It was a hard-fought game on the road for the Chicago Bears in Sunday's 29-23 loss to the Colts. Marred by mistake after mistake on both sides of the football, the Bears eventually left Indianapolis with their fourth loss in the first five games of the 2016 season.
Injuries and overall lack of depth continue to be an issue in Chicago, especially on defense.
While playoff hopes are all but over at this point, it’s still an important week for the Bears, who head home to face the 1-3 Jaguars. Following Sunday's matchup, the Bears play two playoff-caliber opponents before their Week 9 bye.
Here’s what to watch for in Week 6.
Hoyer had a career game last Sunday in Indianapolis throwing for 397 yards and 2 TDs, with a QB rating of 120.0. This marks the third consecutive week in which the 30-year-old has thrown for 300 or more yards with a 100-plus rating.
Although the numbers on the stat sheet looked impressive, the talk surrounding Hoyer has been more about what he failed to accomplish. Hoyer missed a wide-open Alshon Jeffery in the end zone on the final offensive snap of the game, which cost the team an opportunity at picking up the road victory.
The offense has moved the ball consistently under Hoyer but the scoreboard hasn't reflected that success. The Bears rank 9th in the NFL in average yards per game (372.4) but just 30th in point scored per contest (17.0).
While reports continue to surface that it’s Hoyer’s job to lose even after Jay Cutler returns, it’s still a fluid situation, as one or two bad games could change that plan quickly.
Much was made about the loss of second-year receiver Kevin White, who was placed on Injured Reserve last week, but as many know, this league is built on a “next man up” philosophy.
Enter Meredith, a second-year undrafted free agent out of Illinois State, who began his collegiate career as a quarterback. The 6-3, long-limbed target caught some late-week hype going into the Week 5 matchup and he didn't disappoint, catching 9 passes for 130 yards, which included an impressive touchdown -- all with Alshon Jeffery on the field.
It was an auspicious start for a player who was not projected to make the roster by most. This week Meredith will face a much more talented defense with better defensive backs, so it will be interesting to see how he follows up his breakout performance.
Jeffery’s future uncertain and White is always on the shelf, so the emergence of Meredith would do an offense in search of young, long-term talent a lot of good.
Rushing Attack/Play Calling
Chicago's offense has continuously progressed each week this season and are coming off an outing in which they posted 522 total net yards. Yet the unit continues to leave 10-14 points on the board every week. Why?
The offensive line is improving but they're still inconsistent and sloppy, and have incurred far too many drive-stalling penalties. And despite an improving run game, the offense still is searching for balance.
In the Bears' only win of the season, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains ran the ball 45 percent of all offensive snaps. Last week, the play-calling split was back to a startling 31 percent in the rush department.
Jordan Howard is averaging 5.8 yards per carry this season, yet he had just 19 touches last Sunday.
Simply put, the Bears are a team that cannot count on their defense to shoulder the load in a lopsided time-of-possession battle, which can usually be solved by running the ball early and often. The Jaguars currently rank 17th against the run, giving up 105.8 yards per game. If the Bears are going to win Sunday, Loggains must find a 50/50 play-calling balance.
The Bears are banged up and have 16 players on the injury report this week.
In Week 5, the defense had just three active/healthy outside linebackers, and were missing Eddie Goldman in the middle, but managed a misleading five sacks. Yes, five sacks is a nice stat but the pressure up front is still spotty and sometimes non-existent, which too often leaves the team’s young defensive backs at risk.
To make matters worse, there’s a good chance the Bears could be without both Bryce Callahan and Deiondre Hall this week. If that's the case, Jacoby Glenn and Cre’Von LeBlanc, both of whom have struggled this year, will start alongside veteran Tracy Porter.
At safety, Chris Prosinski has wrestled the starting job from Harold-Jones Quartey, for the time being, which says a lot about how inconsistent HJQ has been this year. The team spent one of their three fourth-round picks on Deon Bush, who has been inactive all five games this season. With the struggles at the safety position, it will say a lot of Bush if he's a healthy inactive again.
At the end of the day, the Bears will be facing a passing attack that many deem underrated, which means those youthful defensive backs will have their hands full again. If the pass rush can't finish, Jaguars QB Blake Bortles could have his first big game of the young season.
Since the departure of former coordinator Dave Toub, Bears special teams have been in rapid decline. This year has been no different.
With stalwart kicker Robbie Gould cut just days before the season opener, the spotlight has been on his replacement, Connor Barth.
Barth is 5-for-8 on field goals this year, with his longest kick coming from 48 yards. It’s been a rough start for Barth and you have to wonder why they haven’t attempted to at least hold tryouts for the position.
The same goes for Pat O’Donnell, who was a Phil-Emery special in the sixth round back in 2014.
Currently O’Donnell ranks 33rd in net average (33.4 yards), which is dead last in the league, and ranks 30th with just 4 punts inside the 20.
These are two areas that may be low on the list of priorities for a 1-4 team but if Barth and O'Donnell continue to lick the boot heels of the rest of the league, they may both be out the door before season's end.
A Few Thoughts
- How can the Bears get WR Alshon Jeffery involved? With Hoyer under center the past three weeks, Jeffery’s targets have dropped off, which is not good for a Pro Bowl player in a contract year.
- RB Jordan Howard has broken 19 tackle on 63 touches. He also became the first Bears running back to have back-to-back 100 yard games since Matt Forte in 2013. Keep feeding this kid the ball.
- After a brutal first two games the offensive line has settled in nicely, giving up just two sacks in the last three games combined. Even against mediocre pass rushes, that’s a positive sign.