By Bryan Dietzler
The 2-8 Chicago Bears will come back to Soldier Field, where their luck hasn’t been that great in the last two seasons, to take on the 5-6 Tennessee Titans this Sunday. Chicago is coming off a 22-16 loss to the New York Giants while the Titans lost to division rival Indianapolis 24-17.
The Bears have been rocked by injuries as of late and things got even worse for them in that area last week. Starting quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a shoulder injury and will most likely miss this game. Linebacker Leonard Floyd is in the NFL’s concussion protocol and may be out as well. Throw in the suspension that linebacker Jerrell Freeman earned and things have been a near disaster for the Bears in the last week. Throw on what has happened this season, with injuries, and it has been downright ugly.
The Titans are an up and coming team that has a lot of talent. They have quarterback Marcus Mariotta who is quietly having a nice season throwing 23 touchdowns so far. Running back Demarco Murray has over 1000 yards (leads the AFC) and tight end Delanie Walker is having a nice season catching the ball. Tennessee’s defense is a good one as well with some real talent. The Bears will have their work cut out for them this Sunday.
So how do things look for the Bears’ this Sunday? Do they have a shot at beating the Titans? Let’s look at what the Bears face and how they stack up against Tennessee.
It would appear as if the Bears are going to start Matt Barkley at the quarterback position. Cutler is “day to day” with a shoulder injury but it’s very likely that he will be out for this one. This, of course, puts the Bears back a few steps on offense and will make things difficult in the passing game. Our only look at Barkley came in Chicago’s game against the Packers and he came in without any time to prepare. He didn’t look too great but that’s to be expected.
Barkley has had a little more time to prepare for this game but he is still not too experienced. However, he will be facing a Titans’ defense that is ranked 24th in the league allowing 266.2 yards per game through the air. Barkley is not going to put spectacular numbers (at least we don’t think he will but it would be great if he did) but a quarterback can throw the ball against this Titans’ pass defense. So, there will be some opportunities.
The offensive line will need to step it up and protect Barkley. We already know that Kyle Long will be out (he is out for the season) but it appears guard Josh Sitton will be missing in action as well. Tackle Bobby Massie is going through the NFL’s concussion protocol but should be able to play. Chicago will have three starters playing on the line and two backups. Will this new combination be able to provide adequate pass protection?
Will they be able to block in the running game? The rushing game is a critical dimension the Bears need to utilize this Sunday.
Jordan Howard is Chicago’s best running back and he has had some great moments this season but he has been uneven. Very little of that is his fault as the coaching staff seems to pull him for a while in games and let Jeremy Langford or Ka ’Deem Carey run the ball. It is not known why the coaching staff does this but not allowing Howard to get into a rhythm, keeps him from gaining a lot of yards and tearing up defenses.
If the Bears want to keep Barkley upright and give themselves a chance to win, they need to run the ball. But that is going to be tough against a stout seventh ranked Titans’ run defense that is giving up just 92.1 yards per game. On the other side, Chicago’s rushing attack is ranked 21st averaging 98.8 yards per game. That is a little deceptive as the Bears have had good success running the ball at times this season.
The Bears need to get their running game going to take pressure off Barkley and control the ball and the clock. If they can do that they will increase their chances of winning this game.
Tennessee is 23rd in the NFL allowing 25 points a game. Chicago’s offense is well under that as they are ranked 31st in the NFL scoring just 15.7 points per game. That is a very sobering number realizing that the Bears aren’t scoring enough points to win. 15.7 will not win you many games.
Chicago’s defense has been picked apart over the last couple games thanks to the offense’s inability to hold onto the ball and control the clock. Their pass defense has been shredded and their run defense, although the numbers don’t show it, was not as effective against the Giants last week. Health has been a big factor on defense, especially in the secondary and hopefully there will be a few players back this week to help bolster this leaky defense.
You can easily see that Chicago has missed Eddie Goldman. When he is in there, they are solid up the middle in stopping the running game and the keeping pressure on the quarterback. Goldman is still battling an ankle issue and as of this writing, he is limited in practice. Hopefully he plays Sunday. Mitch Unrein was limited with a back issue also. They need both guys in the lineup this Sunday. Titan’s running back Demarco Murray is one of the NFL’s best and can tear a defense apart.
When it comes to stopping the run, Chicago’s defense is ranked 12th allowing 98.8 yards per game to opponents. Tennessee, with one of the best rushing attacks in football, is ranked third in the league gaining 140.8 yards per game. Murray is a big reason why the Titans are running the ball so well. Chicago has been able to shut down the running game before but this is their biggest challenge of the year to date. Can they do it?
They must in order have a chance to win this game. It will all start up front and if Goldman and Unrein are back then it will be much easier. If they aren’t, it’s going to be a difficult game stopping the run.
The Bears’ linebackers have been doing very well this season but this game will give them some challenges. Sure, facing Murray, the best running back in the AFC will be one problem but they will be without their star, Jerrell Freeman, for this game due to suspension. It’s also likely Leonard Floyd may not play and he was injured last week and hasn’t cleared concussion protocol.
Chicago will be down two of their stars so that will make things a little dicier. How can they overcome the loss in talent? Can they?
The Bears will start rookie Nick Kwiatkowski in Freeman’s place. He has a lot of promise and has played a little already this season which means he has some experience. He should be an adequate replacement. Willie Young will see more action with Floyd out but keep in mind, Young is nursing a foot injury and was limited this week. Hopefully he will be ready to go this Sunday.
The linebackers have been very good at stopping the run and defending against the pass. They will need every bit of their talent to stand up against the run this Sunday. They will also need to get to Mariotta to help stop him from completing passes and shredding a suspect Chicago secondary. Look for Pernell McPhee to see a lot of action and hopefully get some sacks.
Danny Trevethan was the most productive of the linebacker (or any defensive player) group last week. With Freeman gone, he must step up and play like the guy the Bears hoped he would when they signed him this past offseason. If he has a big game hopefully the defense will do well.
The secondary has given the Bears quite a few problems this year despite the fact they have some nice talent and decent depth. Injuries have hurt this group and this unit has cost the Bears some games. Tracy Porter is going to come into this game injured (knee) and will not be as effective as he has been in the past. Bryce Callahan will be back but how long will he be in the lineup before he gets hurt again? Safety Deon Bush should see another start and after playing well last week looks to have a promising future with the Bears.
Run support has been a solid for the secondary (especially at safety) but they have not done well in pass coverage. The Bears’ defense is ranked 12th in the NFL against the pass allowing 241.2 yards per game and that isn’t terrible from a statistical standpoint. Where it is troublesome is the number of critical pass plays this unit has given up. If you have been watching the Bears this year, you will know that they have lost games thanks to their secondary giving up critical plays. This needs to end this weekend.
Tennessee’s passing offense enters this game ranked 21st in passing yards gaining 242.1 yards per game. But after looking at how the Titans have passed the ball this season, they are doing much better than statistics would show. Mariotta is having a nice season this year and he can be dangerous. His tight end, Walker, is having a solid season and he is a very deadly weapon in the passing game. He presents a matchup problem for the Bears linebackers and safeties.
Proper coverage will be critical in this game. The Bears need everyone to stay on target and not give up big plays in the passing game. If they can do this, as well as contain Murray, the have a good chance of winning this game.
Chicago’s special teams had a great game last week, minus the kicking by Connor Barth, so hopefully they can continue their luck this week. The return teams were giving the offense good field position and with the likelihood of a backup quarterback starting this week, field position will be critical. The punting unit needs to pin the Titans back deep and not allow them to have good field position where they can use their running game to get chunk yardage and drive down the field to score.
If ever there was a game where the Bear’s coaches needed to shine, this would be it. It’s time that this group proved that they were capable of coaching to win instead of coaching to not give up big plays, break down and lose. They need to be stingy, they need to be tight and they need to make quick adjustments. If this coaching staff has another poor outing, calls for their jobs will only get louder.
We have talked about some of the more critical injuries already. Some of the lesser known injuries that could impact this game include Eddie Royal possibly missing the game along with Christian Jones. Many of the other injuries are less significant and shouldn’t cause too much lost playing time. And, as always, hopefully the Bears don’t suffer too many additional injuries.
The formula for this game is simple for the Bears, control the ball, stop the run and don’t let Mariotta and the Titan’s offense tear you up through the air. But there some things the Bears will have a hard time getting over and the biggest is having an inexperienced quarterback at the helm. What can they do with Barkley running the offense? Seemingly very little.
Chicago’s mantra needs to be run the ball and play tough defense. If they can do this, they just might win this game. The coaching staff needs to have the players fired up, ready and have it in their minds that they can win it. In the past, the coaching staff has seen leads slip away and is coaching the team to quit fighting, lie down and die it seems. They have lacked that killer instinct. Its’ time to change that and it should start with this game.
I predict that this is going to be a close one. The Bears will stand up and fight but unfortunately will fall just a little bit shy of winning. They will lose their ninth game of the season and fall ever deeper into the NFL’s basement.
Prediction: Tennessee 21 Chicago 17