Thomas B. Shea
J.J. Watt and crew getting pressure on Cutler is the key to winning on Sunday
The last time the Texans faced a good NFC North team on Sunday Night Football, it didn't go so well. I believe most fans look at the loss to the Packers as kind of a fluke, as just one of those down games all teams will suffer at some point during the season instead of a sign of serious problems and flaws on the team. While it may have been just a 'let down game', the Chicago Bears present some of the same problems that were exposed in the Texans only loss so far this season. The Bears have talented weapons on offense, a physical, play making defense, and a great home field advantage; that all adds up to possibly their toughest test of the season.
Texans Offense Vs. Bears Defense
Every team that has faced the Bears this season has turned it over at least twice and Chicago ranks first in turnovers forced with 28 through eight games. The Bears have also only allowed one 300 yard passing game and have intercepted a pass in every game this season. Matt Schaub has done a great job at protecting the ball this year (only four interceptions) and is on pace for just under 4,000 passing yards, but I don't think he'll have a good game this week. The Bears get a lot of pressure with just their front four, they have play makers who force turnovers, and the conditions with the wind and the cold are something Schaub isn't used to playing in very often.
One place they could have success is with the intermediate passing game over the middle to their tight ends. The Bears like to play a lot of cover two and ask their linebackers to cover down the field, Brian Urlacher has lost a step or two and can't cover Owen Daniels, James Casey, or Garrett Graham at this point in his career. If they're able to establish the run, the play action pass game will produce big yardage; might be their only chance for explosive plays.
The Bears rank sixth in rushing yards allowed per game (88 yards) and second in rushing touchdowns allowed (only 2 this season); they're tough against the run. They've allowed only one player to top 100 rushing yards this season, that performance coming from Chris Johnson last week. The next highest total was from week two when Cedric Benson ran for 81 yards. The Bears have several veteran, physical defenders who know how to set the edge on the run, funnel everything back inside, and rally to the ball carrier. On top of that, Henry Melton has done a great job at getting penetration inside from his defensive tackle spot (has five sacks this season), which can blow up any running game. There is a formula to stop the Texans style of zone blocking running game and the Bears have the players to pull it off. Expect the Texans to see a defender lined up directly over each Texans offensive lineman, making it difficult for blockers to come off their initial block, get to the next level and open up a big hole. The Texans will have to run the ball effectively to win the game, they can't become one-dimensional and hold up against the Bears pass rush.
Texans Defense Vs. Bears Offense
Chicago has a lot of talented weapons on offense, but Jay Cutler can't get those weapons the ball when he's laying on his back. The Bears rank 30th in sacks allowed and 28th in QB hits allowed; J.J. Watt should be foaming at the mouth to get a shot at their offensive line. The Texans rank third in sacks and should be able to put consistent pressure on Jay Cutler, if they do, he's shown to be prone to making mistakes and turning the ball over.
The Texans have been suspect at times against the run but it hasn't hurt them yet because they've blown out almost every opponent. Reggie Bush ran for 4.9 yards per carry, Maurice Jones-Drew ran for five yards a carry, and Ray Rice ran for 4.6 yards per carry, but none of them topped 100 yards because the Texans were up by an average of 21 points on each of their teams by halftime and they had to abandon the run in the second half. Even Chris Johnson who had 45 rushing yards in his first three games combined, ran for 141 yards against the Texans in their week four game. Even if the Texans win the game, I doubt they'll blow out the Bears and take away the option of running the ball. If they don't play the run any better on Sunday, especially right up the gut, then Matt Forte could have a huge game and neutralize the Texans pass rush.
Big edge to the Bears here. Robbie Gould has a stronger leg and is used to kicking in windy conditions, just the opposite for Shayne Graham. The yard line the Texans will have to reach to be in field goal range on Sunday will be at least five yards further than it would be at Reliant Stadium. Outside of field goal attempts, if Graham can't kick it deep into the end zone on kickoffs, then the always dangerous Devin Hester will have a chance for a big return. The Bears have been awful in returning kicks this season averaging only 18.3 yards per return, which ranks 31st in the league (Texans are 32nd). However the Texans are dead last in kickoff touchback percentage at just 22%, and that's while playing most of their games under a roof; Hester will have opportunities. The Texans rank 20th in yards allowed per kick return, 23rd in yards allowed per punt return, and have allowed one kick and one punt return for a touchdown this season. It's very possible this game will be won or lost off a big special teams play.