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

Washington QB Jacob Eason has the confidence Bears need

Washington QB Jacob Eason has the confidence Bears need

General manager Ryan Pace made it clear Tuesday from the NFL combine that the Bears will add competition to the quarterback room this offseason. They'll have a chance to accomplish that goal in the 2020 NFL Draft, especially in the second round where Washington's strong-armed gunslinger Jacob Eason is expected to come off the board.

Eason is considered one of the more naturally gifted passers in the 2020 class with an arm that ranks alongside Oregon's Justin Herbert, who's projected to be picked in the first seven selections. So why is Eason more likely to be a second-rounder?

“There are little nitpickers here and there," Eason said Tuesday from Indianapolis. "They nitpick about speed and the pocket awareness, footwork, all of those things. There are things [I] need to work on and there’s always room to improve.”

One thing about Eason's game that there's no debate on is his right arm, which will instantly be one of the strongest in the NFL in 2020. He models his game after another big-armed quarterback who spent nearly two decades haunting Bears fans.

“A guy like Brett Favre. A guy like Peyton Manning. They are both big inspirations,” Eason said. “I like the way they play the game. Their toughness and competitiveness; those are the guys I modeled my game after.”

There's no doubt Eason would offer the Bears more of a pure passer's skill set; there's no comparing his arm talent to Mitch Trubisky, who routinely struggled to place the ball on target on deep throws in 2019. Eason would instantly expand Matt Nagy's playbook and make downfield chunk plays more realistic.

Confidence is important, too. Eason, who said he's stressing the confidence he has in his arm during team meetings at the combine, isn't afraid to take shots downfield. Trubisky, on the other hand, doesn't play with that killer's instinct. And as we saw last season, it impacts the overall effectiveness of Nagy's system.

This Eason discussion assumes, of course, that he's on the board at No. 43 overall. A big week in Indianapolis could skyrocket his draft stock into the first round; there's been some speculation that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could even take him at No. 14.

Adding a player like Eason would create one heck of a storyline for training camp and a quarterback battle that would likely end with the rookie as the victor.

Ryan Pace says Bears are 'exploring every avenue' to upgrade tight end

Ryan Pace says Bears are 'exploring every avenue' to upgrade tight end

Bears general manager Ryan Pace didn't come across as a guy willing to go down in flames with his decision to sign tight end Trey Burton back in 2018 when he met with the media at the NFL Combine on Tuesday. Instead, he confirmed the Bears will be heavily invested in the tight end market this offseason, both in free agency and the 2020 NFL draft.

"We’re looking at it in free agency and the draft," Pace said of this year's available tight ends. "It’s deep in different areas. That’s an area of focus for us, I don’t think that’s a secret. This offense, a lot of it goes through the tight end, so we’re exploring every avenue."

It's hard to envision a scenario where Pace would be willing to travel down the big-money free-agent path again, but Falcons pass-catcher Austin Hooper could be too tempting to pass up.

Atlanta confirmed on Tuesday Hooper will be allowed to test the open market, and if he ranks high enough on Pace's wish list, we could be setting up to see a $10 million per year offer. It may seem like a waste of resources to tie that much money up in the tight end position (he and Burton would cost the Bears close to $20 million in 2020), but they experienced just how limited Matt Nagy's offense is without a capable playmaker at the position. Hooper would fix that.

The cheaper alternative for Pace to upgrade at tight end would be the draft, where several quality prospects will be on the board when the Bears pick at No. 43 and No. 50 overall. Players like Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, FAU's Harrison Bryant and Notre Dame's Cole Kmet could all be available when the Bears are on the clock, and all three of them would represent a marked uptick in talent for the depth chart.

Pace is being logical and rational when it comes to his evaluation of the tight end group. It's especially impressive considering the top two options currently on the roster -- Burton and Adam Shaheen -- were hand-picked by him and cost Chicago a top-of-the-market free-agent deal and a high draft pick (second round, 2017). 

Pace has a great opportunity to right his wrongs at tight end over the next couple of months.