March 24, 2018

Texans to Watch: Bears Edition

The 7-1 Houston Texans face the 7-1 Chicago Bears Sunday night at Soldier Field in a marquee matchup of top teams.  Both teams are in first place – with the Bears leading the NFC North and the Texans topping the AFC South, and both teams only lost came to the Green Bay Packers.

“It’s the perfect situation, a great Sunday night on a big stage,” said Chicago Bears’ Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs.  Briggs and the Bears really want to show the world they are a serious Super Bowl contender.

Of course, the Texans look to rebound on the prime time stage after an uncharacteristic blow out loss to the Packers.  That notion was downplayed by Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips when asked about the magnitude of the game, “every game is a big game, especially when you’re winning like we are.  These are really important games for us.  They can, boom, make your season.”

These two teams have more similarities than contrasts.  Both have top defenses, Bears rank 6th overall and Texans rank 3rd, and tied for third with 25 sacks.  However, the Bears rank 1st with 28 takeaways while the Texans offense ranks 1st with a league-low six turnovers.  The Bears boast a former defensive player of the year in Charles Tillman, who has a league leading 7 forced fumbles, while the Texans have J.J. Watt, a 2012 candidate for defensive player of the year.  Both teams have elite running backs – Chicago in Matt Forte and Houston in Arian Foster.  Both teams have an elite wide receiver – Chicago in Brandon Marshall and Houston in Andre Johnson.


Texans to Watch:  Defense

The Bears biggest weakness is their offense line so this week’s defensive player to watch will be the entire defensive front but especially J.J. Watt.  Big time players step up in big time games and this game has been dubbed the most important in Texans’ franchise history.

Watt leads the NFL with 10.5 sacks and has added 10 batted balls and a whole host of tackles for a loss.  Watt is unlike any player the Bears have faced and he will come from all angles all up and down the line.  No one Bears offensive lineman can prepare – they all must, and Wade Phillips and Watt will try to exploite the weak link.

“He’s very long, he’s very tall,” Bears’ offensive coordinator Mike Tice said.  “He uses his arms well, he uses his leverage extremely well.  He poses a challenge, and he lines up and down the line, trying to make plays on us, and we have to be up to the challenge and hopefully we put in the right protection schemes that are going to take into account that.  But, at the same time, we don’t always know – even in base or 3-4 – where he’s lining up all the time.”

The play of Watt will determine how the rest of the defensive line plays.  If Watt goes they go because the Bears will be forced to double team Watt.  When asked how to counter Watt’s destruction, former Wisconsin teammate and Bears’ offensive lineman Gabe Carimi said, “hit him low so he doesn’t want to jump up high. That’s the only way.  That’s what offensive lineman are taught across the league.”

Carimi went on to give Watt praise, “he’s a relentless guy, he’s a hard worker.  That’s who he is.”

When asked about the Bears offensive line Watt replied, “I see opportunities for sacks against every offensive line.  I obviously watched the film. You see the opportunities.  You get excited.”


Texans to Watch:  Offense

The Texans will look to continue their offensive formula by controlling the clock with an effective running game and utilizing the run to setup the play action pass.  This week’s offensive player is Arian Foster.  Like the Texans’ defense, if Foster goes, this offense goes.  If the run is completely stopped and the Bears get out to big lead, the Texans are not built for a shootout and this could be a long day for the Texans.

“The Bears are very well-built in what they do and they’ve been together for a long time,” said Texans’ Gary Kubiak on the Bears’ defense.  “What they’re doing speaks for itself.  We have a serious task ahead of us.”

Of course, Foster can’t do it alone and the Texans’ offensive line will need to play well as a unit to open running lanes.  Foster is 5th in the NFL with 770 rushing yards and 1st with 11 overall touchdowns.  But Foster has never faced a defense like the Bears.  Whoever wins the battle of the trenches will have the advantage.

In this game, the edge probably goes to the Bears because of home field advantage and their far superior special teams play – and Vegas oddsmakers would second that notion making the Bears a one point favorite.

There are several other story lines for the Texans.  Chicago native and Texans’ tight end Owen Daniels leads the team with 5 touchdown receptions.  Texans’ safety Daniel Manning played for the Bears and went to the Super Bowl with them eventually losing to the Colts.  And some draft pundits had former University of Illinois and current Texan Whitney Mercilus picked to go to the Chicago Bears in the last NFL draft.

This game featuring two evenly matched teams will end up being a battle of will.  Who wants it more?

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