Four Downs: Keys to beating the Jets (09/22/14)

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A look at four keys for the Bears to beat the New York Jets.

1. Start strong, finish strong

Last week against the 49ers, the Bears began the game with a holding penalty on the opening kickoff, a quick three-and-out for the offense, allowed a blocked punt on special teams, and then the defense gave up a quick touchdown from the resulting short field. Just like that, the three-phase self-destruction was in process and the Bears were in an early hole just two minutes into the game. As we saw, the Bears overcame that early deficit to eventually win the game, but it was an uphill battle throughout the first half. The Bears can do themselves a big favor by playing their best football both right out of the gates and at game’s end. They need to put the Jets in a quick hole and make them have to work their way out of it. It’s not easy for a football team on the road to have to repeatedly play from behind, so the Bears will be looking to start strong on the road Monday night.

2. Exploit the corners

I don’t think Bears fans truly appreciate just how rare the Bears’ talent on offense is. Are there better quarterbacks than Jay Cutler? Yes. Are there better running backs than Matt Forte? A couple. Are there better wide receivers than Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery — individually speaking, that is? Very few. And are there better tight ends than Martellus Bennett? A handful. But, is there a better overall team collection of skill position players than what the Bears have? You’d be hard pressed to find one. The Bears have the opportunity to put up scary offensive numbers — somewhere not quite as good as the Broncos’ record-setting season a year ago but definitely better than what the Bears put up last year. It all starts with their protection up front. With the offensive line continuing to protect Cutler, he has the time to pick apart opposing defenses, particularly smaller cornerbacks. Few defensive backfields outside the Seattle Seahawks can defend the duo of Marshall and Jeffery with any consistency. Those guys are just too big, too strong, and too smart. They use their bodies as shields to “box out” defenders better than almost anybody in the NFL. And with their height and jumping ability — not to mention their large catching radii — Cutler only needs to put it up and let his guys go to work.

3. Continue run defense containment

All of last season and through the first week of this season, the Bears run defense was a laughing stock. Chief among all concerns was their difficulty keeping containment on read option plays. Heading into San Francisco this past week to face Colin Kaepernick’s dangerous run ability, there was good cause for concern. But give credit to defensive coordinator Mel Tucker for drilling into his players’ heads last week the importance of staying disciplined on their reads and responsibilities. And as a result, the Bears defended the run pretty well and kept the Niners’ rushing offense at bay (pun intended). Against the Jets this week, the Bears face another team with a mobile quarterback in Geno Smith and a rushing offense that is currently ranked first in the NFL after two weeks. Running backs Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory share the workload, with Ivory having the most success so far. Ivory is averaging 6.3 yards per attempt, amassing 145 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. Johnson has rushed for 89 yards on 25 attempts. Smith, meanwhile, has attempted 17 rushes from the quarterback position. The Bears will have their hands full once more and will have to prove last week’s effort against the run wasn’t an anomaly.

4. Shore up special teams

There’s something unsettling about the Bears’ special teams. I know, I know. This is hardly breaking news. But until it gets resolved, it’s always going to be a source of concern. With a holding penalty on the opening kickoff and a blocked punt four plays later, the Bears started off the 49ers game in peril. These are exactly the types of mistakes that can’t happen if the Bears want to go places this year. Remember Devin Hester? Okay, now forget about him. That type of player is never coming back. He was the greatest kick returner of all time and we won’t see anything like that in the return game for a long time. But at this point, we’re not looking for freaky spectacular — at least, we shouldn’t be. We just want consistency from the Bears’ special teams units and limited mistakes. If they just do their jobs, cover punts and kickoffs, limit big returns, and then give the offense good field position, they’ll be doing their jobs.

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