Bears offense vs. Jets defense
Against a Top 10 defense last week, the Bears offense churned out 34 points on just 293 net yards. We’ll see if they can repeat that performance against the league’s fifth-ranked defense of the Jets. Aside from preventing opposing offenses from driving down the field, the Jets also keep opponents off the scoreboard as they have the No. 5 scoring defense in the league while allowing just 18.5 points per game. New York runs a 3-4 defense featuring defensive end Shaun Ellis, who has 4.5 sacks on the season. They bring a lot of pressure from the linebacker position as Bryan Thomas (5.0), Calvin Pace (4.5), Jason Taylor (4.0), David Harris (3.0), and Bart Scott (1.0) have combined for half of the team’s 35 sacks on the season. The Jets also feature one of the best cornerbacks in the game in Darrelle Revis and he’s paired with Antonio Cromartie, who leads the team with three interceptions. The Jets have a third cornerback, Drew Coleman, who has three sacks and four forced fumbles. In short, the Jets have a clear-cut advantage in this particular matchup. The Jets like to use the “amoeba” defense, where the eleven players are all standing around as if they’re unorganized and don’t know what they’re doing. But what they’re actually doing is confusing the offensive line into not knowing who is, or from where they’re bringing pressure. As talented as the defense is, however, they rank dead last in interceptions with just seven on the season. The Bears need to keep that number down because it’ll be difficult to put points on the board against the Jets’ defense. Jay Cutler completed 14 passes to seven different receivers last week against Minnesota and he’ll need to spread the ball around the field again to keep the defense guessing. Matt Forte and Chester Taylor combined for 28 carries and 97 yards and were a large part of the game plan. Mike Martz will have to have one of his best games to win this battle.
Bears defense vs. Jets offense
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has been battling a shoulder injury all week during practice which he suffered against the Steelers last game. He’s listed as probable on the injury report, but frankly, I don’t care if he plays or not. He’s not a very good quarterback, has terrible accuracy (ranked 30th with a 54.0 completion percentage and 28th with a 74.6 passer rating), and has four less interceptions (12) than touchdowns (16). For those Bears fans who clamored that the Bears won games and went to the Super Bowl in 2006 despite Rex Grossman instead of because of him, you haven’t seen anything yet. The Jets are squeaking past teams based on their Top 5 defense and Top 6 run game and are losing games because of Sanchez. The focus of the Jets’ offense is clearly the run game, where they bring a two-back attack with LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. Tomlinson has had a resurrection of his career with the Jets after having down years in San Diego. He has 886 yards on 206 carries (4.3 average) and Greene has 696 yards on 173 carries (4.0). For as well as they run the ball, they’ve only scored 10 rushing touchdowns on the season, which puts them in the middle of the pack. When the Jets do put the ball in the air, they typically go to Tomlinson, who leads the team with 50 receptions, or tight end Dustin Keller, who has 48 receptions for 608 yards and five touchdowns. The Jets have a trio of talented receivers in Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, and Jerricho Cotchery, who have combined for 129 receptions, 1827 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Bears’ first objective on defense will be to stop the run and that’s something they’ve done well all season. They’re ranked third against the run by allowing just 89.8 yards per game and just 3.8 yards per carry. The Bears had full participation in practice from everybody who appeared on the injury report, so health is not a concern. Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa is listed as day-to-day, but they could probably get by without him and would be advised to rest him for the playoffs. The duo of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs makes it possible for almost anybody to stand in beside them and contribute and that’s what Nick Roach has been doing. Sanchez has been sacked 27 times — 13th most in the league. The defensive line will need to bring solid pressure.
So, the Windy City Flyer has set the NFL return touchdown record and he did so with flying colors last week against a division rival on Monday Night Football. That alone should be sufficient in awarding the special teams advantage to the Bears, but I may as well add some meat to the analysis. Jets wide receiver Brad Smith is a talented returner as well, averaging 29.1 yards per return, which is two spots lower than Hester. Jim Leonhard was handling the punt return duties for the Jets until he was placed on injured reserve with a broken leg. The Jets have used a variety of players to return punts the past few weeks but nobody that holds a candle to Hester. Jets kicker Nick Folk is fifth in the league with 27 field goals made, but he’s woefully inaccurate as he’s missed nine field goals for a 75% conversion rate. In the swirling winds of Soldier Field, that could be bad news for the Jets and good news for Robbie Gould and the Bears. Jets punter Steve Weatherford ranks 10th in the league with a 38.9 net average. He’s also second in the league with 35 punts downed inside the 20, so Hester may not get too many chances to return punts this week.
The Bears may have the NFC North division title wrapped up, but their jobs are far from over. They currently hold the No. 2 seed in the playoffs by virtue of their head to head victory over the Philadelphia Eagles a few weeks ago. They know what they have ahead of them, which includes a date with an angry Packers team that feels it is better than the Bears and that game will be played at Lambeau Field. So the Bears know their best chance at wrapping up the No. 2 seed begins with winning this game. The formula for beating the Jets is a simple one; the execution of such a plan is not as easy. The Bears need to dare the Jets to let Sanchez throw the football. Focus on the run and contain the duo of Tomlinson and Greene. The weather forecast calls for snow all of Sunday morning and a 50% chance at kickoff. The Jets are a cold weather team, so I’m not implying the weather will help the Bears, because we saw what happened against the cold-weather Patriots two weeks ago. But I do feel a cold game in windy or snowy conditions will make Sanchez — who is from California — all the more bad. Jets coach Rex Ryan has an intuitive mind and is regarded as a good coach, but I don’t know if I’d automatically crown him a better coach than Lovie Smith, or say that the Jets have a better coaching staff than the Bears do. This ought to be a close game because both defenses keep opponents off the scoreboard and both offenses have trouble putting up points. And anything can happen in a close game, so I feel the turnover ratio will decide the outcome of this contest. The Bears are much better at taking the ball away on defense and that’s how I feel they’ll win the game.
Final Score: Chicago 20, NY Jets 17