On the surface, the matchup appears difficult.
The Jaguars, a week removed from a one-sided loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, on Sunday will play the Chicago Bears, a team that on Monday looked very impressive in an equally one-sided, nationally televised victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
And make no mistake:
The Bears may not be the trendiest pick for the Super Bowl, but they're a talented team capable of winning the NFC, with a quarterback-receiver tandem – Jay Cutler/Brandon Marshall – as potent as the Andy Dalton/A.J. Green combination that hurt the Jaguars this past Sunday.
The Bears will be favored, and few will give the Jaguars a chance, but in the NFL those two elements – not to mention a difficult matchup – often don't mean a thing.
The Jaguars are a young team with a largely new coaching staff. They have a young quarterback with a new offense, and often in the NFL those things need time to come together. Young teams often need something to go their way, for someone to make a play, to get things turned around.
That last part has been a theme of Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey this week, and with reason.
The Jaguars have lost three of four games, but Mularkey knows from experience difficult starts don't have to mean difficult finishes. His first team in Buffalo in 2004 went 0-4 and 1-5 before finishing 9-7, with the offense taking hold late in the season. When Mularkey spoke this week about what the Jaguars need, he talked about guys needing to make big plays in big situations.
That's what needs to happen for the Jaguars this week. They need a turnover to go their way. They need something to believe in. It came oh-so-close to happening early against Cincinnati, with the Jaguars twice having potential defensive touchdowns slip away.
A play or two like that can change momentum. A play or two like that can turn a difficult matchup into a different game than many expect. In the NFL, those plays must be made, so look for that to continue to be a focus for this staff, and for a team that needs something to go its way.
The Bears were overlooked before the season by many analysts, mainly because they missed the postseason last year after having a legitimate chance for the Super Bowl a season before. But the Bears are good, and they showed why in a Monday night victory over the Cowboys. When Cutler is good, he's very good and when Marshall is good, the tandem of Marshall and Cutler is as dangerous as any in the NFL. The Bears' lone loss this season was to Super Bowl contender Green Bay, and as is usually the case, Chicago is a dangerous defensive team that can create turnovers quickly enough to turn games around in a hurry. On Monday, they intercepted Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo five times and returned two for touchdowns in a 34-18 victory. One area of concern for the Bears is they are playing a road game Sunday following a Monday night road game. That's a difficult situation, and teams rarely perform as well on Sunday in that situation as they did the previous Monday.
The game at EverBank Field in Jacksonville will be broadcast regionally on FOX and locally on WAWS (Channel 30) with Kenny Albert on play-by-play, Daryl Johnston on analysis and Tony Siragusa working the sideline.
Early matchup to watch
Jaguars offensive tackle Eugene Monroe versus Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. Monroe, who had a high-profile game by shutting out Vikings defensive end Jared Allen in the opener, has played solidly this season, and he'll need to do so again. Peppers, in his 11th season, is still a dangerous pass rusher, and the Bears feed off the aggressiveness along the defensive front to help create turnovers on the back end. Realistically, the Bears' defensive front overall against the Jaguars' offensive front is a key matchup. Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert needs more time than he had to throw last week. He has thrown just one interception this season, but without time, it will be hard to keep that number down against Chicago.
Player to watch
Cornerback Derek Cox. The Jaguars are struggling defensively, but within that context, Cox has played well this season. Cox, a fourth-year veteran from William & Mary, missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury, and also missed the first two games of the regular season. In the two games since, he has broken on the ball well and has emerged as a potential Pro Bowl-level player at the position. The Jaguars haven't typically had Cox defend the opponent's best receiver all over the field, but considering his level of play, that may be an option at times moving forward.
- The Jaguars struggled on the offensive line against Cincinnati, allowing six sacks with Gabbert being hit as he threw at least that many more times. Gabbert also had to scramble several times. Interior pass protection was an issue, and Eben Britton and Mike Brewster each will get reps at left guard in practice this week. Mularkey said whoever performs better in practice likely will start.
- Wide receiver Laurent Robinson sustained a second blow to the head in as many weeks Sunday, and is in the team's concussion program for a second time in as many weeks and a third time this season. Mularkey said Monday there is a better chance Robinson won't play this week than there was last week.
- The Jaguars overall are getting healthier, with linebacker Daryl Smith (groin) and defensive end George Selvie (knee) the only players other than Robinson expected to be out this week. Mularkey said early this week Smith could return following the bye. Kyle Bosworth has started in his place the first four games of the season.