3TFO: Bears @ Titans, Week 9
The last time the Chicago Bears and the Tennessee Titans met both teams were in a different era. The Titans, led by Kerry Collins, won that game 21-14 in Chicago and went on to a 13-3 regular season record. The Bears, led by Kyle Orton and then Rex Grossman, would not be so fortunate, ending their season with a winning, but playoff-less, 9-7 mark.
The Bears are a better team four years later with maligned gunslinger Jay Cutler, a legitimate number one wide out in Brandon Marshall, and a defense that has scored the same number of touchdowns as it’s given up — leading them to a 6-1 record. They did need a game-winning field goal as time expired at home to beat the 1-5 Carolina Panthers last week, however.
The Titans, meanwhile, own an underwhelming 3-5 record in a weak AFC conference. With last year’s first-round QB Jake Locker going down in Week 4, veteran Matt Hasselbeck has taken over, winning two of his four starts. One of those losses came last week in a devastating defeat in the first drive of overtime to the division rival Indianapolis Colts, led by rookie Andrew Luck and a squad still loaded with players from last year’s 2-14 team. Can the Bears continue what looks to be a promising season, or can the Titans climb back into what is sure to be a close playoff race in the AFC? Let’s take a look at some of the most important matchups to watch.
Which Jay Cutler Shows Up?
In seven games this year Jay Cutler has three performances graded in green, and four in red. The 2012 Bears have been able to win three of those four bad Cutler outings, with the exception being the Week 2 road game against the hated division rival Green Bay Packers. In that nightmare loss Cutler underthrew receivers, overthrew receivers, forced throws and once threw behind a receiver. At the end of the night he had four interceptions on his resume and was responsible for a sack.
Without avoidable mistakes, Cutler may not have had to lead a comeback drive at the end of the Carolina game. Early on he forced a deep throw to Marshall (who happened to be the only Bear to run a pass route on the play) despite Marshall having three defenders around him. Not surprisingly, the pass was intercepted. Later on he held the ball too long allowing Charles Johnson to not only sack him, but rip the ball free for a teammate to recover. Cutler has been dealing with the effects of a brutal Ndamukong Suh sack in Week 7, but injuries can’t be blamed for those types of mistakes. If the bad Jay Cutler shows up in Tennessee, the Bears defense may not be able to bail him out again.
Chris Johnson vs. Bears Defense
Chris Johnson’s struggles this year have been heavily noted. Against this Bear’s defense that has allowed only two 100+ yard rushing games, and no single ballcarrier over 81 yards, he will have a hard time reclaiming his reputation. A big reason it’s so hard to run the ball against this squad is defensive lineman Henry Melton. He leads all defensive tackles with a 14.3 Run Stop %, despite a bad day in that Green Bay loss. Aging veteran LB Lance Briggs is also a bright spot in this area with 12 stops and only three missed tackles. Meanwhile, whether it’s because of Father Time or injury, Brian Urlacher has been a liability against opposing ground games, despite 10 stops and only four missed tackles. The multiple Pro Bowler has regularly lost one-on-one battles with tackles, guards, centers, and even tight ends.
Johnson has come on a bit in the past few weeks versus weaker defenses like the Buffalo Bills (195 yards, three forced missed tackles) and Colts (99 yards, two forced missed tackles). Despite taking advantage of those matchups and having garbage time success against the Houston Texans, CJ2K still only ranks 19th in our Elusive Rating rankings (17.4 %). Johnson hasn’t gone for less than 98 yards in the past three weeks, but he will need perhaps his best performance of the year to continue that trend on Sunday.
Matt Forte vs. Titans Defense
CJ2K’s counterpart, Matt Forte, will also be a key player in this contest. Forte missed about a game and a half with injury, but has otherwise been able to force nine missed tackles and average 4.6 yards per carry. On paper, Forte has a nice matchup against a defense that, in eight games so far, has kept only two teams from rushing for under 141 yards. One of those two games includes the 95 yard rushing performance of the Texans, who still won 38-14.
One of the biggest culprits has been pass-rushing menace Kamerion Wimbley, who currently ranks second to last in run stop % among 4-3 defensive ends with only five stops. Wimbley especially struggled against the Texans, with LT Duane Brown putting him on the ground twice and tight end Garrett Graham also finding some success against him. MLB Colin McCarthy, who is coming off an injury, has also been losing the majority of his one-on-one battles — he especially had trouble against Vikings’ fullback Jerome Felton in the Week 5 blowout loss in Minnesota. Can Forte take advantage of this matchup? That answer will help determine the winner of this game.
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