Thanks to Windy City Gridiron for taking the time to answer a few of our questions about the upcoming Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Chicago Bears game.
1. First things first... I didn't think the Bears would be good, but they're looking abysmal. What's the biggest reason for that? Inconsistency at quarterback? A subpar defense? Injuries? All of the above?
Abysmal is a bit strong for me but they have been a big disappointment for sure. Getting embarrassed on national television two weeks in a row is simply not how you want your favorite franchise to look. There absolutely have been injuries, mostly on defense. Chicago's best cornerback (Kyle Fuller) and starting outside linebacker (Lamarr Houston) are on IR. Pernell McPhee, the defense's best player, is on the PUP-list. Eddie Goldman, the best defensive lineman, has missed a few games with a high ankle sprain. Not to mention Jay Cutler and Jeremy Langford have missed time and Kevin White is out for the year.
Any time you're in a rebuilding mode and your top line starters miss significant time, you're in trouble. The silver lining is that some of the young players are getting a chance at playing time and other guys are stepping up into bigger roles.
The biggest single issue on the offense early on was inconsistent line play. Rookie center Cody Whitehair is learning the position on the fly and newly signed left guard Josh Sitton took time to integrate into the line. There have been vast improvements over a shaky start and with a talent like Kyle Long at right guard, the offensive line is starting to look like a strength.
The bottom line for this team is that they're still rebuilding and need another year or roster turnover to get to a place of consistent competition. If you're a Bears fan, I would argue there have been some bright spots to focus on and areas where there is a clear need for improvement. Two years ago, the answer was basically "improve everything" but now there's some reason to believe this thing might be moving in the right direction.
2. The big talk in Jacksonville this week (as it has been for many weeks) is firing Gus Bradley. How are y'all feeling about John Fox?
John Fox is a proven winner and someone that has helped rebuild two franchises. He's certainly not the best coach in the league — that guy lives in Boston -- but he's got a track record of success at two stops.
I think Fox reminds me of Tom Coughlin, a coach that should be near and dear to Jaguars fans. He brings respectability to the franchise and can put a competitive product on the field given time. He's also got all the connections a lifetime coaching in the NFL will net you and was able to attract excellent coordinators in year one.
The Bears are still trying to recover from the loss of Adam Gase to the Miami Dolphins and trying to rebuild the talent base from years of poor drafting and lack of development. As long as Fox doesn't lose control of the team, he deserves as much rope as possible this year and into next to get this franchise back on track.
3. Is there a Jaguars player on either side of the ball that you say, "If the Bears don't stop him, we're in trouble"?
I'm excited to see the Jaguars up close and personal against the Bears this weekend so I can better have a sense of what the Jaguars are rolling out on defense. The Jaguars seemed to play good team defense in the first three quarters of that London game but no one individual stuck out as the elite talent on that side of the ball. So, my answer is boring and predictable but it's got to be Allen Robinson. It appears that the defensive game plan against the Jaguars has been to take Robinson away from Bortles and make him beat you with secondary targets.
What I worry about is if the Bears have enough depth in the secondary to do that. Last week, T.Y. Hilton ran through the secondary like he was on easy mode in Madden. Robinson is probably a better receiver than Hilton and this will be the best receiver since Nuk Hopkins in Week 1 the Bears have faced. I'm already losing sleep over it, which means Jaguars fans should wear their teal or gold #15 uniforms this weekend.
4. Can you give us one Bears player on offense and one on defense who fly under the radar but who you think will play a critical role in determining the winning team on Sunday?
I would think that the news about Jordan Howard, the rookie running back out of Indiana, is known throughout the league at this point. He's been a big time runner on a team thirsting for someone to replace the departed Matt Forte.
If you're familiar with Howard, I'll put up Cameron Meredith. The 6'3" receiver out of Illinois State is an undrafted free agent in his second year. Meredith had something of a breakout game last week taking over for the injured Kevin White. Meredith caught a few balls as a rookie but has shown a good rapport with Brian Hoyer. It's one of those situations where the backup quarterback throws to the backup receiver all through camp and they both break onto the starting lineup about the same time. They're already in a rhythm and have a trust factor established. Last week Meredith caught nine of 12 targets for 130 yards and a score. If the Jaguars focus on Alshon Jeffery, expect Meredith to have success again.
On defense... there are so many injuries on this squad it's tough to make a case. Bryce Callahan is a nickel corner out of Rice University. Similar to Meredith, he's also in his second year and came via the undrafted free agent class. He might just be the best cover corner the Bears have right now and has been a nice surprise from general manager Ryan Pace's first class. Sports Illustrated even ranked him as the #7 slot corner this summer. He's been forced to start on the outside based on injuries to Kyle Fuller and Callahan himself has been banged up (he left last week with a hamstring re-aggravation). If he can play, he'll be incredibly important in limiting the damage Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns can inflict.
5. What's gonna happen on Sunday? Will it be a back-and-forth matchup? Will the Jaguars disappoint again? Will the Bears Bear it up?
If you were a pessimist, you might look at this game and think that the result could help be a tie-breaker for a top-five draft pick next April. So, could either team truly disappoint when expectations of the NFL and the respective communities are currently pretty low? I would expect the Bears to show up ready to play. Jordan Howard has been effective in the run game and Brian Hoyer has thrown for a lot of yards against three bad defenses. Their stubbornness in last week's game to not throw all their coverage at T.Y. Hilton worries me that Allen Robinson could keep the Jaguars competitive.
I'll predict the Bears can come out ahead as they figure out how to convert yards into points and can keep Robinson limited (under 100 yards). Final score: 27-24.