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.
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