Bears - Jaguars prediction: Two desperate teams pitted against each other

Bears - Jaguars prediction: Two desperate teams pitted against each other

If the Bears were being blown out week after week (see: Chicago Bears, 2014), all attention would rightly swing toward the 2017 offseason and draft. But after some halting early steps (Dallas, Philadelphia), the dismal 1-4 start is not necessarily a dead-solid indicator of what is to come.

At least the Bears have to hope so. Because looming after Sunday’s meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars, also a one-win team, are the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings with a combined record of 8-1 to this point. A defeat at the hands of Jacksonville, which has had only one of its four games decided by more than four points, would move the Bears to the brink of a 1-7 first half.

The chief negative is that the Bears have largely destroyed themselves, which is precisely what poor/losing teams do. In the six-point loss to the Indianapolis Colts the Bears were flagged for 10 penalties, most of them directly affecting scoring opportunities. The Bears out-flagged their opponents in three games this season, all losses. They are simply not good enough yet offensively to overcome their own missteps. The Bears drew penalties on five of their 11 possessions at Indianapolis. On only one of those did they come back to score a touchdown.

“We've got to eliminate the self-inflicted wounds, really,” said quarterback Brian Hoyer. “Can't have the penalties, things like that, holding us back, when we get down, especially in the red area. I think all of our penalties happened inside the 40, so that's taking potential points off the board. We've got to stop doing that and continue doing what we're doing well.”

Right now the Bears are doing well at gaining yardage – Hoyer is the first quarterback in franchise history to post three straight games with 300 passing yards and zero interceptions – but not so well at gaining those final yards before the end zone.

The Indianapolis game was the first in which the Bears scored more than 17 points. By comparison, last season the Bears scored 20 or more in seven of their first nine games and had won four of six to reach 4-5.

“The 500 yards of offense [522 at Indianapolis] is something that we can smile about,” said guard Kyle Long, “but it needs to translate to points.”

For their part the Jaguars have struggled behind what some quarters will be the Bears’ model moving into 2017 and beyond. Jacksonville selected quarterback Blake Bortles with the third-overall pick of the 2014 draft but has lurched along with a passer rating of just 79.4, although he posted a season-best 96.4 in the Jaguars’ win over the Colts.

The key to the win was Bortles throwing zero interceptions for the first time this season and just the third time in his last 16 games that he has not turned the football over at least once.

[MORE BEARS: Defense gets a boost from even partial return of Pernell McPhee]

Bortles was sacked 51 times last season and 12 already this season through four games. But Andrew Luck was a sack target, taken down five times by the Bears last week, and still was able to break the Bears’ defense down when he was allowed to escape and make late-play completions.

“We’re going to have to do a better job of keeping [Bortles] in the pocket and not letting him extend plays and throw on the run or scramble for first downs,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “That’s going to have to be an improvement over last week.”

The Jags dumped Lovie Smith pal Bob Babich as D-coordinator after last season and upgraded the defense with former Bronco Malik Jackson on the defensive line and Tashaun Gipson at safety. But Jacksonville was 1-7 on road last year and hasn’t won more than five games since 2010 or had winning season since 2007.

View from the Moon called this game a win in preseason picks. That is still the call.

Bears 20, Jaguars 17

View from the Moon ’16 record:    3-2

In moving forward with Dion Sims, the Bears will keep a mix of skillsets at tight end

USA Today

In moving forward with Dion Sims, the Bears will keep a mix of skillsets at tight end

When the Bears signed Trey Burton to a four-year contract worth a reported $32 million (with $18 million of it guaranteed), the natural thought was this: So long, Dion Sims. But the Bears are all but certainly going to hang on to the 27-year-old tight end after his $4 million roster bonus became fully guaranteed on Friday, barring a trade. 

“We like Dion Sims, a well-rounded tight end,” general manager Ryan Pace said on Thursday. “We’re excited we got him.”

Cynically — or, perhaps, fairly — Pace’s comments could’ve been interpreted as part of a play to trade Sims, who signed a three-year contract in 2017. The Bears saw Sims as a strong run blocker with pass-catching upside, but still gave themselves an out after one year that would’ve netted $5.666 million in cap savings. 

Sims didn’t show any of that receiving upside last year, though, catching 15 of 29 targets (51 percent) for 180 yards with one touchdown. Crucially, the Bears have the cap space to keep Sims, even with the flurry of signings they’ve announced this week -- and Kyle Fuller's reported four-year, $56 million extension -- and contract extensions looming for Eddie Goldman and possibly Adrian Amos, too. 

So hanging on to Sims means the Bears value his contributions as a run blocker and are willing to shoulder a $6.3 million cap hit for him to primarily be used in that role. The Bears expect Shaheen to be their primary in-line tight end, with Burton and Daniel Brown, who signed a one-year contract Friday, the more pass-catching-oriented “move” guys in Matt Nagy’s offense. But Sims will still have a role as the Bears look to maximize their production from the tight end position. 

“I think we can use all our tight ends,” Pace said. “I think the Super Bowl champions are a recent example of that, of using a lot of tight ends. They’re all valuable weapons. They’re all a little different. I think they all complement each other. It fits together nicely.”

Bears attitude adjustment already apparent in first wave of free agents

Bears attitude adjustment already apparent in first wave of free agents

The first thing you notice is some swagger, some chips on the shoulders of the newest Bears, and while that doesn’t win any games in-season, let alone in March, it’s something of a positive for a team that’d had a lot of its swagger pained out of it over the past two years in particular.

Receivers Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson, tight end Trey Burton, backup quarterback Chase Daniel and kicker Cody Parkey all said the requisite niceties and platitudes on Thursday, all about how much they like the coaches, the organization, all that stuff.

But I’ve seen free agents come and go since real free agency started in 1993. All levels of players coming through, and they all say right stuff. There was something else with this bunch, though, and it wasn’t always there in the past. (More on that in a second.)

So there was Gabriel mentioning how Mitch Trubisky had texted him after Gabriel had signed, and Gabriel first piping in with, “How’s your deep ball?” And Trubisky was right back at Gabriel, one of the fastest players in the NFL, with, “Are you still fast?”

Best guess — they’ll get along just fine.

Gabriel’s first comment on impressions of coach Matt Nagy? Not about his football knowledge, his enthusiasm. No, it was: “Smooth dude, man,” Gabriel said. “I like his swag a little bit.”

Robinson was described by former Jacksonville and current Bears teammate cornerback Prince Amukamara as “a nightmare” to play against because he let defensive guys, even his own, know when he’d had them for lunch. As far as now, a very high bar has been set: “I think for me as a player, it's not my job to make Mitch's job easier, it's to make his job easy.”

Two points on why this comes with a touch more relevance in the case of a Bears team coming off a fourth straight NFC North basement finish:

First, because of what developed on the other side of the football when the likes of Akiem Hicks, Pernell McPhee (describing his style of football as “violent”) and Danny Trevathan came in, even rookie safety Eddie Jackson last year. They brought in attitudes from not just winning organizations, but more important, championship organizations. And they were good enough to walk the walk, even as they struggled through injuries.

The result was that in less than three full seasons, the Bears were a Top 10 defense. Attitudes can be infectious, for good or bad, and the right attitude with the right players made the defense a force, even with its injuries.

What the Bears secured in their first wave of free agents was five players all involved in points production — two wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker and a backup quarterback, whose two mission statements consist of being ready to play winning football if he’s needed and also to be a foundation pillar for the starter, in this case Trubisky.

What makes this a speck more interesting is that Trubisky will be the biggest factor in formation of the 2018-and-beyond Bears, and it was Trubisky whom Leonard Floyd and his defensive mates dubbed “Pretty Boy Assassin” last year because of Trubisky’s give-some-smack attitude anytime he lit up the No. 1 defense just running scout-team plays.

The second observation is that this wasn’t the case last year with Markus Wheaton, Quintin Demps, Marcus Cooper, Dion Sims and certainly not Mike Glennon, last year’s main free agency additions. Some of that’s obviously personality; Glennon and those guys are simply not swagger-smack kinds of guys, and that’s OK, as long as they play with attitude.

Last year’s group, just to use them as a case in point, came from decent programs. But the current top Bears additions include Super Bowl winners (Burton, Daniel as Drew Brees’ backup), a Super Bowl loser (Gabriel, painfully in the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse vs. New England) and a top wideout who had his dream derailed by injury and missed out on his team’s drive to within 2 minutes 48 seconds of a Super Bowl (Robinson).

And while Nagy and the organization are probably wise to counsel patience in the Bears’ recovery climb, the players aren’t seeing it that way.

“You can never underestimate how important youth is and guys who are willing to learn and willing to get better, but then also you look at the city,” Burton said. “They want another championship. They want to win. They want to be winners. You look at the other sports, the Bulls, the Blackhawks, the Cubs, the Cubs just won a couple years ago.

“The city's ready for another championship and like I said, they have a great quarterback, young quarterback, and an unbelievable head coach. They're aggressive and they're ready to win right now.”