Coming off a dominating performance in prime time, the Chicago Bears defense could be in for another big effort against a team that might have the worst offense in the NFL.
The visiting Bears look for a third consecutive victory as they face the offensively challenged Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
Though Chicago's offense has been inconsistent in 2012, its defense has a league-high 11 interceptions, is third with 15 sacks and ranks fifth in the NFL in scoring defense at 17.0 points per game. The Bears (3-1) flexed their defensive muscle Monday night when they returned two of Tony Romo's five interceptions for touchdowns in a 34-18 rout at Dallas.
"We have a ton of athletes, a great mixture of old and young, a great core,' said linebacker Lance Briggs, who returned a Romo shovel pass 74 yards for a third-quarter score. "We've got a lot of pride. We want to be consistent. We want to get turnovers. We want to get after the passer. We want to shut down the run.'
Chicago pretty much did all that against the Cowboys, who rank 31st in scoring (16.2 points per game). The Bears sacked Romo twice and held DeMarco Murray to 24 yards on 11 carries.
"Just outstanding play by our defense,' Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "It seemed like everybody had a say in it."
Only Jacksonville (1-3) has averaged fewer points (15.5) than the Cowboys. The Jaguars have been outscored 54-17 while totaling 329 yards in home losses to Houston and Cincinnati.
It's an area that must improve quickly with a hungry Bears team coming to town.
"We've got to perform better," said second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who has completed just 55.8 percent of his passes for 654 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. "We've got to execute better at a higher level. We've just got to get better there, get back to the drawing board, control what we can control and just get better from it.'
Gabbert has been sacked 12 times, including six during last Sunday's 27-10 loss to the Bengals. He threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Marcedes Lewis but the Jaguars were held to 212 total yards.
Maurice Jones-Drew was held to 38 yards on 13 carries one week after he ran for 177 and a TD in the Jaguars' 22-17 win at Indianapolis. He rushed 12 times for 55 yards and caught seven passes for 47 and a score during Jacksonville's 23-10 loss at Chicago on Dec. 7, 2008.
The Jaguars will likely be without receiver Laurent Robinson, who suffered his third concussion of the season last Sunday.
"We're obviously frustrated,' guard Uche Nwaneri said. "We don't want to be in this position. We put ourselves in this hole. We've got to dig our way out.'
Jacksonville's defense, meanwhile, has allowed 26 or more points in three games and faces another tough test against the tandem of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall.
After throwing for 309 yards with one touchdown and five interceptions in the previous two games, Cutler was 18 of 24 for 275 and two TDs at Dallas. His second touchdown went to a wide-open Marshall for 31 yards in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Cutler, however, could not avoid drawing more attention to himself on the sidelines when he got up and walked away while offensive coordinator Mike Tice was talking to him on the bench after a failed third-down conversion attempt. Cutler also was caught on camera yelling at tackle J'Marcus Webb - whom he also shoved - during a 23-10 loss at Green Bay on Sept. 13.
"I don't have to sit by him the whole game, do I?' said Cutler, who downplayed the latest situation. "Just because I walk off and go and get water it doesn't mean much.'
Cutler has thrown for 414 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions while going 0-2 against the Jaguars, whom he has not faced since 2008 with Denver.
Marshall was held to seven catches for 95 yards in the previous two games before he equaled that reception total for a season-high 138 yards against the Cowboys.
"He's a great receiver," Cutler told the Bears' official website. "When he plays within the system, he's hard to cover."
Marshall has caught 16 passes for 231 yards but has not scored in two games versus Jacksonville.
The Bears are making their first trip to Jacksonville since a 22-3 loss Dec. 12, 2004.
The Associated Press News Service
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