|Quarterback Jay Cutler has led the Bears to two straight wins after a Week 2 loss at Green Bay. (US Presswire)|
Bears at Jaguars -- Week 5
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla. (grass, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. (Fox)
Spread: Bears by 5
Forecast: High 80s and sunny
Records: Bears (Overall: 3-1, NFC North 0-1); Jaguars (Overall 1-3, AFC South: 1-1)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Dec. 7, 2008: Bears 23, Jaguars 10; Dec. 12, 2004: Jaguars 22, Bears 3. Series record: Bears hold 3-2 edge. Home team has won the past 3.
What matters: The Bears are surging after a big Monday night road win at Dallas and face the Jaguars, who are led by RB Maurice Jones-Drew. Jacksonville has beaten only Indianapolis while losing to the Vikings, Texans and Bengals. The Bears' biggest worry might be the weather at 87 degrees, hotter than anything they've experienced since training camp. The Bears bring in the league's 11th-ranked defense in terms of yardage. They are fifth in scoring defense and face a ball-control, short-passing offense rated dead last in the league and 31st in passing. The Bears have been strong defensively in all areas, forcing a league-best 14 turnovers, recording 15 sacks (third in the NFL) and ranking third against the run. The biggest Bears' weakness has been protecting QB Jay Cutler, but the Jaguars have recorded a league-worst two sacks.
Who matters: Running back Matt Forte aggravated an ankle injury against Dallas but finished and should start again against a Jaguars' 4-3 defense ranked 30th stopping the run. Cutler will try to put consecutive strong games together for the first time this season. Cutler has been tough later in games for the first time since he became a Bear, with a 108.3 fourth-quarter rating (seventh in the NFL). WR Brandon Marshall's contributions have been key, as he ranks seventh in receiving yards (352) and has had big games in all three Bears' wins. Defensively, CB Tim Jennings leads the NFL in interceptions with four while DT Henry Melton is tied for eighth with four sacks -- two more than Jacksonville's entire defense -- and goes against a Jaguars' offensive line that has allowed Blaine Gabbert to be sacked a dozen times.
Key matchups: WLB Lance Briggs vs. RB Maurice Jones-Drew. Briggs gets a two-gap assignment often in the Bears scheme and has more run responsibilities. The challenge for Briggs will be maintaining his run fit while also making the tackle on the powerful, squatty star back. He has to wrap up while taking the right tackling angle. ... MLB Brian Urlacher vs. Jacksonville FB Greg Jones. The Jaguars are going to try to pound the Bears with Jones-Drew and their 6-1, 265-pound lead fullback will be a load for Urlacher, who struggled even in his younger days occasionally stopping the running game against teams with big, physical fullbacks. ... Bears NT Stephen Paea vs. G Uche Nwaneri. Nwaneri is a dependable five-year starter, a little light for today's guards in the NFL. Paea is coming off what he thought was his worst pass rushing game so far. But the challenge in this one will be penetration to force Jones-Drew to run sideways or make more than one cut. ... WR Brandon Marshall vs. Jacksonville CB Aaron Ross. Ross, the former Giants CB, is physical and at 6-1, 205 pounds, more equipped than most to combat the 6-5 Marshall. However, he's still giving up four inches and may not have the downfield speed to stay with Marshall. Marshall has excelled on third down in particular, ranking eighth in the league with seven third-down catches for a 17.9-yard average.
Injuries of note: DE Julius Peppers has an ankle injury but is expected to play despite getting time off during the week. ... WR Earl Bennett has seen little time in the offense over the past two weeks in practice and his availability will be a game-time decision. ... FB-TE Evan Rodriguez will be unavailable for the second straight game with a knee sprain. The Bears used Matt Spaeth and Kyle Adams at his spot last week, blocking out of the backfield. Spaeth fared better.
Inside stuff: After facing 3-4 defenses three of the first four games, the Bears' offensive line should look sharper at run blocking. They are going against a more familiar look with the 4-3 and should be comfortable running stretch plays that Forte and Michael Bush like running. They practice all off-season and training camp against the 4-3, so this should make for crisper victories at the point of attack leading to bigger holes.
Connections: Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice was a Jaguars assistant from 2006-09. ... P Adam Podlesh came to the Bears in free agency after four seasons in Jacksonville. ... DT Nate Collins spent the previous two seasons with the Jaguars.
Stat you should know: The Bears are 6-2 under coach Lovie Smith the week following a Monday night game. But under Smith they have never played a road game the week following a Monday night road game like this week. ... The Bears have won eight of Cutler's last nine starts.
Record watch: With Devin Hester still needing one TD return to tie Deion Sanders' all-time record, he may have his best chance yet. Though Jaguars punter Bryan Anger is second in average punt (52.0 yards per punt), only four punters have had a higher percentage of returned punts. Translated: He outkicks the coverage, and that's always dangerous against Hester.
Looking ahead: The Bears have their bye week and will not play again until a home Monday night game against Detroit on Oct. 22.
Prediction: Bears 19, Jaguars 16
Follow Bears reporter Gene Chamberlain on Twitter @CBSBears.