If Week 1 of preseason is all about knocking off the rust and getting back into the rhythm of “live” football, Week 2 is about players raising their games and staking their claims for jobs. Exhibition encounters can be fairly dour occasions but last night’s matchup of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Chicago Bears certainly offered plenty of talking points.
Though the Bears clawed back from a two-score deficit in the fourth quarter to run out winners by a solitary point, the Jaguars will just as happy after this game. The biggest frustration for Jacksonville will likely be their inability to convert red zone visits into touchdowns, a potential focus area for the next week.
For the Bears there were some vastly improved defensive performances over the previous game. Up front Jared Allen made his debut in a Bears uniform and, in run defense at least, Shea McClellin started to look a little more at home at linebacker.
Jacksonville – Three Performances of Note
Intrigue Builds Under Center
The popular theory on Jacksonville’s plan under center is to have Blake Bortles sit and learn behind Chad Henne, entering the starting lineup when ready later in the season. After building on his impressive preseason bow, that date might be moving forward. Following an underthrow on his first pass, Bortles (29 snaps, +1.3 passing) fired a couple of impressive passes deep to the outside with his 29-yard gain to Kerry Taylor down the left side a particularly well-placed throw.
If the Jags are to continue their plan and not go early on Bortles’ strong preseason then they will want Henne to keep playing like he did with the first team. Not as impressive as Bortles, Henne (34 snaps, +0.3 passing) was still solid while hitting on passes in the short and intermediate area to keep the offense ticking over. You may not want to buy in too soon to a young quarterback and risk his development by throwing him, but if Bortles can maintain and even build on this strong start then the pressure will only grow on Henne to keep the young charger off the field.
Rough Outing for McClendon
The interior of the offensive line might be one area for concern in Jacksonville. New signing Zane Beadles is off to a solid enough start but right guard Jacques McClendon struggled again last night. After a disappointing showing against Tampa Bay a week ago, McClendon struggled again, adding pass protection woes to his troubles as a run blocker. There is always the caveat of sample size but through two games McClendon has played 56 snaps and registered a -6.8 overall grade which isn’t the sort of start you’d like. Lamarr Houston and Jeremiah Ratliff each got the better of McClendon twice while also adding a false start to his ropey start to preseason. Reserve RG Brandon Linder has put in two solid performances thus far (68 snaps, +2.1 overall) so if McClendon continues to struggle then his starting job may yet come under threat.
Hood Shines Again
After a disappointing start to his career as a first-round pick in Pittsburgh, Ziggy Hood has made a positive start to his time in a new scheme. A particularly ineffective 3-4 defensive end in every sense for the Steelers, Hood looks a different player this preseason. Following up a solid showing against the Bucs (21 snaps, +1.2 overall) Hood flashed in all three phases (22 snaps, +3.6 overall) and was arguably the best player in the game.
He got started against Kyle Long, driving across the Bears’ first-string RG, to get in on a tackle for loss that was wiped out by one of the many penalties in last night’s encounter. He would add to this with a smart play blocking the release of Shaun Draughn on a screen to force a throw away before adding a hurry and a sack (also nullified by a penalty) early in the third quarter to round out his display. Sometimes defenders are simply miscast in certain systems, at this stage it’s too early to say that Hood will turn things around, but the early signs are very promising.
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
Cutler Continues his Smooth Start
After the start Jay Cutler has made to preseason Bears fans might be wishing that the real action was closer than three weeks away. Cutler (14 snaps, +1.6 passing) built on his preseason debut with another high-percentage performance that culminated in a touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall early in the second quarter. Benefitting from excellent protection, Cutler stood tall in the pocket, patiently waiting for a receiver to work his way open in the end zone. That man was his favorite target as Jacksonville safety Winston Guy bolted past him to open up the middle of the field. Strong on short, intermediate and deep targets at this point, Cutler must be as eager as the fans to get the regular season started.
Strong on the Corners
After seeing first-round pick Kyle Fuller walk off after the opening kickoff it will have been encouraging for Bears fans to see their veteran starting corners perform so well. Targeted a combined eight times, Tim Jennings (29 snaps, +1.5 overall) and Charles Tillman (28 snaps, +1.5 overall) let up only four catches for 26 yards with a long gain of 10 yards by Allen Hurns against Tillman. The two combined to register three stops and were routinely in position to add to that if they’d allowed more completions. Nickel corner Kelvin Hayden was the man to let up the catches though, surrendering four for 46 yards and the Jaguars’ solitary scoring pass to Marqise Lee.
Bostic and McClellin Make Strides
The linebacker corps was a disaster for the Bears last season and they got off to a poor start against the Eagles last weekend. A few days on, though, and things will look a little brighter. New convert Shea McClellin put in a much improved display in run defense capitalizing both on unblocked situations as well as disrupting and defeating blocks to allow others to make plays around him. He still looks a little uncomfortable in coverage, but as a fresh convert from the defensive line, that should hardly be a surprise.
Last year’s second-round pick, Jon Bostic, had about as polar opposite a performance from the preseason opener as you could manage. After struggling in both run and pass defense at the weekend, Bostic made positive plays in both phases last night (39 snaps, +3.1 overall). Notching a pass defense on the goal line with the starters, he also beat Luke Joeckel on a pull block for a tackle for loss and a third-down stop earlier in the first quarter.
– Through two preseason games, Bortles has a +5.1 grade on passes targeted more than 10 yards in the air.
– Making his debut as a Bear at Soldier Field, Jared Allen registered a solitary hurry (on the second pass play of the game) but did his best work against the run, earning a +1.3 grade in run defense.
– Though a victim of the officials’ flag-happy nature down the field, Jags’ corner Dwayne Gratz led both teams with four defensive stops with strong work coming up on both the run game and short passes.
PFF Game Ball
If the Jaguars are to make big strides this season, their defensive line is likely to have a key role to play. If they continue to get performances this one from rotational players like Ziggy Hood, they could be more than a spoiler in the AFC South.
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