Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE
The Bears play the Titans on Sunday; we take our weekly look at the next Bears' opponent.
Last Year: The Titans had about as even-keel of a year as you could expect, starting 3-2 before the bye and taking that to a 9-7 record, good for second in the AFC South behind the Texans and their first ever franchise playoff spot.
This Year: The Titans are currently 3-5, good for third in a more competitive AFC South, winning two in a row against Pittsburgh and Buffalo before losing in overtime to Indianapolis last week on some Vick Ballard awesomeness.
When Last We Met: The last time the Bears played the Titans, it was Week 10 of 2008. The Titans were the latest "Team Destined To Go Undefeated and the 1972 Dolphins Are Waiting With Champagne Bottles Ready", and they beat the Bears that day 21-14 to push their record to 9-0. It was Rex Grossman's first start of the year, since Kyle Orton left the prior game against Detroit. ... And before you torture yourself, it was okay - 173 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT, but also a rushing touchdown.
Total Yardage: 24th
Total Points: 21st
Passing Yardage: 16th
Rushing Yardage: 25th
So, it's been kind of a tale of two offenses since the start of the season. Earlier, Chris Johnson couldn't run for anything (except against Houston, somehow) and the team was turning the ball over at least once in each of the first six games. Now? In each of the last two games, Johnson's run for 197 and 112 - maybe he still has something left beyond what I originally thought - and the Titans haven't turned the ball over. Clearly all of this improvement is due to the insertion of Matt Hasselbeck as starting quarterback.
Of course, that's not the case, especially as Hasselbeck isn't exactly doing anything to reignite fear of a passing offense in the Titans' opponents' defense. His net yards per attempt are less than Jake Locker's, as are his yards per completion, and his yards per game are nearly identical to Locker. His completion percentage is slightly higher, but he's been saturated with extra attempts, not to mention that in six games (four starts) he's been sacked twelve times. Locker was sacked all of three times in his four starts.
Anyway, the Chris Johnson resurgence. Part of it is better run-blocking from the offensive line, the rest of it is not particularly good run-stopping by bad run defenses. Everybody and CloudyFuture's grandma can run on the league's worst defense in Buffalo (6.0 yards-per-attempt, worst in the league), and Indianapolis coughs up a 4.8 yards-per-attempt, fourth highest in the league. The Bears' 3.8 yards-per-attempt, 8th lowest in the league, is good, but Johnson can still take advantage of any existing holes, so the Bears' run defense will need to be tight.
As far as receiving targets go, Jared Cook made plenty of waves when he requested a trade, but he's still playing in Tennessee on Sunday, so, he's still a Titan, and a pretty solid one. Kendall Wright hasn't exactly been the speed guy Tennessee envisioned (as he currently has an 8.8 yards-per-completion), but he's still a nice complement to Nate Washington and Kenny Britt, when Britt isn't missing time injured.
Total Yardage: 30th
Total Points: 31st
Passing Yardage: 29th
Rushing Yardage: 28th
Yeah, the defense isn't that good. Think they could use somebody like a Cortland Finnegan back in their secondary? Maybe a former Titan linebacker in Stephen Tulloch? Either way. The Titan's free agency class was headlined by Kamerion Wimbley, who's so far been the high-effort guy he was, but only 2.5 sacks on the year, and not exactly the type of pressure you'd expect. 2010 first round pick Derrick Morgan so far has given the same production on the other side. In all reality, the Titans don't put much pressure on the quarterback, which means they'll put up a five-spot on the Bears.
The top two players in the back 7 are linebacker Zach Brown, the second round pick, and Michael Griffin, who had one great year, a couple decent years and parlayed it into a big contract. But 18 career interceptions don't exactly lie, as he's got a nose for finding the ball. The Titans also have veteran Jordan Babineaux, who's started 20 out of his 24 games at safety in his time with the team.
Oh, and the Titans have Tim Freaking Shaw and Al Afalava, making it by far the best defense ever with former Bears! But in all seriousness, the defense isn't a really fearsome unit outside of Wimbley and potentially the safeties. Their "per-catch" and "per-carry" stats are near the bottom of the league, and they give up tons of touchdowns.
If the Bears do this...: Things start with Matt Forte, and this game, that absolutely has to hold true. The normal running game is a good start, as the Titans have allowed at least 140 rushing yards in six of their eight games this year, but if there ever was a time to unleash the screen game, this is it. Also, Brandon Marshall should get open frequently against the defensive backs of the Titans. Though, if the Bears try again to empty the backfield and develop a route that takes more than five seconds to throw... Yeah.
If the Titans do this...: Well, for the Titans offensively, it's Chris Johnson, and defensively it's Kamerion Wimbley. If the Titans get the runblocking and Buffalo-esque run defense from the Bears, things could be problematic. And Wimbley will match up against J'Marcus Webb - long story short, we know what the two ends of Carolina's defense was able to accomplish. Matt Hasselbeck is a nice backup option at this point in his career, but he doesn't have the same arm he once had, and really isn't as mobile as he used to be (or certainly not as Locker is).
Closing Thoughts: Long story short, this shouldn't be a nightmare of a game, but then again, we said something similar about the 1-5 (now 1-6) Panthers and, well... It was, to use a repeatedly used phrase that I haven't used yet, kind of a thing. But after that game, I don't have any doubts that the Titans will get anything but a completely focused Bears team.