After a 51-20 curbstomping of the Tennessee Titans, their sixth-straight win, the Chicago Bears roll into Sunday Night's match-up with your 7-1 Houston Texans with a load of confidence and momentum. Chicago boasts a touchdown-happy defense and a top-notch special teams to go with an all-around talent at running back and a big-time wide receiver. Aside from the special teams, they sound somewhat similar to your beloved Texans, which makes Sunday a contest between the irresistible force and immovable object.
Looking at Chicago, I have to bust out our favorite critical reason to downgrade them: They have not beaten anyone yet. Did that sting with bitter memories, Houston fans? Sorry but lets take a look at their opponents on that six-game winning streak: St. Louis, Dallas, Jacksonville, Detroit, Carolina, and Tennessee. Not exactly a murderer's row, but that lackluster six weeks is not any reason to fear them. Respect them? Yes. 7-1 is 7-1 is 7-1, and they are scoring in all phases of the game, but there should be no fear or panic that Houston is outclassed before the game has even begun.
Between their loss to Green Bay in Week Two and their near-losses to Detroit and Carolina, there is a strong common thread: Jay Cutler Cracked. The easiest way to crack a quarterback is to hit him repeatedly, and the Bears' offensive line allows just that. Through eight games, Chicago's offensive line has allowed the league's third-most sacks with 28. In the loss and two near-losses, Cutler has been hit 25 times and sacked 18 times. If you were betting on who could do the most damage, place some dollars on Houston defensive end J.J. Watt and outside linebacker Brooks Reed.
Out of those 18 sacks, 7.5 of them have come from guys who play over right tackle Gabe Carimi as a left defensive end or outside linebacker. I imagine they will focus the majority of help on Carimi's side, but that just means Connor Barwin and Antonio Smith have to take advantage of their one-on-one match-ups. When rattled in those three games, Cutler completed 53.5% of his passes and committed seven turnovers. Houston's strength has to completely dominate Chicago's weakness if the Texans want to walk out of Soldier Field with a victory. Houston's second strength also has to stay strong in the face of a Chicago specialty.
A lot has been made of Chicago's propensity to force turnovers. The Monsters of the Midway lead the NFL with 17 interceptions, 21 forced fumbles, and 11 recovered fumbles. They are also third in the NFL with 25 sacks, which likely helps with the strip-sack and forcing bad throws. To Houston's credit, the Texans have turned over the ball a league-low six times (one fumble lost, five interceptions) and have given up 10 sacks, second-fewest in the league.
We all know about how great cornerback Charles Tillman is playing and how he can punch the ball out of anywhere, as evidenced by seven forced fumbles in eight games. Houston running back Arian Foster is going to have to put an emphasis on carrying the ball high and tight into his body, which he is not always prone to do. That is not to say that Foster has a fumbling problem, but we all know that, at times, he has run with the ball in his flailing arms.
As we get to pass protection, one may be surprised to know that Julius Peppers, destroyer of worlds that he is, is not a one-man show. The Bears, similar to the New York Football Giants, employ a rotating line to keep players fresh. This is why four Bears have four-plus sacks and another five players have gotten into the sack game. For the Texans' offensive line, a lot of preparation has to be done in studying the line's tactics and recognizing what personnel is out there, as well as making sure they are kept fresh throughout the week. Another big key will be executing the cut blocks on the defensive ends during bootlegs, as Chicago's ends are athletic enough to run down Matt Schaub. If the Texans can do that, they stand a better chance at keeping Schaub upright with time to throw.
All in all, the blueprint for Houston is a simple one this week: don't get too cute and beat yourselves. If the Texans can play to their strengths (brutalizing an opposing quarterback and protecting the ball), there is not a reason to believe that they cannot move to 8-1 for the first time in franchise history.
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