The Chicago Bears (1-1) head into MetLife Stadium in New Jersey this evening to take on the New York Jets (1-1) on Monday Night Football (MNF). This will be Chicago’s second straight prime time matchup following last week’s come-from-behind victory against the San Francisco 49ers.
Last season, the Bears were 2-0 on MNF and are 27-35 on the broadcast overall, including 12-24 on the road.
This will be the 11th meeting between the two franchises, with the Bears holding a 7-3 edge. The Bears are 3-1 in New Jersey. Eight of the 10 previous games have been decided by 10 or fewer points, while Chicago’s 13-point win in 1985 represents the largest margin of victory by either team in the series.
Probable for New York are LB Nick Bellore (hip), DB Josh Bush (quad), OL Willie Colon (quad), LB Quinton Coples (elbow), LB A.J. Edds (hamstring), RB Chris Johnson (ankle) and C Nick Mangold (shoulder).
After nearly being burned at the stake following a two-interception performance in the season opener, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler redeemed himself last week with a four-touchdown outing against the 49ers. Three of his touchdowns came in the second half as the Bears climbed out of a 17-3 hole to pick up a big road victory.
“A lot of times you get down like that and it’s punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, it’s hard to crawl out of that hole,” Cutler said this week. “The guys, a lot of perseverance, especially up front. We were struggling throwing the ball and those guys didn’t get down on us. They just kept blocking and giving us time. To get a touchdown there with the two-minute [drill] and then come back out and get another one, that was huge. That said a lot about the guys in that huddle I think.”
For Cutler and the Bears, the big second half was crucial in avoiding an 0-2 start, from which NFL teams have historically made the playoffs just 12 percent of the time.
“Jay did a great job, especially in the second half when we had field position, of taking advantage of the matchups that he had and making accurate throws when needed,” coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “We always talk about be your best when the best is needed, the old John Wooden saying, and he did that at that point. There could have been a lot of frustration on the sideline, which there was. But there was a competitive frustration more than a ‘we can't do it’ frustration. So you could feel it building.”
Through two games, Cutler has completed 68.1 percent of his passes and has a QB rating of 99.7, both of which are career highs. He has six touchdowns compared to just two interceptions and he’s on pace for 4,200 passing yards, which would be the second most of his career.
|Career vs. Jets||GP/GS||Att.||Comp.||Yards||TD||INT||Rating|
BEARS ON OFFENSE
Matchups to Watch
WRs Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery vs. CBs Antonio Allen and Darrin Walls
It’s no secret that Jets head coach Rex Ryan likes to blitz. Ryan brings extra rushers early and often, leaving his cornerbacks one-on-one out wide. Marshall and Jeffery aren’t 100 percent but they are much healthier than last week, when the duo combined for 8 catches, 95 yards and three touchdowns. Chicago’s two Pro Bowl wideouts could have a field day against Walls and Allen, who is a converted safety, if Ryan repeatedly leaves his corners on an island.
“This defense has brought more zero blitzes in the first two games than we saw all last year,” said Kromer. “And so zero blitzing meaning it’s one-on-one in coverage behind the blitz that they’re bringing. Every receiver just has one guy. There’s no help with a deep safety. And we’ve seen more in those two games on that tape in studying them, than we saw all last year. So it is a one-on-one battle. But you have to get it off fast enough before the quarterback gets hit, because they blitz one more man than you can protect.”
G Kyle Long vs. NT Damon Harrison
Harrison (6-4, 350) is about as large as they come in the NFL. He’s a pure space eater who can occupy blockers and fill gaps against the run. If the Bears can’t seal him inside, they won’t have any chance of running the ball between the tackles. All three interior offensive linemen will be tasked with blocking Harrison, yet the brunt of the duty will likely fall on Long’s shoulders. Long struggled last week against the 49ers, which resulted in RB Matt Forte gaining just 21 yards on 12 carries. If Forte is going to have more success this week, Long needs to have one of the best games of his young career.
Keys to the Game
-It’s very tough to run on the Jets, who rank first in the NFL against the run (52.5 yards per game). Their 3-4 scheme utilizes massive defensive linemen who are nearly impossible to move off their points. Nose tackles Damon Harrison and Kenrick Ellis weight nearly 700 pounds combined, while DE Muhammad Wilkerson (6-4, 315) is the same size as Bears NT Ego Ferguson.
That’s a lot of beef on the plate of Chicago’s offensive line. If the front five fail to get push off the ball, like they did last week, Forte won’t have any room to run.
In the Bears’ zone-blocking system, double-teams are commonplace at the snap. Eventually, one blocker will peel off for a linebacker but against the Jets, those double teams must be sound and explosive for the first two seconds of each run play. If you can stop the momentum of New York’s front three, you stand a chance of moving the ball on the ground.
Yet if those big-bodies collapse double teams and penetrate in the backfield, the run game will be non-existent, which will force Cutler to throw the ball 50-60 times.
-The Jets’ secondary nowhere near matches the talent level of Chicago’s receiving corps. If Cutler has time to throw the ball, he’s going to carve them up.
Ryan knows this as well as anyone, which is why he’s going to do everything he can to get pressure on Cutler. Expect the Jets to bring the blitz from the start of the game, using exotic packages designed to confuse the Bears’ offensive line.
“It’s unique,” said coach Marc Trestman. “The uniqueness is that you don’t see as much of it with other teams as you do here. There’s a lot more seven-man rushes than you see from most teams. Over the last two weeks, they brought everybody 25 times for instance — 10 times last week. So that’s a lot of bringing the house and putting your safeties in a position where they’ve got to cover the whole field and your corners. That doesn’t mean they’ll do it to us, but certainly they’ve last year at this time they’ve probably ran 20 the whole season and they’ve already run 25. It’s going to be little bit different.”
Trestman said they’ve spent many hours the past week watching film on New York’s pressure packages.
“It’s preparation and research. We spent a lot of time researching all the different fronts they’ve played this season and last season,” Trestman said. “It’s No. 1 on the hit list of things we’ve got to be prepared for and this is to keep Jay as clean as we can. Try to figure out a formula for how they do it, because they are so multiple. I’m not saying we have all the answers, but we feel going into it we’re going to have Jay in the best position to keep him safe back there. But it won’t be easy. It’s a complicated formula certainly.”
To that end, expect Eben Britton to see plenty of the field tonight as an extra blocker on offense. The Jets will attempt to bring more rushers than the Bears have blockers, so giving Britton snaps helps even out the numbers. Also, don’t be surprised if Forte is used heavily in pass protection.
Up front, communication will be crucial against a defensive front that deploys so many moving parts before and after the snap. That’s easier said than done, though, as MetLife Stadium will be a noise factory for this prime time matchup.
“It’s very difficult, especially on the road,” said Kromer. “We're going into Jets Stadium where it's going to be loud. So we've played as loud of noise as we can have it during practice and during these blitz sessions to try to do it through signals, to try to do it through looks and understand what should be happening for the halfback who can't hear back by the quarterback what the center is calling. And then Jay communicating as well. You know, Jay is a big part of this blitz pickup of him identifying who he thinks is coming and quickly getting with the center and understanding where we need to go.”
-WR Josh Morgan returns tonight after missing the first two contests with a groin injury. He’ll join Santonio Holmes in Chicago’s multiple-receiver sets. The best way to spread out New York’s defense and lighten the load inside the box is to deploy three and four receivers on each offensive snap, so Morgan should get plenty of reps.
Morgan was one of the most impressive receivers of training camp and the preseason and could have an immediate impact as a possession receiver. If he and Holmes can exploit their matchups against Jets third corner Kyle Wilson, they’ll play a big part in the Bears’ scoring total.
BEARS ON DEFENSE
Matchups to Watch
DT Stephen Paea vs. C Nick Mangold
The Jets boast the top run game in the NFL (179 yards per game) due to the two-headed attack of running backs Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory. New York will look to pound the ball up the gut of Chicago’s defense throughout the game, which will put the onus on Paea, as well as backup nose tackle Ego Ferguson, to hold their ground in the trenches. If Mangold and RG Willie Colon, a pair of eight-year veterans, get the better of Chicago’s nose tackles, the Jets could run wild against a shaky Bears run defense.
“These guys take pride in running the football,” coordinator Mel Tucker said. “They’ve got a number of really good players that they can give the ball to and get production in the run game. They have a very physical offensive line, a hard-nosed, ground-and-pound type of mentality. You can see that on tape with these guys. So we have to know which back is in the game and have to set an edge and build a wall inside.”
DE Willie Young vs. RT Breno Giacomini
After two weeks, Young’s 3.0 sacks were second most in the NFL. He’s been a dominant pass rusher in limited snaps and has also showed very well against the run. Young tonight is going to see plenty of field time on passing downs and, at this point, he’s the only consistent rush threat the Bears have. If he can beat Giacomini, who is a solid six-year veteran, it will go a long way toward keeping Jets QB Geno Smith uncomfortable in the pocket, which could lead to some costly turnovers.
Keys to the Game
-The players who can have the biggest impact for the Bears defense are DL Lamarr Houston and LB Jon Bostic.
Houston has just one tackle and zero sacks through the first two contests, yet he’s been stout against the run and leads the team with 7 QB pressures. He’s been extremely solid working at both defensive end and defensive tackle, where he’ll likely see even more action with Ratliff on the shelf.
Houston hasn’t made any standout plays but there’s a good chance that will end tonight. If he leverages against the run the way he has the first two weeks, while continuing to provide pressure off the edge, Houston can be the disruptive force that helps guide the Bears to victory.
Bostic has worked exclusively in the nickel package this year but with McClellin out, he’ll now slide into the SAM role in base defensive sets. In all likelihood, Bostic won’t come off the field against the Jets.
Through a year-plus, Bostic has taken incremental steps forward in his progress as a player, yet he still makes far too many mistakes. Bears fans are waiting for him to emerge as the playmaker he was billed to be when the franchise drafted him in the second round last year. If Bostic breaks out tonight, filling his gaps and making impact tackles, he’ll play a big part in keeping the Jets’ rushing attack under wraps.
-Like the Bills and 49ers before them, the Jets present Chicago’s defense with a tough zone-read challenge. QB Geno Smith is a dangerous runner who will make defenses pay if they focus too much on Johnson and Ivory.
The Bears have been very inconsistent stopping the zone-read this year and have been gashed on the ground because of it. While the Bills and 49ers have good rushing attacks, the Jets have the league’s best run game, so they’re on a different level. If Chicago’s defense isn’t fundamentally sound, particularly on the edges where contain is crucial, Smith and the zone-read game will pick up big chunks on the ground.
-WR Eric Decker is banged up, which puts an already-thin receiving corps in dire straits. If Decker can’t suit up, the Jets will turn to Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson to carry the passing game.
That should be music to the ears of Chicago corners Tim Jennings and Kyle Fuller, both of whom should have a number of playmaking opportunities tonight. If they can smother the Jets pass catchers, they should be able to take advantage of Smith, who has been prone to turnovers during his young career.
-The Bears put an eighth man in the box on 68 percent of the snaps last week. Expect that number to be even higher against New York. Ryan Mundy is going to serve as a fourth linebacker for most of the contest in an effort to keep the Jets’ run game from picking up steam.
For Mundy and Chris Conte, sound tackling will be key. We can expect at least a few plays in which Johnson or Ivory come through the front seven untouched. In those scenarios, particularly for a homerun threat like Johnson, taking proper angles of attack and wrapping up will be a must.
Bears 19, Jets 16
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.