It’s now been a little more than a week since the Bears’ upset victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The memory is fading into the distance as it grows smaller in the rearview mirror. But the Bears will attempt to build off of that success when they take on the New York Jets Monday night in their second-straight prime time appearance.
It won’t be an easy task for the Bears. Injuries have piled up and the Bears will be a little shorthanded. Linebacker Shea McClellin and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff are both out on the defensive side of the ball. Center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson are out for the offense. Receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are listed as questionable again this week, but I don’t see any reason they can’t give it another go as they did against the Niners.
In an ideal scenario, the Bears would lean heavily on Matt Forte, who has fresh legs and is a versatile threat in both the run game and the passing game. But the Bears are facing one of the top run defenses in the NFL in the Jets, who allowed an average of just 52.5 rushing yards per game in the first two weeks.
So I expect the Bears to rely on another stellar performance from Jay Cutler and the passing game, with Marshall, Jeffery, Forte, and tight end Martellus Bennett all chipping in. Cutler shined most of all last week in completing 23 of 34 passes for four touchdowns and no interceptions. He was poised and confident and led the Bears from a big deficit to a defining victory.
Last week against the mobile Colin Kaepernick and the Niners’ read option offense, the Bears defense maintained discipline in gap responsibility and held their opponent in check. Was that a sign of improvement for a woeful defense a season ago? Or was it all a mirage? I think we’ll find that out Monday night when the Bears face yet another dominant rushing offense.
Through the first two weeks of the season, the Jets led the league with an astounding 179 rushing yards per game. They use a two-back rotation of Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson, with mobile quarterback Geno Smith picking his spots to take off with the ball. We haven’t seen enough from the Bears defense to feel comfortable with them stopping the run, so this will be a source of concern as we watch the game unfold until they can prove they know what they’re doing.
The talent matchup favors the Bears in this one. They have the offensive pieces to pick apart a shaky Jets secondary — if they can protect Cutler against a strong pass rush. The last time the Bears faced the Jets, back in 2010, Cutler threw for 215 yards, three touchdowns and one interception while the offense put up 38 points in a win. I expect to see some of the same Monday night as the Bears dictate the pace of the game.
I think the key to the game is pretty simple here. If the Bears are able to contain the Jets’ strong rushing attack, they’ll come out victorious. But if the Bears defense loses discipline and gets gashed by the run, they could head back to Chicago with a 1-2 record.
Prediction: Chicago 27, NY Jets 23