Bears-Titans: Breaking down the matchups and making predictions
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org November 3, 2012 4:52PM
Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (28) moves as Indianapolis Colts inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (50) defends during the first half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Joe Howell)
RICK MORRISSEY: 31-10 Bears
RICK TELANDER: 28-21 Bears
DAN McGRATH: 27-20 Bears
SEAN JENSEN: 34-17 Bears
MARK POTASH: 24-13 Bears
ADAM L. JAHNS: 27-20 Bears
Updated: November 4, 2012 10:10AM
BEARS AT TITANS
Time: Noon Sunday at LP Field.
TV: Fox-32 (Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick).
Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM.
Line: Bears by 3 1/2.
Total: 43 1/2.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
On the ground
The Bears plan to get more touches for Matt Forte, who gained 70 yards on 15 carries against the Panthers last week. And they will if the offense can avoid the three-and-outs and turnovers that held them to 53 plays — just 33 in the first three quarters. Forte (95-436) is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has yet to be held below 4.0 in any game — a six-game streak that is the longest of his career. Michael Bush also should benefit from a more efficient offense. Though he has done well with limited carries most of the season, he had just five yards on three carries against the Panthers.
If the Titans give Jason McCourty help with Brandon Marshall, it could be up to Earl Bennett or Devin Hester to make an impact. The loss of Cortland Finnegan thrust Alterraun Verner into a starting role. Good offenses need to win this battle.
In the air
Though Jay Cutler said he was unaffected by bruised ribs he suffered against the Lions, he struggled early against the Panthers and caught fire late in the third quarter to rally the Bears to victory (14-for-16, 141 yards, 1 TD in the final 16:00). Cutler figures to be healthier and sharper from the start against a Titans defense that ranks 19th against the pass (282 ypg). Brandon Marshall has 50 receptions for 675 yards. Cutler was sacked six times last week but was not sacked in the fourth quarter. The Titans have 11 sacks and are 30th in the NFL in sacks per pass play.
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
On the ground
After a slow start (a combined 69 yards on 48 carries in four of his first five games), Chris Johnson has rushed for 385 yards on 58 carries (6.6 ypc) in his last three games. The Bears are second in the NFL against the run, but Johnson is as dangerous a runner as they will face because he can make you pay a huge price for a mistake — he has more rushes of 80 yards or more than anyone in NFL history (91, 89, 85 and 83). The Bears are allowing 3.8 yards per carry and have allowed just one rushing TD this season. In 2008, the Bears held Johnson to eight net yards on 14 carries.
Lance Briggs is a great tackler who makes big plays for takeaways and losses, but he will have to be at his disciplined best against Chris Johnson, a home-run threat who will take huge advantage of any misplay by the Bears defense.
In the air
With Jake Locker still recovering from a broken shoulder, veteran Matt Hasselbeck (118-for-185, 1,167 yards, 6 TDs, 4 INTs, 83.3) has led the Titans to victories over the Steelers and Bills. Hasselbeck had success against Lovie Smith’s defense with the Seahawks — usually by taking what the Bears were giving him and not falling into the trap of trying to do too much. He didn’t have consistent downfield threats there, and with Kenny Britt slowed by an ankle injury (20-209, 1 TD) he doesn’t have them here, either. The Bears have 16 INTs and have returned 6 for TDs.
Devin Hester has yet to break a long return on kickoffs (10-269, 38-long) and punts (14-102, 23-long), but he’s always due. The Titans have returned a KO and punt for TDs. Rob Bironas is the fourth-most accurate FG kicker of all-time (85.9 percent). The Bears counter with Robbie Gould, the fifth-most accurate FG kicker of all-time (85.8 percent) and coverage units that rank second on punts (4.6 yards per return) and seventh on KOs (21.2).
The Bears have been thriving on takeaways and defensive TDs, but could need to win one the old-fashioned way against a team that has 11 giveaways in eight games and will go out of its way to stay clean. Sustained drives could be a challenge the Bears need with tougher opponents coming up. The Titans have been outscored 75-36 in the first quarter and 65-21 in the third. The Bears have outscored their opponents 30-10 in the first and 40-12 in the third.