The Bears, at 6-1 and atop the NFC North, will face their third of four AFC South opponents this season on Sunday on the road against the 3-5 Tennessee Titans. This will be just the 11th time the two franchises have met, with the series tied at five games apiece.
The Titans head into this week down but not quite out, looking for a big win against a big team at home. Veteran Pro Bowl QB Matt Hasselbeck will start for Tennessee as Jake Locker continues to be sidelined with a shoulder injury (on his non-throwing arm).
Despite showing his age in terms of arm strength and play-making ability, Hasselbeck has a respectable 63.8 completion percentage this season through six games (four starts) and has thrown for 1,167 yards and six TDs. He has two consecutive starts with zero INTs, and his passer efficiency rating and QBR are each higher than our own Jay Cutler’s.
Hasselbeck is 4-1 all-time against the Bears, and while he may not be the quarterback he used to be, Chicago’s straight-forward defense will be easy for the veteran to read and dissect. I expect him to be able to throw and score against the Bears, and I don’t chalk this one up as an easy victory for Lovie Smith’s crew.
I do, however, think the Bears will come away with their sixth-straight win on Sunday, and here’s why:
Let’s start with the Bears’ defense
The Titans’ offense is averaging 91.3 yards per game on the ground, quite a bit less than the Bears, but they must use the run game to help combat the Chicago rush men. I expect the Bears to play off-coverage against a group of talented receivers, and Hasselbeck will use that to his advantage in the intermediate game to get the ball out quickly.
Also look for Hasselbeck to involve TE Jared Cook in the short passing game.
But Lovie Smith’s rushers will be able to get to the veteran QB on a number of downs as they’ve proven against nearly every team they’ve faced this season, and at No.1 in the League against the run, they should be able to force some obvious passing situations and third-and-longs.
The Bears’ opportunistic cornerback duo of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings is currently one of the best in the NFL, and I expect them to match-up against Kenny Britt and Nate Washington, respectively. Both CBs have displayed shut-down ability this season, as well as uncanny noses for the football. Why expect anything different this week?
I don’t love this matchup for the Chicago defense (no, I’m by no means scarred by it), but my confidence is restored when we turn the table and look at the other side of the ball.
The Bears’ offense
The Titans’ defense is in shambles, and they have bled out at the hands of No. 1 wide receivers this season. The cornerback duo of Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty have had practice against some of the League’s elite in Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson and Mike Wallace. But they’ve allowed many of those receivers to gash them to death.
Calvin Johnson, despite a down year, put up 164 yards and a touchdown against the Titans. Mike Wallace put up 94 yards and a TD. The Tennessee secondary gave up 109 yards to rookie receiver Malcolm Floyd on six catches, his most on the season, and they gave up 108 yards and a TD to Percy Harvin.
Long story, short: Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall are chomping at the bit to have another big day in Tennessee.
But that’s not the end of the story. The Titans are giving up a 108 yards per game on the ground (those numbers even more telling when one can see what they have allowed opposing receivers to do through the air). The Bears should have options should a pass rush led by Kamerion Wimbley start to destroy an offensive line riding a current downward slump.
Let’s wrap it up
Here’s my game summary in a nutshell: the Bears are a better football team than the Titans. Just last week, the Titans only allowed a season-low 19 points against the Colts and still found a way to lose in overtime. The Bears, on the other hand, struggled mightily for three quarters against a then 1-5 Carolina Panthers team and pulled out a big win in the fourth quarter.
Good teams find a way to win despite a poor performance, bad teams squander opportunities. It’s why the Panthers are still a bad team despite a decent showing against the Bears, and it’s why the Titans are a few seasons off from turning things around in Music City, USA.
Final score prediction: Bears 34, Titans 20
How about some nuggets?
- Jay Cutler is scheduled to make his first regular-season appearance in Nashville since leaving Vanderbilt University as the school’s all-time leading passer. He set Commodore records in most major passing categories, including touchdown passes (59) and passing yards (8,697). Two of his teammates, wide receiver Earl Bennett and cornerback D.J. Moore, also attended Vanderbilt.
- Chicago is on a five-game winning streak and has won five-straight contests for the third-straight season, the first time the franchise has accomplished the feat since 1947-49.
- This is the eighth time since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger that Chicago has started a season 6-1 or better. In the previous seven occasions, the Bears made the playoffs that season (2006, 2001, 1990, 1988, 1987, 1986 and 1985).
- Chicago enters Week 9 ranked eighth in the NFL in points per game (26.4) and second in the league lead in scoring defense (14.3 points per game). On the season, the Monsters of the Midway are second in takeaways (23) and third in turnover differential (+12).
- Chicago will wrap up their schedule against AFC opponents next Sunday night (Nov. 11) when they welcome the Houston Texans to Soldier Field.