, the Bears let a win slip away last Sunday against the Colts, falling in the fourth quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium. They could’ve been looking .500 in the face this Sunday but are now trying to stay alive.
Following Sunday’s game, the Bears prepare for the Packers on short rest, with a Thursday tilt from Lambeau Field. After that, they regroup with a long week to get ready for the Vikings, the league’s lone unbeaten team.
So Sunday against the Jaguars is pivotal for the Bears, who shouldn’t lose to this team at home.
Here’s what to watch for:
After the loss to the Colts, Bears quarterback Brian Hoyer was quick to point out that his 397-yard performance wasn’t worth celebrating.
Hoyer has been efficient in leading the Bears, but they’re 1-2 in his starts. He’s posted more than 300 yards and zero interceptions in each start, yet his offense is averaging just 19 points per game. Pin part of that on self-inflicted wounds, but Hoyer needs to do more.
For the Bears to turn yards into points, Hoyer has to be more aggressive. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains spoke Thursday of keeping Hoyer from making mistakes. That’s fine, but it won’t matter much if the offense can’t find the end zone.
Loggains can’t be afraid to draw up the deep ball to top receiver Alshon Jeffery, and Hoyer must be willing to make the big throw. Through three starts, the Bears have used Jeffery as a decoy too much, instead looking to Eddie Royal, Cameron Meredith and Zach Miller. They rank ninth in offensive yards and 30th in points.
Being conservative isn’t good enough. Making one of the league’s most dynamic playmakers into a decoy is just wrong.
Feed the shark
Many teams in the NFL would be stuck in a tough situation moving down the depth chart to their third-string running back. The Bears may have found their future there.
Rookie Jordan Howard has been outstanding in his first two starts, posting more than 100 yards in each outing. As the offense has found its rhythm, Howard has been key to that success.
Bears coach John Fox quickly found a trust in the fifth-round pick.
“I like the way Jordan’s gone about it,” Fox said. “He got an opportunity, and he’s made the most of that opportunity.”
With Hoyer still finding his footing, Howard’s steady play has been vital for the offense. The Bears can count on Howard to take 20 carries a game and be a threat to bust the big run.
Howard has shown that he can hit the hole and turn it up field for major yardage. Teammates are constantly impressed with his running ability and tough nature.
Not bad for the one-time third-stringer.
Protect this house
The Jaguars built what seemed to be a potentially explosive offense. Blake Bortles is a dynamic quarterback, T.J. Yeldon is a tough runner and Allen Robinson is a talented target.
However, the Jaguars are 19th in the league with just 21 points per game. They’ve averaged only 245.5 yards per game, also good for 19th. This was supposed to be an explosive offense. It still could be.
Come Sunday, the Bears defense must be ready to attack. The front seven must get home and create pressure on Bortles, who has been sacked 12 times in four games. It must contain Yeldon, who has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry this season.
The young secondary must hold its own on Robinson, Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas. Whether it’s Tracy Porter, Bryce Callahan, Jacoby Glenn or anyone else, the Bears secondary must step up.
Lastly, the Bears must begin to force turnovers. They haven’t been good enough at taking away the football. General manager Ryan Pace built this defense with the hopes that pressure would create turnovers. It hasn’t happened yet.
The Bears need to have their defense step up with another tenacious performance. They need this win badly.