The Chicago Bears currently sit atop the NFC North, second in the NFC, at 7-1. Up to this point, the Bears have faced relatively weak opponents (15-28 overall opponent record) and have physically dominated on defense en route to their current standing.
Since a Week-2 embarrassment on Thursday Night Football at the hands of the hated rival Green Bay Packers, the Bears have completely flipped the script and are now sole leaders in the North. The current six-game winning streak has given way to a flood of national recognition and has Lovie Smith’s team now considered to be a Super Bowl contender by many.
It's always good to stack wins, and good teams find ways to win against weaker teams no matter the circumstances. The Bears have played to their strengths and have proved superiority over the AFC South and the reeling teams in the NFC (Carolina, Dallas and Detroit).
But the end of a long vacation for the Bears comes this week when they welcome the Houston Texans to Soldier Field. Both teams boast 7-1 records, and both teams have an embarrassing loss on national television to—you guessed it—the Packers.
Coming off a 51-20 win over a struggling Tennessee Titans team, the Bears have been waiting for another opportunity to take down a top dog in the NFL. This is their chance.
The Houston Texans’ defense
The Houston Texans have done a tremendous job adding balance on offense and defense. They’re a team that has a recognizable player at nearly every spot on the field. The team is led by one of the League's most underrated coaches—in my eyes—in Gary Kubiak. Kubiak and the Texans hired Wade Phillips, which has proved to be a significant signing for this team.
The Texans play a 3-4 defense and play in an array of different sets that most teams have yet to completely figure out. The defense is anchored by defensive end JJ Watt, who along with our own Charles Tillman, is considered one of the early favorites for the Defensive Player of the Year.
Watt is a large end with overwhelming strength and great football instincts. He can consistently beat a double team and has the awareness to disengage a block and read the quarterback to potentially bat the ball down at the line of scrimmage. His 10.5 sacks lead the League. He also has 10 pass deflects, the most in the NFL. Watt is versatile and can play on the outside but has mostly played inside against the opposing guard.
The Texans’ weak spot is their secondary, which ranks fourth in pass defense but has proven to be vulnerable to a balanced passing attack. Former Bears’ strong safety Daniel Manning is an important part of their defense and has added an element of speed in the secondary.
The corners, Kareem Jackson and Jonathon Joseph, are extremely vulnerable in one-on-one situations, but they have great talent and are capable of making a play on the ball in any passing situation.
The Texans lost Brian Cushing, but still have a very stout set of linebackers, especially against the run, who can cover the middle of the field. Brooks Reed and Conner Barwin have proven to be top level linebackers with the ability to rush the passer. Together, both outside linebackers have 4.5 sacks.
The Houston Texans’ offense
The Texans’ offense is built off the ability to run the ball. The Texans line is arguably the best in the League, and Arian Foster has benefitted from the avenues the line creates, especially in the Red Zone. Foster currently leads the League with 11 touchdowns (10 rushing, one receiving).
The Texans will be without RB Ben Tate, which should just up Foster’s touches in this game. The Texans consistently run the ball and don't move away from it. Expect a heavy dose of Foster—say, 25-30 touches—even against the Bears’ stout defensive front.
The entirety of the Texans’ passing attack starts with two players who have exceptional ball skills and are a major threat down the field; the first being WR Andre Johnson, who is not the player he once was, especially down in the Red Zone with only 2 touchdowns.
The other is tight end Owen Daniels, who has five receiving touchdowns and has established himself as a legit down-the-field threat. Daniels is second on the team with 478 receiving yards.
Matt Schaub has done everything the Texans have asked him to do, which is to essentially maintain productivity and don't try to do too much. Schaub is a tough player with a strong arm and great pocket presence. He averages 230 yards per game passing and has thrown for 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s averaging a 98.8 passer rating this season, which shows his effectiveness.
This should be a game dominated on the defensive side of the football. Both teams have similar personnel, with similar skill sets, and it should make for a game where both teams have to fight for every yard. The offense that can assert its will more will most likely win this game. The Bears will have to maintain a steady balance on offense, limit penalties and tackles for losses as much as they can.
The Texans need to limit turnovers and put the Bears in bad positions where their skill players can't be as effective as they would like. JJ Watt should dominate, but he should not be the deciding factor in this game. It's a neck-and-neck matchup, with no clear favorite.
This game could also potentially be a Super Bowl preview, and with both teams at 7-1, it should make for an interesting game for the entire nation to see on Sunday Night Football.