Jacksonville vs. Chicago Bears: Jaguars' Preseason Week 2 Game Preview
The Jacksonville Jaguars return to the field Thursday night after coming out of the first preseason game with a 16-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While the Jaguars put together a strong showing, their next opponent, the Chicago Bears, will prove to be a challenge.
Jaguar fans and media covering the team alike were glowing after a fantastic start by Blake Bortles and other young players, but against the Bears Jacksonville is hoping to show some consistency. After all, it’s one thing to shine in a game, but it’s more meaningful to stack a number of good performances in a row.
That’s what we’ll be looking for this week.
The Bears are coming off of a strong victory themselves, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 34-28. Most notable was the fact that Chicago was able to force two early turnovers by Nick Foles and the Eagles’ first-team offense.
The Jaguars will have to be prepared for a strong opposition. The nationally televised game will give fans from across the league the opportunity to see Bortles and what the Jaguar faithful hope is an up-and-coming Jacksonville squad.
Jaguars' Preseason Week 1 Recap
As I previously mentioned, the Jaguars put together a strong performance last week against the Buccaneers. Rookies Blake Bortles and Telvin Smith stole the show, as both made big plays in their first NFL game action.
Bortles completed seven passes for 117 yards and looked to have the poise of a veteran in the pocket. Afterwards Bortles credited his success to the offense's rhythm, saying, “For the most part we did what we wanted to do. […] We sped up the tempo and we were moving the ball a little bit” (per John Oehser, Jaguars.com)
Smith managed to tally only two tackles but his presence was much more than that. It seemed that Smith was around the ball on every play, flashing his speed and pursuit ability.
Overall, the Jaguars put together a strong game defensively allowing only 249 total yards. The team completed 16 of 23 pass attempts but converted on only three of 13 third downs.
As the Jaguars head into the second week of the preseason, we’ll be looking for Bortles and Smith to continue their success. Additionally, it’s important that the Jaguars improve upon their 2.8 yards-per-carry average on the ground and show more consistency on third down.
Offensive consistency and growth would be a good sign for this game.
News and Notes
Toby Gerhart Returns
Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com reports that starting running back Toby Gerhart has returned to practice after a hip injury and will be available for the Thursday night game against Chicago:
Gerhart, who has been battling a strained hip flexor for the past two weeks, practiced on Tuesday with the rest of the team in helmets and shoulder pads and said he’s looking forward to playing in the Jaguars’ second preseason game, Thursday night against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
This is great news for the Jaguars, who signed Gerhart to be their workhorse back. With Gerhart back the offense can finally get on track and will hopefully display some a consistent ability to move the ball.
Blake Bortles Gets Entire Second Half
ESPN’s Michael DiRocco is also reporting that Blake Bortles will get to build on his exciting debut by playing the entire second half of the team’s second preseason game:
Coach Gus Bradley announced Tuesday Chad Henne will play the first half of Thursday’s preseason game at Chicago and Bortles will play the second half. That falls in line with Bradley’s statement last Saturday that Bortles wouldn’t get reps with the first-team offense this week.
It also reinforces the fact Henne remains the team’s starting quarterback and Bortles still has some work to do.
While it’s nice to think that Bortles could unseat Henne, the truth is that he is still a rookie and has a lot to learn. This is the right move for the Jaguars and the young quarterback.
Offensive Line Shuffle
In an effort to get the best offensive line on the field possible, the Jaguars are trying some new things. According to Ryan O’Halloran of The Florida-Times Union, the Jaguars are trying rookie offensive guard Brandon Linder at center. O’Halloran has a theory about what could be happening here:
Some thoughts at what could be happening:
The Jaguars intend to start Linder at right guard and Brewster at center, but like another player (maybe Drew Nowak) at guard more than they like McClendon. In this roster math, they would keep Nowak as a reserve guard and make sure Linder is able to move over to center if called upon.
An interesting theory, though I think it’s unlikely the Jaguars would just move on from McClendon—a player who started the preseason opener for the team.
This news is actually really exciting, though. Linder is a talented rookie who has been battling for a spot at starting right guard. Any opportunity to get him on the field is a good opportunity to improve the offensive line.
|Cecil Shorts||WR||Right Hamstring||DNP|
|Allen Robinson||WR||Right Hamstring||DNP|
|Tandon Doss||WR||Right Ankle||DNP|
|Clay Harbor||TE||Left Calf||DNP|
Wide Receiver Ace Sanders and rookie defensive back Aaron Colvin are both on the non-football injury list.
*All injury statuses are current as of the teams closed practice on August 12, 2014 and are based upon the practice report of Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. These tables will be updated once the team releases its official game injury report.
Matchups to Watch
Dwayne Gratz vs. Brandon Marshall
Dwayne Gratz has been my breakout player for the Jaguars all summer, and now the second-year cornerback gets an opportunity to show off his ability against one of the best receivers in the league, Brandon Marshall.
Gratz gives up five inches to the 6'4" Marshall but plays with a strength and physicality that might allow him to challenge the Pro Bowl wideout. This matchup could be a barometer for Gratz to show how he will fare against the game’s elite.
Last week Marshall racked up five receptions on six targets and 31 yards. He projects to see a lot of action, so expect Bears QB Jay Cutler to look to Marshall and test Gratz early.
On the other hand, Gratz was able to hold Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson to one reception for 18 yards last week. If he can continue to show shutdown ability against big-name players, it could be a big year for young corner.
Mike Brewster vs. Bears’ Interior Pass Rush
Brewster seemed to struggle against the Buccaneers sending two snaps over quarterback Chad Henne’s head for big losses.
But that wasn’t the most concerning part.
In reviewing his game film, I thought Brewster struggled against interior linemen. In a few instances he looked completely overmatched against Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and, in general, looked uncomfortable identifying pressure.
Brewster badly needs a rebound game to prove to the coaching staff that he can be the man in the middle. Chicago features some strong interior defensive linemen in Jay Ratliff and Stephen Paea—both will test Brewster’s skill and resiliency.
Marqise Lee vs. Bears' Secondary
After drawing some criticism from the coaching staff, rookie wide receiver Marqise Lee will have to prove the team was right to select him in the 2014 NFL draft.
The Bears won’t make it easy on Lee, as veteran cornerback Charles Tillman figures to shadow him all over the field. Tillman has long been one of the best cover men in the league and will make Lee work for every inch.
What you’re looking for out of Lee here is for him to run cleaner routes, identify and exploit coverage and learn to maximize his skills to create options for the offense.
A successful day for Lee would be a few receptions and a good effort when run blocking.
It’s important to remember that the Jaguars are in the middle of a very big rebuilding effort. The preseason is more about analyzing and developing young talent than winning games.
That being said, I expect that the return of Gerhart to spark the first-team offense. Last week, Henne was unable to muster much out of his group, but with a more reliable running game behind him, he should be able to move the ball better. Moreover, I think we’ll see more of the same from Bortles—a methodical, poised quarterback who can take advantage of what the defense gives him.
This game could come down to the Jaguar defense. The Bears looked very efficient on offense last week, allowing only one sack and throwing for almost 400 yards. On the other side, the Jacksonville defense looked near dominant. It will be exciting to see these two strong units clash.
Overall, I think the Jaguars pull out another win due to Bortles’ ability to outperform Jimmy Clausen and Jordan Palmer. However, I anticipate the Bears’ first team will have a strong showing and should be able to outscore their Jaguars counterpart.
Prediction: Jaguars 24, Bears 17