Bears offense vs. Jaguars defense
The Bears’ offense just hasn’t been the same in the second half of the season as it was in the first. Is it because of Kyle Orton’s ankle injury, or is there something deeper to it? That’s a debate that’ll go on for the rest of the season and it’s something that may not be resolved. The Bears have fallen mightily in the pass game and are now ranked No. 21 overall. It’s something I anticipated happening due to colder weather hitting Chicago, but the Bears have played the last two weeks indoors, so weather cannot be blamed from that standpoint. It’s time to start laying the blame on Orton’s supporting cast, but it’s something that cannot be addressed until the off-season, so it’s a moot point for now. Luckily, Matt Forte is still carrying the offense. Forte is the league’s fifth-leading rusher and also has more receptions than any other running back in the league. The Jaguars are about average against both the pass (No. 13) and the run (No. 20). The Bears should be able to grind it out on the ground in this one. Expect a ball control game in the first truly cold game at Soldier Field and the Bears’ offense should click.
Bears defense vs. Jaguars offense
The Bears’ run defense has been in the Top 10 all season and is currently ranked No. 6. The Jaguars boast a talented combo of running backs in Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, but I expect the Bears to contain them in a similar fashion to how they defended the Titans’ duo of LenDale White and Chris Johnson. Don’t expect them to hold Taylor and Jones-Drew to just 22 yards as the Bears did in Week 10 against Tennessee, but they will keep them in check. As has been the case for all Bears opponents this season, the key to beating the Bears is moving the ball through the air. Jaguars quarterback David Garrard has 9 interceptions on the season, four of which have come in the past three games. When pressured, he’s bound to make mistakes, so the Bears’ pass rush needs to show up Sunday. The Jaguars don’t take care of the ball as they have a minus-3 turnover ratio, which ranks No. 21 in the league, compared to the Bears’ No. 6 rank with plus-6. Jacksonville should have a modicum of success through the air, but only because the Bears have the fourth-worst pass defense. I expect the Bears to win the time of possession battle and keep their defense warm and on the sideline.
The Bears have moved up to No. 14 in kickoff return average thanks to the extra boost it’s gotten from Danieal Manning returning kicks, while the Jaguars are just three spots behind. Devin Hester is still lagging in punt returns, though, as the Bears are ranked No. 27 as a team in punt return average. Jacksonville is much better in that department, ranked No. 9 with an 11.0 return average. Only one field goal separates Bears kicker Robbie Gould (19) from Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee (18). Scobee, however, is 4-of-4 from beyond 50 yards on the season whereas Gould has yet to make one from that distance in his career. The Bears have a big advantage in the punting game.
Whether you want to believe it or not, players have admitted that cold weather can effect their mentality. Look no further than last year’s Packers game at Soldier Field. The Bears pounded them and camera shots showed Packers players huddled up on the sideline around the heaters trying to stay warm. They looked like they wanted no part of that weather or that game. And that’s a team from Green Bay, where it’s even colder than Chicago. These Floridians will feel something they’re not accustomed to and could struggle to deal with the cold Chicago climate. What happened to this Jaguars team, I have no idea. But they are certainly not the same team that knocked off the Steelers in last year’s playoffs in Pittsburgh. Nothing is a given in today’s NFL, but you can expect to see as close to a complete effort from these Bears on Sunday as they keep the NFC North race tight for another week.
Final Score: Chicago 27, Jacksonville 13