The 2019 Chicago Bears are not the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars…yet

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As the Bears reported to Bourbonnais three months ago for training camp, a question was asked nationally but dismissed locally: Is this team going to be a repeat of the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars?

As in: A team that achieved massive, unexpected success based on an elite defense one season, then the next fell off a cliff when its defense went from No. 1 in the league to, say, No. 6 or 7. That’s roughly what happened to the Jaguars from 2017, when they came within one quarter of reaching the Super Bowl, to 2018, when they sunk to a 5-11 record. 

It didn't seem likely that a team who's biggest perceived weakness was its kicker.  (Remember those halcyon days?)

Six games in to a 2019 season that already feels like it's falling short of expectations, are the Bears following the same path?

Roughly, you can make the case. The Bears’ defense is still good, ranking 6th in DVOA, but hasn’t been as dynamic with worse injury luck (Akiem Hicks going on injured reserve) and worse turnover luck (the Bears are on pace for 27 takeaways, 10 fewer than they had in 2018). The Jaguars were the NFL’s No. 1 defense by DVOA in 2017, then slipped to No. 6 in 2018. The Bears, of course, were No. 1 in defensive DVOA (and just about every other measure) in 2018. 

And a Bears offense that was 20th in DVOA last year enters Week 8 ranked 25th. On offense, Jacksonville was 16th in 2017, then 30th in 2018. 

That Jaguars team started 2018 with a 3-1 record, too, just like the 2019 Bears. 

Before you start panicking, though, there are some important differences. First: While that Jaguars team put up 480 yards (!) in beating the New England Patriots (!!) by 11 (!!!) in Week 2, it lost games in Weeks 5 and 6 by a combined 49 points. While the final score of the Bears’ loss to the Saints does not tell the whole story, the 11-point defeat was the first of Matt Nagy’s tenure to be by more than seven points. 

The 2018 Jaguars had an incredibly difficult stretch of its schedule, which likely served to tear that team apart: Jacksonville played five consecutive games against teams that made the playoffs (Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia and Indianapolis) and lost them all, then lost to a Steelers team that barely missed the playoffs to drop to 3-7. The Bears’ schedule is difficult, but not that difficult: The Chargers, Lions and Giants all lie ahead and are not likely to make the playoffs. 

Blake Bortles had a DVOA of -18.9 last year (meaning he was 18.9 percent worse than the league’s average quarterback last year, who was essentially Kirk Cousins), which is not as bad as Mitch Trubisky has been so far in 2019 (-9.8 DVOA). Trubisky is not in the Bortles zone yet. 

And that Jaguars team did have a volatile locker room that probably did more to generate blowout losses than create an atmosphere to fix things. The Bears do not believe they have the same volatility, though we haven’t seen how this team with no “turds,” as Nagy put it back in August, will handle falling short of expectations. 

On the whole, though, the Jaguars-to-Bears comparison is not totally fair yet. With 10 games left to play, the Bears have plenty of time to fix this season…or let it slide into Jaguars territory. 

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