The Bears have averaged 427 yards per game for the past four, yet are averaging barely 18 points per game. Consider the stat sheet from the Bears’ 17-16 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars just so much noise in a season in which an offense supposedly headed toward power and balance has played with neither.
They are badly out of balance, or at least the range of balance that coach John Fox prefers and which coordinator Dowell Loggains enunciated in discussing the kind of team the Bears would be. Jordan Howard’s one-yard touchdown run Sunday was the first rushing touchdown by the Bears in four games.
The reason given for not staying with the run foundation laid out has typically been that the Bears have been behind. However, as was the case in the loss at Houston, in which they led after three quarters yet ran on just 37 percent of their snaps, they were not behind on Sunday at any time for the first 57 minutes, they ran the football on just 35 percent of their plays (77 plays, 27 rushes).
“They’re a top-10 defense to begin with,” said coach John Fox. “They play a lot of eight-man boxes they mix it up, they’re well coached like everybody in this league. They stacked it a little bit and that kind of forced us to throw the ball some, which really wasn’t totally inefficient, but was not quite efficient enough.”
The Jaguars may have stacked against the run (the Bears averaged just 2.4 yards per carry in the first half). But the Bears averaged 5.1 yards per carry in the third quarter, then came out in the fourth quarter and called 15 pass plays and five runs.
And the Bears may be getting less out of 300-yard passing games than any team in the NFL. Too frequently plays were run on third down which got the football into the hands of a receiver but sufficiently short of the sticks that the receiver was unable to get the first-down yardage after the catch.
“You are hoping that the shallow routes pull people up,” Hoyer said. “They are a disciplined team and they stay at the sticks. You’re hoping to get some catch and run. Towards the end, the last play, you know you have to get it to the sticks, so you try to buy yourself some time and throw it to Alshon deeper.
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“But throughout the game, they are going to make you catch it on the sticks. We got some of those third-down conversions where they got in ‘man’ formation, and we got some good matchups and that worked for us. For me, like I said, it’s going through the read and not trying to force the ball.”
Which is solid thinking and execution, with Hoyer running his pass total without an interception this season to 189.
But the Bears had three drives with last plays inside the Jacksonville 20, all three winding up with field goals, with quarterback Brian Hoyer being inaccurate and late making throws, as he was in the loss at Indianapolis. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who has averaged one touchdown every 10.5 pass receptions for his career, has yet to score in 2016.
“For the Jaguars, as a defense, they are dropping. They are making it as tough as they can on you. Like the one to Cameron [Meredith], they dropped it far enough that we got it him and he got us to the 1-yard line and [led to] a touchdown. A defense like theirs, it’s tough – they aren’t going to give it up. They have less ground to cover, so they just play right there. Then you have to figure out a way to get around them or whatever it might be. We have to come up with ways to execute the plays and quickly. Like I said, we play Thursday night.”
Hoyer was effective but not especially accurate in several crucial situations that forced the Bears to settle for field goals. He completed 30 of 49 passes for 302 yards, was not intercepted but neither did he complete a scoring pass after two each in his previous three games.
Running back: D+
Ka’Deem Carey was a spark, with yards after contact that included a 16-yard burst in the third quarter and finished with 50 yards on nine carries (5.4 ypc.). But Carey muffed an easy pass reception, wide open, in the third quarter and forcing the Bears to punt.
After two straight 100-yard games, Howard was throttled and managed just 34 yards on 15 carries. He did score his first career touchdown but other than one nine-yard run, averaged just 1.8 yards per carry.
Jeffery and Meredith were involved early and consistently in another game dominated by passing calls. Meredith caught 11 of his 15 passes for 113 yards, while Jeffery fought strong coverage throughout and caught seven of 13 passes thrown to him. Zach Miller netted some tough yards after his six receptions and Eddie Royal contributed 54 yards on four catches before being forced to leave in the second half with a toe injury.
After drawing two flags at Indianapolis, TE Logan Paulsen committed a false start in the first quarter. Meredith began the second quarter with a false start of his own.
Offensive line: B-
Protection for Hoyer was superb for much of the game, giving coaches options in play calling for spread formations and outside-zone runs where the Bears had physical advantages. The run game faced stacked fronts with a safety in the box. The line blocked well enough but inaccuracies in the passing game negated scoring opportunities.
Something is very out of whack somewhere in the offensive approach, with another pass-dominated game that shouldn’t have been a game by the end of the first half. The Bears ran 26 pass plays and 14 run plays, and this time were ahead or tied for the entire half, yet led Jacksonville just 10-0.
On more than one occasion, Bears receivers failed to take routes to the first-down markers and were stopped short of first downs on otherwise solid completions.
The recurring issue with penalties continues pointing to a lack of precision and discipline, particularly with two pre-snap penalties (false starts) in the first 16 minutes. Royal failing to get a third-and-9 pass route deep enough for a first down was head-scratching.
A block-in-the-back penalty on a third-quarter punt was bewildering, with Jacoby Glenn pushing from behind a Jaguar gunner already out of the play. Discipline, again.