They are both 7-1. They both play terrific defense. And they are both looking for a signature win for this 2012 regular season. One of them will get it Sunday night at Soldier Field. But who will it be?
WHY DO I LIKE THE CHICAGO BEARS THIS WEEK?
- I always like the Chicago Bears.
- I think the Bears are splitting the next two and I think San Francisco, on the road on Monday night, is a tall order.
We know the defenses are terrific. Let's compare each team's big 3.
- Brandon Marshall has 59 catches, 797 yards, 7 touchdowns. Andre Johnson has 42 catches, 562 yards, 2 touchdowns.
- Arian Foster averages 4 yards a carry. Matt Forte averages 5 yards a carry. But here's the point: Foster has 85 more carries than Forte. 85! (Foster has 12 catches for 77 yards. Forte has 20 catches for 179.)
- Matt Schaub and Jay Cutler are having incredibly similar seasons in terms of completion percentage, yards and touchdowns. But there two major exceptions. Cutler has twice the interceptions (8 to 4) and Cutler has been sacked 18 more times (28 to 10).
STOPPING ARIAN FOSTER = THE GAME
Is Arian Foster a great running back? I don't think so. But I think he is one of the more versatile backs in the game. (Outside of the tear-jerking press conference that opens the below video, just watch how many ways Kubiak uses Foster in their offense.)
The Texans want to stretch the Bears defensive line with Foster early and allow their own big, fast athletes up front to control the line of scrimmage. This will set up the cutback run game that has hurt the Bears in the past. (Head coach Gary Kubiak learned the zone-blocking system from Shanny in Denver.)
The Texans haven't been as likely to throw Foster screen or line him up outside to this point but don't be surprised if that element returns Sunday night. This defense is a test for any coaching staff and the Texans have a good one.
If the Bears hold Foster down - he has scored one touchdown in 12 straight games - they can dominate on the defensive side of the ball. If they dominate on the defensive side of the ball, I think they win.
PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS? SURE...
- Owen Daniels is one of the five best receiving tight ends in the league, with 37-478-5. The Bears have done a solid job handling Jason Witten, Jared Cook and various other TEs but Daniels is Schaub's go to man in the red zone.
- There will be a moment in this game where the Bears require a big punt from Adam Podlesh. That could mean a bomb off the Bears goal line or an angled shot to pin the Texans deep. He's been sub-mediocre in both areas throughout 2012 and the Bears will struggle in field position battles (this week, next week) without solid efforts in the punting game.
- Okay, let's talk about it. How are the Bears going to handle J.J. Watt? In truth, they probably won't. They don't have an individual on their offensive line capable of handling him in a one-on-one match-up and when Kellen Davis gets involved it seems only to compound the problem. For the Bears, the answer is simple: put Sunday night on the running game and don't allow Watt or Antonio Smith or Brooks Reed or anybody else to tee off on the quarterback. And if the running game CONTINUALLY fails it does not mean the Bears must drop Cutler into a pocket and have him survey the field. Bubble screens to Hester. Roll out dump offs to Davis. Screens, screens, screens. Keep this pass rush off balance. Like this:
Thrive: When a team is as committed to the run as Houston, a big tackling linebacker can have a career game and I would not be surprised if Lance Briggs finished Sunday night's contest with 15-20 tackles.
Survive: Well, I mean, of course it's J'Marcus Webb. Webb was embarrassed in Green Bay by Clay Matthews and one would imagine that tape will be on a continual loop in J.J. Watt's living room this week. Even though Carimi has been statistically worse, Webb will be the target. If Webb keeps a clean sheet Sunday night it could provide a necessary turning point for his career.
WHAT DOES THIS GAME REALLY MEAN?
It is very difficult to contextualize individual regular season games. If the Bears dominate the Texans Sunday night there will be a great many analysts and "experts" pointing to the weak schedule Houston has played and asking the Bears to repeat the effort the following Monday night in San Francisco. If the Texans dominate the Bears, those same individuals will point to the weakness in the Bears first-half schedule and claim they have little chance of making a deep playoff run against legitimate clubs with legitimate pass rushes.
The truth is neither would be true. The Bears need to be getting better each week. They need to start rushing the passer more consistently. They need to run the ball more. They need their offensive coordinator to improve at coordinating the offense. They need their quarterback to continue throwing the ball to his own players.
Would it be great to win Sunday night? Of course. Would it be doomsday if the Bears lost? Of course not. But ultimately both results will be forgotten with a solid or horrible performance in San Francisco the following week. That's the sport in modern times. Nobody remembers the previous week. Hell, folks were saying Cutler and the offense have yet to have a game-winning drive on NFL Network Monday morning...8 days after Cutler and the offense executed a game-winning drive to beat the Carolina Panthers.
It's the most important game of 2012 for the psyche of the Chicago Bears. Until the next most important game of 2012 for the psyche of the Chicago Bears.
I love both defenses to control the line of scrimmage, pressure the opposing quarterback and limit scoring. But the Bears defense has some freakish Mojo working and Chicago's specials are more capable of making a game-defining play. Couple those with the a fan base craving a game of this magnitude and you get...
Chicago Bears 16, Houston Texans 13
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