A preview and breakdown of the matchup between the Bears and Titans on Nov. 4, 2012.
Bears offense vs. Titans defense
The Bears basically pushed the Panthers around in the beginning of last week’s game and were able to pick up anything on the ground they desired. Then the desire faded, they got too cute with their passing offense, and it went downhill from there. There’s a difference between executing a game plan that’s desired and running one that is best for the team. The Bears seem to prefer the former to the latter. There’s no reason why the Bears should be attempting to stray from the run game if it is working and especially if the offensive line is getting into a rhythm. The Titans are ranked No.30 on defense, No.29 against the pass and No.28 against the run. Could the Bears throw the ball against the Titans? If the line protects Jay Cutler well, absolutely. They could rack up over 350 yards through the air with Cutler’s big arm and Marshall’s big-play ability. But not if the offensive line puts Cutler in peril. The Bears need to pound the rock with Matt Forte and Michael Bush and only mix in some pass plays. The Titans have a laundry list of players on the injury report. Among the most notable is defensive end Kamerion Wimbley, who is battling a toe problem but is probable for the game. He and end Derrick Morgan will be bringing pressure off the edge against Bears tackles J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi, who have both struggled this season. On the second level, linebacker Akeem Ayers is second on the team in tackles and has two sacks as well. The Titans have a pair of solid safeties in strong safety Jordan Babineaux, who leads the team in tackles, and free safety Michael Griffin, who has two fumble recoveries and is fourth in tackles. Cornerback Jason McCourty leads the team with two interceptions.
Bears defense vs. Titans offense
The Bears defense is the only thing keeping them going strong at 6-1 right now. They may have yielded 416 yards of offense to the Panthers last week, but they held them mostly out of the end zone. And they certainly weren’t helped by their own offense, which couldn’t sustain any drives or take much time off the clock. The defense is playing with a lot of confidence right now. The defensive line has been attacking quarterbacks in waves all season and the Bears have two Pro Bowl cornerbacks as it stands right now. The Titans are beat up on offense. Their injury report has listed five offensive linemen, two wide receivers, and starting quarterback Jake Locker. The second-year quarterback has been out the last four games with a shoulder injury. Veteran Matt Hasselbeck, who knows the Bears well, will take his place. The Bears have to be mindful of an array of options at Hasselbeck’s disposal. Wide receivers Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright are explosive options and Nate Washington has become a reliable target as well. Tight end Jared Cook has a big, athletic body and he’s a cause for concern, too. And while the Bears definitely need to be mindful of the passing game, they can’t forget running back Chris Johnson, one of the most explosive players in the NFL. Johnson put up 2,000 rushing yards a couple seasons ago, and while he hasn’t been as explosive since getting his new contract following that season, he’s been working his way back into form. Johnson can be a hit-or-miss player depending on the defense. 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. Staying disciplined and maintaining their gap responsibilities is a priority for the Bears defense when defending Johnson and the run game.
It’s hard to gauge if Devin Hester’s revelation into why he has struggled returning kicks this year has been solved or not, at least after one week. Prior to the Panthers’ game, the kick returner said he knew why he was struggling and what he needed to do to fix it. But then the Panthers squib-kicked every kickoff and Hester did not get the opportunity to return any of them. The fact that the Panthers wanted to keep the ball away from Hester wound up helping give the Bears offense great field position — on which they could not capitalize — but that’s an advantage for the Bears special teams every time. Titans wide receiver Darius Reynaud handles the kickoff and punt return duties. He’s averaging just 7.7 yards per punt return but he’s got a 25.8-yard average on kickoff returns and he’s also returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown this season. The Bears coverage teams, which have been solid this season, have to be mindful of him. Titans kicker Rob Bironas, who holds the NFL record with 8 field goals made in a game, has been a reliable kicker throughout his career, converting on 85.9% of his field goal attempts. Bears kicker Robbie Gould, by contrast, has converted 85.8% of his career attempts. Titans punter Brett Kern is third in the NFL with a 43.3 net punting average. He’s also dropped 15 punts inside the 20, ranking him sixth, and has only had 91 return yards against him, ranking him in the Top 10 in that category. As strange as it is to say this, the Titans hold the slight edge on special teams.
The Bears may be the 6-1 team entering this contest but the Titans are in prime position to pull off an upset. They have a veteran quarterback leading the team who has faced the Bears many times in his career and knows their tendencies. They have a plethora of options in the passing game and a dynamic running back in the backfield. The only thing holding them back at this point is a defense that is one of the worst in the NFL. All season long the Bears defense has had to carry its offense, but this might be one game in which the offense needs to stand up for itself, especially since the Titans special teams is every bit as good, if not better, than the Bears’. When a team is 3-5 and fighting for an outside shot at a playoff spot, as the Titans are, they have to protect their home field at all costs. The Bears are the better team, to be sure, but it’s not always the better team that wins on Sundays. The Bears have to guard against a letdown for the second straight week with tough matchups against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers coming in the next two weeks. Although I feel the Titans hold the intangibles advantage and will have every opportunity to pull off the upset, I was inspired by that “good teams find ways to win” mantra that the Bears had after last week’s near disaster. Somehow, they walk away from this one 7-1.
Final Score: Chicago 23, Tennessee 20