Heading into last Monday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Bears were faced with many questions about how the team would respond going up against stiffer competition. The Bears came away with a34-18 victory, largely hinged on the dominant play of their defense and solid effort from quarterback Jay Cutler.
The 3-1 Bears head into Jacksonville this Sunday to face a Jaguars team that is currently 1-3. Sunday’s contest could be viewed by some as a “trap” game for the Bears and with an upcoming bye looming, the Bears will need to keep all of their focus on the Jaguars.
Here is my list of five players to watch this Sunday:
Through four games this season, Brian Urlacher has slowly progressed back into the player he once was following a knee injury at the end of last season.
Urlacher still does not have quite the same ability to move laterally like he has been able to in the past and he has struggled in pass coverage but his play in stopping the run hasn’t appeared to drop off.
The Jaguars currently sit dead last in the NFL in total offense and their only true offensive weapon is running back Maurice Jones-Drew. The Jaguars will likely try and establish their running game to open up a passing game across the middle. Urlacher will be tested against Jones-Drew’s running game as well as tight end Mercedes Lewis in the middle of the field.
Linebackers Lance Briggs and Nick Roach have both been solid in defending the run on the outside so the Jaguars may be tempted to use Jones-Drew up the middle and force the still recovering Urlacher to make plays.
On Monday night in Dallas, running back Matt Forte made his return from an ankle injury that he suffered in week two against the Packers. Forte was limited to 13 carries for 52 yards but was effective when in the ballgame. Michael Bush helped alleviate the carries for Forte with 10 of his own for 29 yards.
The Jaguars have been terrible against the run this season giving up an average of 150 yards per game. With a looming bye week it will be interesting to see what the Bears will plan to do with Forte. If healthy, which he appears to be, Forte will likely garner a majority of the reps at running back. Given the Jaguars’ defensive woes, particularly in the running game, they may try to exploit their weakness and attack them repeatedly using both Forte and Bush.
The Bears will have to teeter the line between too much and not enough for Forte heading into the bye week and he should be able to put up good numbers against this defense.
After voicing some concern over his role in the offense prior to last week’s Monday night game in Dallas, Devin Hester finally got the offensive attention he had been clamoring for.
Hester came away with three catches for 38 yards including a 34-yard touchdown catch in the end zone near the beginning of the second half.
The Bears talked a lot in the offseason about including a “Hester Package” (h/t Yahoo! Sports) in the offense that would put in a selection of plays designed to get the ball in his hands. An injury to Earl Bennett allowed Hester to get more reps on Monday and if he cannot go it will be something to watch for this Sunday.
If Bennett is once again out of the lineup, more opportunities will open up for Hester. The Bears have relied heavily on using screens to get him the ball but lining him up as a receiver can be just as dangerous and often times just having him on the field is enough to get teams worried. The Jaguars have the 20th ranked passing defense in the league and a weapon like Hester could further expose their defensive woes.
On Monday night, Charles Tillman did what he does best and created a turnover that resulted in a touchdown. Tillman now has 31 interceptions in his career.
On Sunday, Tillman will likely be matched up against first-round pick, Justin Blackmon. Blackmon was supposedly the best wide receiver in the 2012 draft class but hasn’t produced much in the first four games. He did start to find a rhythm with quarterback Blaine Gabbert on Sunday, hauling in six catches for 48 yards. The Jaguars will continue to try and form a connection between Gabbert and Blackmon on Sunday and Tillman will have a chance to show a young wide receiver the ropes.
Tillman and Blackmon match up well physically with both listed near 6’1″ but with Blackmon having about 10 pounds on Tillman. Tillman should be able to get physical with Blackmon when needed and when the ball does come his way, Tillman will undoubtedly try his best to knock the ball out of Blackmon’s hands. Because of Blackmon’s struggles this season, receivers Laurent Robinson and Cecil Shorts have had better seasons. It is unsure whether or not Robinson will play Sunday due to a concussion, but it would not be surprising to see Tillman matched up against Shorts as well.
Rookie Shea McClellin has not made quite the impact that many would have thought he could or should have early on in the 2012 season, but he has certainly made strides.
In four games this season, McClellin has had two sacks and has found himself getting a good amount of playing time in a deep defensive line rotation.
The Bears like to use him on third-down situations as well as developing a “Boise Package” designed to rely on his ability to drop back into coverage. He still needs to work on his run defense and expect the Jaguars to go after him when he is in the game.
McClellin has been able to get good pushes in passing situations and has helped force the quarterback back inside to allow others to pick up the sack, but has struggled forcing a running back back into the middle. Maurice Jones-Drew and backup Rashad Jennings both are good inside the tackle runners, but because of McClellin’s struggles outside they will likely try and run some stretch plays and tosses in his direction.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work onBleacherreport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.