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NFL Preview - Chicago (3-1) at Jacksonville (1-3)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Jay Cutler supposedly ignoring offensive coordinator Mike Tice on the sidelines in Monday's lopsided win at Dallas overshadowed how dominant the Chicago Bears defense was.
But usually everything Cutler does is blown out of proportion.
"It wasn't anything about Mike. We got in a 3rd-and-one situation. We had talked about getting into 3rd-and-short all week, and we didn't convert," Cutler said. "It was a crucial point in the game and we've got to convert. Good call, we've just got to execute it. Mike came over there and said, 'We've got to make that,' and I said, 'I know.'
"I got up and got some water. I watched the defense for 10 seconds, came back and talked to Mike about what we were going to get into the next series, and we're off and running."
Cutler and the Bears look to execute some more and remain atop the NFC North standings when they pay a visit to the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday afternoon. The Bears have won two in a row and will play their third road game in four weeks, before heading into the bye on Oct. 14.
Chicago recorded only one sack against the Cowboys, but forced Tony Romo into five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns in a 34-18 stomping at Cowboys Stadium. Charles Tillman had a 25-yard interception return for a score and Lance Briggs later returned a pick 74 yards to paydirt.
"Defensively, we talk about taking the ball away always," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Normally when you score a couple of defensive touchdowns, you have a chance to win, and when you get five takeaways, you're headed in the right direction. It was just outstanding play by our defense."
The Bears, who lead the NFL with 11 interceptions, entered primetime with a league-leading 14 sacks, but are now third with 15 in four games. The pressure up front didn't matter, however, as the Cowboys were held to 41 yards rushing and were left with no choice but to pass in order to catch up. Chicago is third in run defense, allowing just 67.2 yards per game, and have been stingy in the points-allowed department, holding the opposition to just 17.0 ppg.
"We played well," Briggs said. "A lot of turnovers, that's what we do all the time. Our coaches preach turnovers. We got them. We made some big plays on offense, defense and special teams."
Meanwhile, Cutler, who was sacked twice, didn't throw an interception for the first time this season, but did fumble for the first time. He passed for 275 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Brandon Marshall burned the Dallas secondary for 138 yards and a score on seven catches. Marshall could be in for another big day against Jacksonville's spotty defense, which is 20th in pass defense (254.5 ypg).
Bears running back Matt Forte missed a Week 3 win over St. Louis because of an ankle problem, but was eased back into Monday's win. Forte carried the ball 13 times for 52 yards and caught one pass for minus three. He's usually a dual threat and perhaps will be used more efficiently this week.
Jacksonville has one of the worst offenses in the league after four weeks and dropped a 27-10 loss to Cincinnati last week.
One week after recording their first win of the season over AFC South-rival Indianapolis, the Jaguars produced 212 yards of offense and quarterback Blaine Gabbert was sacked a season-high six times. He threw for 186 yards and a touchdown and was intercepted for the first time this season. Gabbert got back left guard Eben Britton and right tackle Cameron Bradfield, but it didn't help. An ineffective Britton, though, was replaced by Mike Brewster.
"You can only help so many guys up front," Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey said. "Sometimes, you're going to have some one-on-one matchups, and you have to find a way to block them."
Gabbert, whose streak of consecutive passes without an interception was snapped at 130, has at least 34 attempts in two of the first four games this season. And that could be the reason why he has seen the turf 12 times. The Jaguars will have to pull out all of the stops with the Bears coming to town fresh off a dominant defensive effort in Dallas.
"They're a great defense. Everybody knows the types of players they have ... high level, potential Hall of Fame guys," Gabbert said. "They've been in that system for a long time and are very good at what they do. We just have to do our best to execute and we gotta minimize turnovers because defenses and teams feed off those and you saw it on Monday night. It was a perfect example. It just boils down to us executing and being smart with the football."
The Jaguars will head into their bye week after Sunday's game and Gabbert said the team wants to win before having some time off. He also touched on how the offense must do their homework and understand the tendencies of the Bears' defense, especially the linebackers. His job is to make the right protection call, build a rhythm and sustain long drives.
If Jacksonville can execute the offense, they may have a shot against a Bears team playing a road game Sunday following a Monday night road game.
Jacksonville and Chicago will play the sixth game in the series Sunday, with the Bears owning a 3-2 advantage. The Bears won the last meeting by a 23-10 score during the 2008 campaign at Soldier Field.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Can the Bears' defense maintain its edge on a short week? That remains to be seen, but Chicago has a great shot at keeping the foot on the proverbial gas pedal since the Jaguars' offense is one of the worst in the NFL. The Bears must continue to be stingy against the run and are rated third in the NFL, allowing 67.2 yards per game on the ground. Indianapolis had 63 yards rushing in Week 1, Green Bay had some success with 106 yards the following week, the Rams mustered just 59 in Week 3 and Dallas was held to only 41 yards.
Now, the Bears will face one of the premier running backs in Maurice Jones- Drew. The Jaguars are 15th in rushing (108.0 ypg) and a summer holdout hasn't seemed to bother Jones-Drew, who didn't do much against the Bengals with 38 yards on 13 carries. He recorded 177 yards and a touchdown on 28 touches the week before in a win at Indy, and faces a Chicago defense that limited Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray to 24 yards on 11 carries.
And with Jaguars wide receiver Laurent Robinson expected to miss the game with another concussion, Jones-Drew better have an extra pair of cleats.
"We didn't really execute that well this past game. We have some things internally we have to work on," Jones-Drew said. "It's nothing big. I think we'll be OK. It's just fixing little things."
Another area of concern for the Jags' offense is containing Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers has seven sacks in his last eight games versus the AFC and 2 1/2 this season. Defensive tackle Henry Melton leads the club with four and had the only one Monday night.
The Bears should be in good shape if Cutler can limit turnovers and keep getting the ball to Marshall. The Jaguars are struggling on defense right now and have just a handful of impact players on the defensive side of the ball, including cornerback Derek Cox and linebacker Paul Posluszny. Linebacker Kyle Bosworth has filled in well for the injured Daryl Smith and it will be interesting to see if Bosworth remains the starter with Smith expected back following the bye.
Cutler will face a defense that has just two interceptions in four weeks and is rated 20th against the pass (254.5 ypg).
"It's going to be tough. It doesn't really matter who it is or where it is, it's hard to win on the road in this league," Cutler said. "We gotta have a good week, short week. We really gotta mentally get ready."
Cutler mentioned he's not too familiar with the Jaguars and will study all the necessary film on his upcoming opponent, which has a new coach and philosophy. He also shared a tidbit of information on how the Bears must "get the running game going" in order to have a successful gameplan. If Forte and the offensive line can achieve that early on, it will make Cutler's job a lot easier to open the passing game.
Statistically, the Bears have the advantage and are 6-0 following a road game on Monday night. Cutler said it's important to be ready mentally coming off a short week and having Forte get into a groove early on. That won't be a problem against Jacksonville's putrid run defense. The only edge the Jaguars have is that they are 24-9 versus the NFC at home and could catch the Bears eyeing some extra rest on their looming bye week. Chicago, however, needs to keep pace with Green Bay in the division and can't afford to lose a game against an inferior opponent. Expect another high-scoring affair from the Bears and Cutler to quiet his critics regarding his personality. All that matters in this league is winning, and he is doing that this season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bears 31, Jaguars 14
10/04 15:15:11 ET