Chicago Bears-Tennessee Titans Week 9 Preview: Who Has the Advantage?
Chicago Bears-Tennessee Titans Week 9 Preview
In Week 9 of the 2012 NFL season, the Chicago Bears will take their five-game winning streak to Nashville to face off against the Tennessee Titans. The Bears (6-1) are one of the hottest teams in the league and are looking to keep their flame burning, while the Titans (3-5) hope to steal Chicago’s fire and start a winning streak of their own.
Tennessee was on the verge of a three-game winning streak last week, only to come up short in a 19-13 overtime loss to the Indianapolis Colts. The Titans have a rash of injuries to overcome at some very important positions, and will find it challenging when facing a highly talented Bears teams this week.
The past two weeks, Chicago’s defense has carried the team while their offense, who has yet to find their identity, has struggled with consistency. Pass protection has still puzzled the Bears’ offensive line, and one of the top-ranked running games in the league has been abandoned at times. The Bears’ playmaking ability on special teams has also been taken out of the equation by their opponents.
On paper, this battle looks to be in the favor of the Bears, but the fact that Chicago will be on the road, and seeing how close their last two victories were, Tennessee just might have a fighting chance to pull out an upset.
Position by position I’ve given a breakdown and reasons for why I think which team has the advantage. Most of my reasoning may be obvious, while one may catch you by surprise.
Titans second-year quarterback Jake Locker will more than likely sit out another week with a shoulder injury, which means that veteran Matt Hasselbeck will start his fifth game of the season. Hasselbeck’s counterpart, Jay Cutler, hasn’t impressed most with his overall play this season. Cutler has thrown nine touchdowns and eight interceptions so far, and has completed 58.1 percent of this passes. As average as those numbers may seem, Cutler has showed up when it matters most. This season, Chicago’s starting quarterback is the most efficient passer in the fourth quarter, proving that last week during the Bears’ game-winning drive versus the Carolina Panthers.
Tennessee’s running back Chris Johnson is looking like the player that the NFL is use to seeing. Johnson is the league’s eighth leading rusher with 595 yards. As great as that sounds, there is a downside for the Titans. As a team, Tennessee is 25th in the NFL in rushing, and their second-leading rusher is quarterback Jake Locker with just 67 yards. Chicago, on the other hand, is ninth in rushing with an average of 124.0 yards per game. Bears running back Matt Forte hasn’t been given many opportunities as of late to rack up rushing yards, but has proven to be productive when given the ball. Forte and fellow running back Michael Bush are the reason why Chicago has the ninth-best rushing attack in the league.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
It’s been a long time since Chicago has had a wide receiver with 100 catches and 1,000 yards in a single season. Bears receiver Brandon Marshall is not only on pace to be the first since 2001 to do so, but his is on pace to break the Bears’ single-season record for receptions and receiving yardage. Marshall is currently fourth in the NFL in receiving with 675 yards and sixth in receptions with 50. Tennessee’s Nate Washington leads the Titans with 443 yards and three touchdowns. Jared Cook is ninth among all tight ends in the league with 373 yards. Rookie receiver Kendall Wright has played like a veteran catching 19 balls for 183 yards and a touchdown on third downs this season (most in the NFL). The high dependency of Marshall in the Bears’ passing game may come to haunt them eventually. After Marshall’s 50 catches, the player with the second-most catches for Chicago is Forte with 18.
The image of the Bears’ offensive line surrendering six sacks in the first half versus the Carolina Panthers still concerns me. In addition to that, Chicago’s dependency on max protection on passing plays raises another red flag. Despite that, I can say that there has been some minor improvement from the offensive line, even from left tackle J’Marcus Webb. The right side of the Titans’ offensive line is riddled with injury. Starting right guard Leroy Harris is ruled out of this week’s game due to a knee injury, while starting right tackle David Stewart is listed as questionable with a knee injury of his own.
No one can honestly say that Chicago’s defensive line isn’t one of the best in the league. The Bears defensive front has 21 of the team’s 23 sacks. Collectively, Chicago’s has recorded at least one sack every game this season, and is averaging three sacks per game. Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers and fourth-year defensive tackle Henry Melton each has five sacks on the season. Melton’s sack total is second best in the NFL among interior defensive linemen. Unfortunately, for the Titans, their defensive line hasn’t come close to the success of Chicago’s defensive front. Tennessee only has a total of 11 sacks on the season, seven of which is from their front four.
Along with the help of the defensive line, Chicago’s linebackers have displayed the league’s best run defense, giving up an average of 77.9 rushing yards per game and has allowed only one rushing touchdown on the season. Led by Pro Bowlers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, the Bears’ linebacking corps has contained opposing running backs, and should do the same with Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, especially outside of the tackles. Their presence will also be important in defending screens and routes over the middle of the field. The Titans’ average of 139.2 allowed rushing yards per game doesn’t come close to Chicago’s dominance.
The Titans have a highly experienced defensive backfield. Nine-year veteran strong safety Jordan Babineaux and six-year veteran free safety Michael Griffin are one of the best safety duos in the NFL. Third-year cornerback Jason McCourty solidifies Tennessee’s secondary. However, Chicago has arguably the best cornerback tandem in the league. Tim Jennings was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month of September, and currently leads the league with six interceptions. The performance of Charles Tillman over the past few weeks has earned him the NFC Defensive Player of the Month award for the month of October. Twelve of the Bears’ 16 interceptions have come from their starting secondary.
Titans kicker Rob Bironas and Bears kicker Robbie Gould have almost identical numbers when it comes to their field goal accuracy. Bironas is 12 for 15 on the season, while Gould, who kicked the game-winning field goal for the Bears last week, has connected on 13 of his 15 attempts this year. Almost half of Brett Kern’s punts has landed inside the 20-yard line for the Titans (15 of 36), while the punts of Chicago’s Adam Podlesh has only pinned opponents deep in their own territory one-third of the time (11 out of 33 punts). What usually is the x-factor in the return game hasn’t been much of a factor all season. Return specialist Devin Hester may not get many balls kicked his way, but misdirected kicks and punts could help Chicago in field position.
There shouldn’t be any concern as far as defensive play calling for the Bears. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has proven all season long that he’ll put the defense in the right place at the right time to make big plays. Even though some of the play calling on the offensive side of the ball has raised some eyebrows at times, Chicago still is talented enough to cover mistakes. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice should finally pay more attention to the Bears’ running game, and take some pressure off Chicago’s passing attack. Regardless of how things may be as far as play calling, head coach Lovie Smith has led the Bears to one of the best records in the NFL. Tennessee’s 3-5 record says enough about their coaching contributions.
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