Brian Urlacher is a week from the bye. A week from giving his knee a much needed sabbatical from the rigors of an NFL campaign. Fitting that he’s now preparing for his sternest test of 2012.
What, you say? How can the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, the league’s worst offense through four games, present a greater test for Urlacher than the high-flying Green Bay Packers and supremely-talented Dallas Cowboys? Three reasons:
- After a messy game plan from Jags head coach Mike Mularkey Sunday (get used to those, Jacksonville), only handing the ball to Maurice Jones-Drew 13 times, Mularkey has pledged to rectify the issue. The Bears have not faced an opponent truly committed to the run for four quarters yet but they should expect one in northern Florida Sunday. That means Urlacher will have to shed blockers and hit the holes or MJD will end up in one-one-ones with Chris Conte.
- Blaine Gabbert is being brought along slowly and that has translated to an abundance of screens. Sunday Gabbert completed 9 of his 23 passes to MJD and fullback Greg Jones. The week previous Gabbert completed 4 of his 10 passes to the two backs. Urlacher’s most definitive strength has been his ability to run sideline-to-sideline faster than any other linebacker in the game. The Jags’ screen game will have him running.
- Gabbert also has a solid tight end safety valve in Marcedes Lewis. After watching Jason Witten basically own the middle of the field Monday night, I’d imagine Mularkey will release Lewis behind the linebackers and give Gabbert quick, easy throws.
Again, this is not a good offense. They are statistically the worst in the sport. But they do have strengths and those strengths – Jones-Drew, screen game, tight end – each will target the middle linebacker in Lovie Smith’s cover-2 system. And until his number is retired at Soldier Field, that means Brian Urlacher.