A look at four keys for the Bears to beat the Tennessee Titans.
1. Stick with the run game
By a show of hands, how many people would rather watch Jay Cutler getting sat on by a big angry defensive lineman than hand the ball off 35 times? There should be no hands in the air. Sure, running the ball isn’t sexy, but when you have one of the league’s best running backs in Matt Forte and one of the league’s top backups in Michael Bush, there is no reason to get away from the run game. At least not while the team is trying to figure things out with the offensive line. The Bears can’t get caught like a mouse eyeing a piece of cheese on the trap when it comes to Brandon Marshall and the passing game. It may look like a delicious option, but beware the repercussions of going after it. Last week against the Panthers, the Bears came out and dominated the Panthers at the beginning of the game with the run. Forte had a few runs — including his touchdown — where he was barely touched. Then the Bears couldn’t help themselves and started slinging it. Stick to the basics, pound the Titans’ 28th-ranked run defense, and get the win.
2. Stay disciplined in pass defense
Through six games, not a bad thing could be said about the Bears’ safety tandem of Chris Conte and Major Wright. Then Conte made a bad read, took a bad angle, and the secondary was burned by Carolina receiver Brandon LaFell for 62 yards. Conte went on to have a bad game — including some questionably-flagged hits — and Steve Smith shredded Tim Jennings and the rest of the secondary all afternoon. We can’t pick on the secondary alone. The defensive line could have helped the cause by amping up the pressure on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. But when the front four is generating pressure, the defense will work so long as the back seven stay disciplined in their assignments.
3. Stay in run lanes and contain Chris Johnson
Titans running back Chris Johnson is an explosive player. All he needs is a seam and he can break a big run. And even though he hasn’t been the same player since rushing for 2,000 yards in 2009 and getting a big contract, he’s still dangerous. In four of the Titans’ eight games this year, Johnson rushed for 69 yards on 48 carries, a 1.4 yards-per-carry average. In the other four games, he’s amassed 526 yards on 83 carries, an average of 6.3 yards per carry. Translation: he’s a dangerous back who needs to be taken seriously. The last time the Bears faced Johnson — a 21-14 Titans victory in 2008 — Johnson rushed 14 times for just 8 yards, meaning they’ve had some success against him. The key to maintaining that success is making sure each defender fills his gap and not get caught out of position.
4. Use Forte out of the backfield more
Ever since the Bears acquired Marshall from the Dolphins in a trade at the outset of free agency, the talk has been of how much improved the Bears’ passing game would be. Aside from some big games from Marshall that would make Marty Booker blush, the passing game really hasn’t lit the league on fire. A big reason for that has been the offensive line, but another factor has been the offense limiting the use of Forte out of the backfield. Forte is a special player who is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. And just because you add a big-time player on the outside, that doesn’t mean you have to stop using the other weapon you have. In the past couple years, the Bears would split Forte out wide or let him run wheel routes past linebackers down the sideline. This year, the only way Forte is used in the passing game is through poorly-run screen passes or as a checkdown option where Cutler will just dump off the ball to him to bail the offense out. Neither option has been effective. If the Bears start using Forte’s full array of receiving talents, they can get this offense moving again.
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