Thomas B. Shea
The 7-1 Bears take on the 7-1 Houston Texans in one of the biggest games of the year - and we're taking a look at our upcoming opponent.
Last Year: With the fall of the Colts last year, the Texans jumped in to fill the void of "The AFC South's Token Elite Team," finishing 10-6 and taking first place, for their first-ever franchise playoff berth.
This Year: Well, they've shown few signs of stopping that run, as they're 7-1, still first place in the AFC South, with the second-ranked scoring offense and fourth-ranked scoring defense.
When Last We Met: Last time, it didn't work out so well for the Beloved, for with a playoff berth on the line, the Bears lost to the Texans in week 17 of 2008 31-24. The Bears were down 21-17 heading into the fourth quarter but a Kris Brown field goal and a Steve Slaton touchdown run put the game out of reach, even after a Kyle Orton touchdown rush. Orton threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns - Matt Schaub matched that with 328 yards and two touchdowns, and the Texans also added a pair of rushing touchdowns behind Slaton and Ryan Moats.
Total Points: 2nd
Total Yardage: 12th
Passing Yardage: 16th
Rushing Yardage: 8th
The first thing that jumps off the page with the Texans' offense is their six turnovers coughed up - the best in the league. They hold onto the ball, and they don't throw the ball to defensive backs; Schaub's only thrown four picks this season compared to twelve touchdowns. He's really having a good year.
Andre Johnson, even though he's having what might be considered a down year (I mean, he's 31), is still playing really good football, even though he doesn't get as many looks in the passing game through the usage of Arian Foster. Seriously, he gets 24 carries of the team's 35 per game, which with 280 rushing attempts is at the top of the league. And that contrasts with their 254 total passing attempts (20.1 completions per game) - those passing attempts are 24th. So, when you look at their yardage for rushing and passing, it's a little deceptive at how good they are in that aspect of the offense. However, that doesn't mean they're no good, as their 12 rushing touchdowns (ten by Foster) are tops in the league.
Also, there's Owen Daniels. He's having his best year since 2008, with the second-most receptions and second-most yardage, as well as leading the team in touchdowns with five. So. Tight ends, they're important. Paying attention, Kellen Davis?
Total Points: 4th
Total Yardage: 3rd
Passing Yardage: 4th
Rushing Yardage: 2nd
J.J. Watt. So, he's really good at something that his position isn't particularly good at in general. Sound similar to a Bears player? In seriousness, Watt's also really good at creating pressure along with Whitney Mercilus, Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin. And Brooks Reed. Okay, on a team with 24 sacks, Watt's the headliner, but all those four also have at least two sacks - it's a team that in general gets after the passer. Sound familiar (again)?
Then there's the very good secondary, with Danieal Manning (Bear castoff) and Glover Quin at safety - Manning move the coverage guy, and Quin a heavy hitter - as well as Johnathon Joseph (sue me, his PFR player page spells it that way) and Kareem Jackson as the starters. Joseph's been really good since coming over from Cincinnati - not quite top of the league good, but a pretty good player nonetheless. ... I think the only player I haven't touched is Shaun Cody, who broke a rib, punctured a lung, and still played on Sunday (and by that, he's probably playing this week too).
If the Bears do this: Honestly, for the Bears, having Charles Tillman (and not losing him to having a baby) is a big help in coming back. Kelvin Hayden's played really well at the nickel, but I'm not sure I'd trust a Jennings/Hayden combo for long periods of time. Having him stick to Andre Johnson would be a good thing (TM). Stopping the run and getting to Schaub with only four men would also be a good step (this just in - Foster, really damn good). If I have to point to one thing for the Bears to do well, it's keying in on Arian Foster - Stephen Paea will have to have another good game of getting into the backfield, and Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs will need to have their best games yet.
If the Texans do this: If Owen Daniels has 80 yards and a touchdown, the Texans probably win. They just don't turn the ball over, they control the time of possession, and they also have a pretty good defense. And aren't the Bears due for a "We don't care if your tight end does bad things to us" game? ... Okay, joking aside, the rest of that is all as of this writing kind of true.
Closing Thoughts: This might be the one game all year where I read the comments on both Battle Red Blog and WCG and come away thinking that both fanbases are legit worried about the other team, when both are 7-1.