Houston Texans running back Arian Foster (23) breaks free of Buffalo Bills George Wilson (37) in the first quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, in Houston. (AP Photo/Dave Einsel)
RICK MORRISSEY: 24-17 Texans
RICK TELANDER: 24-16 Bears
DAN McGRATH: 28-24 Bears
SEAN JENSEN: 23-17 Bears
MARK POTASH: 22-19 Texans
ADAM L. JAHNS: 29-24 Bears
TEXANS AT BEARS
Time: 7:20 p.m. Sunday at Soldier Field.
TV: Ch. 5 (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya).
Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM.
Line: Bears by 1.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
After paying Matt Forte the big bucks, this might be the time to let him earn them. But it’s easy to lose focus against the Texans’ No. 2-ranked run defense. After Ray Rice gained 27 yards on his first three carries against the Texans, the Ravens threw six consecutive passes, stalling two drives. The Ravens fell behind 16-3, and Rice ended up with nine carries in a 43-13 loss. Forte gained 103 yards on 12 carries against the Titans, is averaging five yards per carry for the season and has yet to average less than four yards per carry in any game this season. When Forte gets more carries, the offensive line seems to benefit more than he does.
IN THE AIR
Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips plans to double-cover Brandon Marshall ‘‘on every play,’’ which presents a challenge — and perhaps an opportunity — to turn Earl Bennett and Devin Hester into playmakers. When the Packers’ 3-4 defense shut down Marshall, Cutler struggled. It’s up to Mike Tice, Jeremy Bates and Cutler to have a productive Plan B. The Texans are second in the NFL in pass defense, but Aaron Rodgers (338 yards, six touchdowns) and Peyton Manning (330 yards, two touchdowns) solved them. The Bears think they have the weapons to do the same.
J.J. Watt has 10 1/2 sacks and 10 pass deflections, including four that turned into interceptions. The line has to keep Watt off Jay Cutler’s back as much as possible. It’s up to Cutler to avoid letting pressure turn a small problem into a disaster.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
Arian Foster (770 yards, four yards per carry, 10 touchdowns) is a Matt Forte with more carries (192-107). He’s productive running inside and out, is dangerous out of the backfield and has the patience to let plays develop, which could play into the hands of the Bears’ defense or be the ruin of it. Foster always gets his carries and is effective where the Bears’ defense is strong — in the red zone. The Bears have allowed one rushing touchdown all season. Ben Tate (43-178, two TDs) and Justin Forsett (29-127, 0 TDs) are effective complementary backs, though Tate has a bad hamstring.
IN THE AIR
Matt Schaub runs a diversified passing game with a big-play target in Andre Johnson (42 catches, 562 yards, two touchdowns), a big-play tight end in Owen Daniels (37-478, five TDs) and a clutch receiver in Kevin Walter (21-307, two TDs), who can keep the Bears off-balance if the Texans can establish a running game. Johnson isn’t the threat he has been, but he had eight catches for 118 yards last week against the Bills. Schaub has thrown only four interceptions in 249 passes, and no Texans receiver has lost a fumble this season. It’ll be up to the Bears’ defensive line to win the battle. Seven of the 10 sacks of Schaub have come in the last three games.
Derek Newton, a seventh-round draft pick from Arkansas State, is a first-year starter. He is playing next to rookie right guard Ben Jones, a former college center who will be making his third NFL start. Julius Peppers is Julius Peppers.
If the Bears can’t generate the turnovers and defensive scores they’re accustomed to — a likelihood against the Texans — special teams can make up the difference. Devin Hester had a 44-yard punt return last week, and he rarely stops at one. The Texans are 23rd in punt coverage (one TD allowed) and 20th in kickoff coverage (one TD allowed). They also had a field goal blocked last week. The Bears are third in punt coverage and fourth in kickoff coverage.
More NFL eyes will be on these teams Sunday night than at any time this season. Prime-time games are old hat for the Bears: This will be their fourth of the season. The Texans were shaky in a 23-17 victory against the Jets on ‘‘Monday Night Football’’ and crapped out in a 42-24 loss to the Packers in a Sunday night game the next week. The Texans are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. But, like the Bears, they’re still striving to reach that next level.