Sunday's game versus the Jaguars should come down to the run. The Bears defense is back on top of its game, playing out of their minds, and producing a lot better than most people expected.
Everyone has been focused on the Bears offense and it's inconsistency. Just as after the team's week one blowout win over the Colts, people are getting giddy once again about the offense and the passing game coming into its own. While there would be no arguments or complaints here if I'm writing here on Monday about Cutler throwing for 400 yards and four touchdowns, I just don't think the team will need to do that.
We all know the Lovie Smith philosophy: get off the bus running. On defense his version of the Tampa-2 is designed to stop the run, make the team one-dimensional and force them into mistakes. The defensive part of the plan has worked to perfection so far this year. The Bears made the Colts, Rams and Cowboys abandon the run and force them into predictable spots and force turnovers. The Packers, however, were able to keep the Bears behind on the scoreboard and run the ball a little bit.
Jacksonville will definitely try to do this. The Bears will want to get an early lead and shut Maurice Jones-Drew down early so that the Jaguars have to play the Bears game.
MJD is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, tied for 10th in the league, and is gaining 88 yards per game. The Bears run defense is 3rd in the league, behind Miami and Seattle, and are giving up 67.2 yards a game and 3.6 yards per attempt. The Bears have only given up one rushing TD on the year. They cannot bend on those stats on Sunday because MJD will make them pay.
On the other side of the football, the Bears need to establish the run early. Hand the ball off to Matt Forte and Michael Bush and take advantage of a Jacksonville run defense ranked 30th in the league (150.2 yards a game, 4.3 yards per carry and has given up six rushing TDs on the season).
I expect the offensive game plan to mirror the games against the Carolina Panthers games the last two seasons, when the Bears rushed for 224 yards last year and 218 yards in 2010. In those two games, the Bears passed for a combined total of 122 yards (that's a net, adjusted for sacks) on a combined 36 attempts. They had 31 rushing attempts in the 2011 game and 42 attempts in 2010. Yes, in 2010 Cutler sat out that game with a concussion and the passing offense was in the hands of Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie, but the Bears don't need Cutler to sling it around to win this game.
I do expect them to pass more successfully in this game, though. The Jags rank 20th in pass defense, only two spots behind the Bears, however, have mustered only two sacks, two interceptions and have allowed four touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks have a 89.1 rating against the Jaguars.
At the end of the day, it will hopefully be a rout for the Bears, but at worst it's a sloppy 17-9 game where Cutler has a similar line to one the he had against the Rams, but I doubt it. The Rams have a much better secondary than the Jags.
The biggest factor in this game plan I've laid out, though, is the overall health of the running backs. Forte is still hobbled by an ankle and Bush is banged up too. Lead blocker Evan Rodriguez looks to miss his second straight game, but Matt Spaeth and Kellen Davis filled in well enough so hopefully they can keep that up and block for whoever gets the carries.
I want to see the Bears come out, break off a few big runs, build a good lead and then they can rest Forte and Bush a little bit in the second half (but keep an eye on Kahlil Bell's carries, since he's still known to cough up the rock too often) and the defense can swarm MJD and smother their offense in a dominating win to carry us into the bye week.