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Bears Fri Oct 05 2012

Bears Face 'Letdown' Game in Jacksonville

Thumbnail image for GB bears icon.pngI was honestly surprised when I checked the weekly lines, and found the Bears were only four and a half point favorites. Sure, it's a road game, and as former coach Brian Billick can be quoted as saying every single week, 'there's nothing harder than winning on the road in the NFL,' but this doesn't feel like a contest the Bears are going to lose.

This game most definitely qualifies as the dreaded 'letdown' game in betting circles (a game against a weak opponent that you may look past after coming off a big victory), but the Bears haven't lost any of those games since Jay Cutler came to Chicago. The last time the Bears were favored and lost with Cutler behind center was back in Week 7 of the 2010 season, when Cutler threw a fourth quarter pick-six in a 17-14 loss to the Donovan McNabb led Washington Redskins. But it didn't qualify as a letdown game because the Bears had lost their previous two to the Seahawks and Giants.

To make matters worse for the Jaguars, the last time a Cutler-led Bears team lost to a quarterback outside the division under the age of 25 (Blaine Gabbert qualifies at 22-years-old) was back on December 20, 2009 when Joe Flacco pounded the Bears with a four touchdown performance during a 31-7 rout.

The main key in each of those losses above, however, was the opponents' running game. The Redskins, Seahawks, Giants, and Ravens all rushed for over 100 yards in their victories over the Bears. And therein lies the key for Sunday's bout in Jacksonville: stopping Maurice Jones-Drew.

He's one of the few truly elite running backs in the NFL. He's the only player in the league not named Adrian Peterson that gets 20-plus carries on a weekly basis, and he does plenty damage when they hand him the rock. Despite holding out for the Jaguars entire training camp and preseason, Jones-Drew has rushed for 352 yards and a touchdown through four games, averaging just shy of five yards per rush. He's dangerous.

Even though the Bears possess one of the top run-defenses in the league, the best recipe for stopping MJD is to get up two touchdowns on the Jags. If they're behind by enough points, they'll be forced to put the ball in the air, which means nothing but checkdowns and screen plays for the All-Pro halfback.

The most interesting aspect of the game to watch for on Sunday is the play calling of Mike Tice. He put in a brilliant performance against the Cowboys with a healthy mix of runs, short passes, deep looks, and blocking schemes that kept All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Ware off of Cutler for a majority of the night. The Jags don't possess a single lineman that would qualify as great, but it's still important to provide left tackle J'Marcus Webb any help that can be provided. At this point, Webb needs to build some confidence and get on a hot streak going into next week's Bye.

This being a relatively easy game for the Bears makes it a must-win. With the schedule getting much tougher after the break (two games against the Lions and Vikings, along with single games against the Packers, Texans, 49ers, and Cardinals), a win now gives a bit more cushion for struggles that will undoubtedly occur in the months to come.

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