A preview and breakdown of the matchup between the Bears and Texans on Nov. 11, 2012.
Bears offense vs. Texans defense
Most of the production from the Bears offense this season has been a direct result of their success on defense. In the season opener against the Colts, the defense picked off Andrew Luck 3 times and recovered two fumbles while Jay Cutler threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns and Matt Forte and Michael Bush combined for three touchdown runs. Against the Cowboys, the Bears intercepted Tony Romo five times — bringing back two for touchdowns — and Cutler finished with 275 yards and two touchdowns. The next week against the Jaguars, the defense smothered the Jacksonville offense, held them to 3 points, returned two more interceptions for touchdowns, and the Bears offense benefited from that with 501 yards of offense, 292 through the air and two passing touchdowns from Cutler. And then against the Titans last week, the Bears defense had five takeaways and two scores (one coming off a punt block) and Cutler had 229 yards passing with three touchdowns to Brandon Marshall. Against the Packers, Lions, and Panthers, however, when the defense wasn’t leading the way with turnovers and points scored, the Bears offense has floundered. This is the one — and only — concern that enters my mind when trying to find a reason the Bears can’t win this game. The Bears offense will have to carry their own weight in this game. It won’t be easy against one of the top defenses in the NFL. By now, everybody knows about Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who leads the league with 10.5 sacks. But the entire defense brings pressure as the Texans are ranked third in the NFL — tied with the Bears — with 25 sacks. Nine different players have recorded at least a half-sack. Antonio Smith lines up opposite Watt in the Texans’ 3-4 defense and he has four sacks. The good news is that Shaun Cody, their nose tackle, is out with a rib injury. On the second level, the Texans have talented playmakers at linebacker. Bradie James (one half-sack), Connor Barwin (2 sacks), Brooks Reed (2.5 sacks), and rookie Whitney Mercilus (3 sacks) — whom the Bears passed on to select Shea McClellin — have rushed the passer as a unit extraordinarily well. In the secondary, the Texans have a cornerback whom Brandon Marshall has put in the Top 3 in Jonathan Joseph, who has two interceptions on the season. Kareem Jackson, their other corner, has three picks. The Bears are very familiar with Danieal Manning, who lines up at safety, from his five years with the team. And the other safety, Glover Quin, leads the team in tackles. This is one of those games that rests squarely on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Mike Tice. If he doesn’t call plays that will allow Cutler to get rid of the ball quickly and utilize Forte and Bush, I fear there could be little pieces of Cutler all over Soldier Field when the game is over.
Bears defense vs. Texans offense
Everybody is wondering how the Bears will respond when their defense hits that proverbial wall — and it’s bound to happen, despite the impressive streak it has been on. At some point, the defense will face an offense that is up to the task of protecting the football from ball punches and interceptions, and this could be the week that happens. The Texans offense is the best one the Bears have faced since they lost to the Packers in Week 2. Matt Schaub is a solid and efficient quarterback. He’s the seventh-rated passer, he’s thrown the fourth-fewest interceptions, and he’s been sacked the second-fewest amount of times. The Texans offensive line is one that should make Bears fans salivate (wishing the Bears had it) unless the Bears defensive line plays out of its mind this week. Schaub has a lot of weapons at his disposal. Andre Johnson is still one of the Top 5 receivers in football despite having a relatively modest season by his standards. Tight end Owen Daniels (who is questionable with a back injury) is a solid tight end who is a reliable target over the middle. Wide receiver Kevin Walter is one of those unspectacular yet dependable receivers who does the dirty work and gets the job done. The Texans also like to use their backs in the passing game. Fullback James Casey is fourth on the team with 21 receptions for 211 yards and a score. Running back Arian Foster has 12 catches on the season, but he’s even more dangerous carrying the ball. Foster is so much more than just a fantasy football back. He averages four yards per carry, has ten touchdowns on the season, can grind out the tough yards, and has enough versatility to break a long run (his current long on the season is 46 yards). A team that can both run and pass — and can protect the quarterback in doing so — is a dangerous one and one that is difficult to beat. The margin for error for the Bears defense is razor thin. It’s all going to start up front for them and they’ll need monumental efforts from Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, Henry Melton and Stephen Paea. Not to mention, the second wave of the defensive line — Corey Wootton, Shea McClellin, Nate Collins/Amobi Okoye — will have to apply the same consistent pressure as the first unit in order to keep Schaub uncomfortable in the pocket. A lot has been made this week about whether Charles Tillman will be at the game because his wife is due to have a baby any day now. But Tillman and his teammates remain confident he’ll be there. It’s a good thing, too, because both he and Tim Jennings will be needed.
If the Bears are going to accentuate and take advantage of one matchup in this game, this is going to be the one. According to Football Outsiders, who rank special teams on a variety of categories, the Bears have the No. 1 special teams unit in the NFL and the Texans are ranked dead last. Outside of kicker Shayne Graham — the fifth-most accurate kicker in NFL history right behind Robbie Gould — the Texans have holes in their special teams. The Texans have allowed a punt return this year and punter Donnie Jones has not had great success dropping punts inside the 20 or causing opposing punt returners to call for a fair catch. Every week we ask the question: “Is this the game that Devin Hester finds the end zone on special teams?” and every week we’ve been denied. Last week against the Titans he nearly broke a punt return for a score but a few of his blockers stopped to watch him rather than finish off their assignments to get him into the end zone. In a prime time matchup against the worst-ranked special teams, this could be Hester’s best chance unless the Texans completely kick away from him.
Had this game been scheduled to be played in Houston, I wouldn’t have second-guessed myself and would have declared the Texans the sure thing. Not too many people feel the Bears can win this game. As it stands now, the Bears are favored by just one point, and considering home teams generally get 3 points for homefield advantage, that means Vegas — and the gamblers who have chosen to wager on the game — feel the Texans are actually the better team. That should suit the Bears fine. They enjoy being the underdog and like it when the national media casts doubt over their success and overlooks them. Lovie Smith plays the “us against the world” card as well as any coach in the NFL and it has been effective for him — and the team — for many years now. The Texans normally play indoors and on turf, so the fact that the game will be played outdoors on grass, which has been conducive to slips and falls, has to be an advantage in the Bears favor. It’s not supposed to be particularly cold by any means — in fact, it is a bit unseasonably warm this weekend. But nobody likes to play in cold weather no matter what franchise they play for. In fact, Brandon Marshall, who played high school football in Florida, admitted to not liking the cold weather and now would not be the time to test the cold-weather endurance of one of the Bears’ most important offensive weapons. I’ve gone back and forth on this game all week and have changed my mind a couple of times — mostly due to the major problems the Bears have in pass protection being exposed against one of the top defenses in the league. And I think I’ve finally settled on a winner with the aide of homefield advantage and a belief that first-year offensive coordinator Mike Tice will be sensible in his play calling to ensure that Cutler is not left on the train tracks for too long.
Final Score: Chicago 19, Houston 16