Bears offense vs. Titans defense
The Bears offense has played so efficiently up to this point that they’re currently the fourth-highest scoring offense in the league. They average 219 passing yards per game, the 13th-best total, and they’re 11th in the league with 114 rushing yards per game. Problem is, not only will they be facing one of their stiffest challenges to date, but they’ll likely be doing so without their starting quarterback. I have every confidence that Rex Grossman has the talent to succeed within this offense, but it might take more than a week to do so. I like to contrast NFL football with the Madden video game. In this instance, you cannot insert the backup quarterback into a prolific offense and continue having success as you would in a video game. Grossman may not have more than a week to prove himself, though, as Kyle Orton’s sprained ankle has shown great improvement in just one week. His injury is certainly much less severe than originally thought. One report said he’d miss up to four weeks, but since Orton is listed as doubtful and not out, he could return to the lineup next week. The Titans’ defense is one of the top units in the league. Led by one of the best defensive tackles in the game, Albert Haynesworth, the Titans have a stout run defense. But their pass defense isn’t too shabby, either. They currently lead the league with 13 interceptions and the defense is sixth in the league with 22 sacks. Even with Orton in the game, those are scary statistics.
Bears defense vs. Titans offense
The one advantage the Bears’ defense might have against the Titans’ offense is that they’re better at stopping the run than the pass. This Titans offense begins and ends with their backfield. Together, LenDale White and rookie Chris Johnson give the Titans a perfect 1-2 punch of power and speed. White leads the league with 10 rushing touchdowns and Johnson — who had a rookie-best 4.24 time in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine — is a great change of pace back. Like the New Orleans Saints do with Reggie Bush, the Titans use Johnson as a receiver out of the backfield as he’s second on the team in receptions with 24. Quarterback Kerry Collins hasn’t had to do much but be a game manager with the success of the run game. It might be safe to say — then again, we don’t know for sure — that Collins won’t pick apart the Bears’ struggling pass defense. Collins averages just 25 pass attempts and 154 yards per game. He’s thrown just 3 touchdown passes to match his 3 interceptions. Collins’ top two options aren’t even receivers. Tight end Bo Scaife leads the team with 32 receptions, and Johnson, of course, is second. The Titans’ top three wide receivers are Brandon Jones, Justin McCareins, and Justin Gage. All three are averaging less than 2.5 catches per game. Stopping this offense won’t be easy, but the matchup is much more favorable than it is against most other teams.
Now’s the time for Devin Hester and the special teams to have a coming out party. The Titans rank 25th in punt coverage and 31st in kickoff coverage. It doesn’t get much worse than that. Titans coach Jeff Fisher said earlier this week that he doesn’t see Devin Hester struggling. He said Hester is “very close” to returning one. In a game as tight as this one should be, special teams play a pivotal role and it’s because of these units that I feel the Bears will keep this game close. The Bears will increasingly need to rely on the legs of both Robbie Gould and Brad Maynard to establish field position, and Hester will have to influence the legs of Titans kicker Rob Bironas and punter Craig Hentrich. Tennessee’s Chris Carr averages 28 yards per kickoff return, which is 11th-best in the league, but he only averages 10 yards per punt return, which is 24th in the league. The Bears’ coverage teams will have to be solid as well.
Normally, when a warm weather team comes to Chicago in November, there’s an added advantage because of the mythical “Bear weather”. But as of Saturday night, the temperature at kickoff is supposed to be near 40 degrees. The Titans have been riding high this year by playing sound, fundamental football. There’s one thing the Bears can do that would give them a shot at handing Tennessee their first loss of the season, and that’s doing something they’ve done better than any team in the league this year: force turnovers. But they can’t even count on that as the Titans are the best in the NFL at taking care of the ball with a +10 turnover ratio. I’ve tried adding up all the variables and finding a path to victory, but the verdict always invariably returns the same. While the Bears can win this game because the football bounces in funny ways sometimes, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it happening. A new quarterback under center which will indubitably affect the continuity of the Bears’ offense, a Titans defense that leads the NFL in interceptions, and a fearsome 1-2 punch at running back that is third in the NFL in rushing yards per game spells trouble for the Bears.
Final Score: Tennessee 23, Chicago 20