Four Downs: Keys to beating the Texans (11/11/12)

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Jay Cutler will have even less time to throw Sunday against NFL sack-leader J.J. Watt and the Texans defense.
Jay Cutler will have even less time to throw Sunday against NFL sack-leader J.J. Watt and the Texans defense.

A look at four keys for the Bears to beat the Houston Texans.

1. Beat the “shot clock”

This isn’t basketball, so there is no shot clock. And no, I’m not talking about the play clock. For the purpose of this key, I’m using the term “shot clock” to refer to the amount of time between the snap of the ball and the forward progression of the ball, whether it be a pass or run. When the Bears are on offense, they have a limited shot clock. Their protection is bad, both from the offensive line and the tight ends and backs, and Jay Cutler also has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long. In addition to their own woes, the Bears have to deal with Texans defensive end — and NFC Defensive Player of the Year candidate — J.J. Watt, who leads the NFL with 10.5 sacks. The Bears don’t have the luxury to drop Cutler back and take deep shots down the field. They have to get rid of the ball on pass plays in three seconds or less, and they have to complement the quick passing game with a steady dose of the run game.

2. Generate pressure up the middle

Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has been sacked just 10 times this year, second-fewest in the NFL behind Eli Manning. The Texans have as solid an offensive line as it gets in the current era of NFL blocking. But when pressure does get to Schaub, he doesn’t have the mobility to beat defenses with his legs. This is a game in which Henry Melton, Stephen Paea, and possibly Nate Collins or Amobi Okoye (whoever is active) can come up big if they can collapse the middle of the pocket. If Schaub has defenders in his lap, he can’t deliver the ball to some of his downfield targets like Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. It’ll force Schaub to step towards Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, Corey Wootton or Shea McClelin on the outside for a potential sack. Plus, Schaub has negative-10 yards rushing this season.

3. Force the Texans into third and long

Easier said than done, right? But if the Bears can force the Texans to convert on third-and-seven or longer, it’ll improve their chances of winning by leaps and bounds. What happens when opposing offenses need long distances to pick up first downs is that it limits the responsibilities of the Bears defense. They don’t have to worry as much about Texans running back Arian Foster — one of the best backs in the league — when the Texans need seven or more yards for a first down. The defensive line can pin its ears back and get up the field trying to create extra pressure on Schaub while only really needing to protect against screen passes. The Bears secondary then doesn’t have to cover as long and the Bears can drop seven into coverage as opposed to bringing extra pressure with a blitz (although blitzes can certainly make things more confusing on the offense).

4. Protect the football

When it comes to a matchup against one of the best teams in the NFL, every possession is precious. Those count even more against a team with as good an offense as the Texans, meaning the Bears offense is going to have to pull its own weight this week. They’re going to have to put points on the board in the event that the Bears defense can’t keep up its pace of scoring on that side of the ball. Additionally, winning the turnover battle will be that much more difficult this week because the Texans take such great care of the ball. The Bears lead the league with a plus-16 turnover ratio, but the Texans are No. 6 with plus-8. Schaub has thrown just four interceptions this year, tied for fourth-fewest behind Tom Brady, Robert Griffin III, and Kevin Kolb.

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