The skinny with the Bears is mostly quarterback, because when quarterback is an issue in the NFL, the issue dwarfs all others.
Backup and longtime NFL journeyman Brian Hoyer has started the Bears' last three games, playing well enough many observers believe he will keep the job when Jay Cutler recovers from the thumb injury that has kept him out of the lineup.
While Hoyer isn't widely considered elite, he has respect in the Jaguars' locker room.
"He's very good, very efficient," Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "He's able to make quick reads and get the ball out fast, so he doesn't take a lot of hits or pressure. He gets the ball to the easy target and lets the receivers run up field and make plays."
While the Jaguars shut down Hoyer when he visited EverBank Field with the Cleveland Browns in 2014, he completed 24 of 36 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in a 31-20 Houston victory at EverBank Field last season.
Hoyer has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of his three starts this season.
"The ball is coming out extremely fast," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said of Hoyer, who has six touchdowns and no interceptions this season. "He is on rhythm. He can get to his first or second reads. He is getting to them and he is throwing it and completing it. The thing we have to do is try to take those reads away and make him get to his third read and make him start to feel the rush. If he doesn't feel the rush and he can sit back, he is as good as any quarterback in the league."
Hoyer's not the only reason the Bears' offense has improved in recent weeks. Rooking running back Jordan Howard has rushed for more than 100 yards each of the last two games, including 118 yards in a 29-23 loss to the Colts Sunday. Another factor for the Bears offensively: tight end Zach Miller, a sixth-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2009 NFL Draft.
An obvious Bears storyline is Hoyer's productivity as a starter. An issue that is just as pressing is the production of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery over that same span. Jeffery had more than 1,000 yards receiving in 2013 and 2014 and 807 yards in nine games last season. He averaged 100.5 yards a game in Cutler's two starts but has averaged just over 64 yards per game in Hoyer's three starts. "He is a big-body guy and he does a nice job of putting his body in positon to where defenders can't get to the football," Wash said. "If you have smaller guys on him, he takes advantage of it. We are fortunate we have big corners. It is going to be a heck of a matchup with all three corners [Jalen Ramsey, Davon House and Aaron Colvin] on him come Sunday."
The Bears this season have allowed 25.2 points per game – the 12th most in the NFL. But while Chicago has allowed 118.4 yards per game rushing, Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson said running is difficult against what he calls a "a good defensive front" in the Bears' 3-4 scheme. Outside linebacker Willie Young registered three sacks against the Colts. "Their linebackers are talented," Olson said. "[Danny] Trevethan, [Jerrell] Freeman are good, talented players there. We'll have our hands full. They have a good front seven there. "
Jaguars nose tackle Roy Miller and three-technique defensive tackle Malik Jackson have played well in recent weeks. Posluszny remains stout against the run, and limiting the run has keyed strong defensive efforts in recent weeks. That strength will be tested Sunday by a guard tandem of Josh Sitton and Kyle Long that the Jaguars consider among the NFL's best. "They both do a good job getting up to the second level, but I think that's what's impressive about Long is when he gets up to the second level, he does a good job on the linebackers," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said. "Both are playing really well right now."
"Those two guards are probably as good as there is in football – how fast they can get up to the next level. They create angles on linebacker to get them cut off. … Those guys are special up front. It is going to be a great challenge for our inside two to hopefully neutralize those two."
---Wash on Sitton and Long
"They [Hoyer and Jeffery] have connected. If you look at his [Jeffery]'s yards per catch, they're up there with some of the league leaders. One thing Brian has done is spread the ball around quite a bit. To say that Alshon hasn't been that involved, I don't know if I'd agree with that. He's made some big plays and he's got that capability and Brian realizes that."
--Bears Head Coach John Fox
"It hasn't been too much of an adjustment. We still have the same game plan. Execute. It has been pretty much the same."
--Jeffery on adjusting to Hoyer as Bears quarterback