By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) — The Bears (1-1) face the New York Jets (1-1) on Monday night. Here are some keys to the game for Chicago.
A point of emphasis for Chicago this week will be to get the running game purring again. Struggles in Santa Clara were disappointing to players and coaches. Overall, 15.2 percent of the Bears’ 35 rushing attempts have gone for negative yards, the fourth-worst in the league (not including two kneel downs). Those 35 attempts reflect the second-fewest in the league and the lowest percentage of running plays at 28.9. However, the Bears were playing from behind against Buffalo and San Francisco.
Blocking the Jets 3-4 defense demands good technique and toughness. Three linemen on their two-deep chart weigh in excess of 340 pounds, and they are destructive in short-yardage situations. Opportunities in the passing game for Jay Cutler could come against a rotating group of four corners who struggled against the Packers. The Bears lead the NFL with 21 completions of four yards or more on first down. However, Chicago is preparing for all sorts of blitzes, particularly when needing 7-10 yards on third down, when the Jets have blitzed 75 percent of the time.
The Jets own the top rushing offense in the league with 358 yards total. They’re averaging 35.5 carries a game and 5.04 yards per rush. They are also tied for third in the league in runs of four yards or more, with 33. Chris Ivory is a beast, and Chris Johnson is still explosive for a slick one-two punch. On first down, the Jets average 5.54 yards.
Second-year quarterback Geno Smith can extend plays with his feet, but it appears he’s much more efficient and productive when he gets rid of the ball quickly and finds a rhythm. When it breaks down, his success rate dips. Only 10 of the Jets’ 59 first-down pass plays have produced four yards or more. Smith threw five pick-sixes a year ago, plus fumbled four times, one for a touchdown. Getting after him and taking the ball away is high on the Bears’ list.
Molding together a core group of special teamers is an ongoing process because of injuries, inexperience and a constantly changing roster in the first three weeks of the season. Opportunity knocks at multiple spots, including the return game. Improved field positon is the goal on kickoffs, and Rashad Ross could be in the mix after his promotion from the practice squad.
Ross ran a 4.35 40-yard dash coming out of Arizona State in 2013 with good explosion numbers. He averaged 32 yards on four preseason returns with the Redskins this year before his release. He’s also been with the Chiefs and Titans and returned two kicks for touchdowns in college. Through Chicago’s first two games, Senorise Perry has returned only two of 11 kickoffs, marred by indecisiveness coming out of the end zone.
Rookie punter Pat O’Donnell’s net average of 34.0 ranks a low 30th in the league after two games. There is much to clean up in all phases of the special teams units after a disappointing performance against the 49ers.
This will be the second of four road trips in five weeks for the Bears, brutal for any team. Compartmentalizing each week is the Trestman plan to conquer the task. It’s the only way. A span of nine days that includes beating the 49ers in their new stadium on national television on the West Coast to facing the Jets in New York on the East Coast is a test that challenges the Bears in every way. The collective resolve to overcome a 17-point deficit against a respected opponent last week fuels the bid to do it again Monday night against Jets. In other words, how the Bears finished the job could pay dividends for the rest of the season.