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Bears-Titans Game Preview

Two teams headed in opposite directions

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been widely reported that the Bears were in play for a draft day trade up last year in a move to get Marcus Mariota.

The trade didn’t materialize and now the Bears host the Titans with the teams heading in completely opposite directions at the quarterback position.

The Titans have been a frisky team, playing their fun brand of “exotic smashmouth” football. They’ve been in the majority of their games, losing by no more than nine points.

Tennessee was not expected to play well, head coach Mike Mularkey was written off, but here they are, hovering around .500 with several bright spots going toward their rebuild.

Tennessee Titans

SB Nation site: Music City Miracles

Record: 5-6, third in AFC South

Last week: 24-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts

Bears all-time record against: 6-5

Historical match ups: Not a whole lot of games between these two. In 2004 the Bears, led by the immortal Craig Krenzel defeated the Titans in overtime courtesy of a safety by Adewale Ogunleye.

Last game: Bears won 51-20 in 2012 to move to 7-1 and Bears fan drank Nashville dry. Ah, the glory days. The Bears finished 10-6 out of the playoffs and Lovie Smith was fired.

Key injuries: RT Taylor Lewan and CB Brice McCain are day-to-day but could play Sunday, coach Mularkey said Wednesday.

Offense: The Titans offense ranks seventh in yards and eighth in points.

Tennessee ranks 21st in pass yards per game (242) and third in rush yards per game (140).

The exotic smashmouth offense that is led by Mularkey and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie has Mariota playing the best football of his career and has revitalized running back DeMarco Murray.

Mariota is connecting on 64.2 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,772 yards, 23 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.

He’s spreading the ball around really well; four Titans receivers have over 20 catches, led by tight end Delanie Walker (46 rec./607 yds/5 TDs) followed closely by Rishard Matthews (45/605/6). Behind them is Tajae Sharpe (34/453/2) and bringing up the rear is fifth-year wide out and former first round pick Kendall Wright, who is struggling, notching just 25 catches, 376 yards and three TDs.

The potent rushing attack is led by the rejuvenated DeMarco Murray, who comes in with an even 1,000 yards and eight TDs to go with a 4.7 yards per attempt. Murray, at age 28, was left for dead after his brutal 2015 Eagles campaign but he’s found some of that mojo from 2014 when he was an All-Pro in Dallas.

Spelling Murray is rookie and Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry who has just 252 yards and a TD on 62 carries (4.1 YPC). Mariota himself has a healthy 5.9 YPC on his 45 rushes, which is good for 264 yards and a pair of TDs.

Defense: The Titans defense ranks 20th in yards allowed and 23rd in points allowed. They boast the seventh best rush defense, allowing just 92 yards per game but are 24th against the pass where they give up 266 YPG.

The defense is led by Brian Orakpo, who leads the Titans with nine sacks, Derrick Morgan (8 sacks) and Jurrell Casey (3 sacks) up front. In the secondary they have Jason McCourty (2 interceptions, 46 tackles) and Perrish Cox (3 INTs, 34 tackles). McCourty and Cox have combined for 23 pass deflections.

The linebacking corps of Orakpo, Avery Williamson and Sean Spence have a combined 101 tackles and 12 sacks.

This is a Dick LeBeau unit, so zone blitzes and pressure in general are two things they want to do and do well, which they do, entering this week with the second most sacks in the league behind Seattle and Buffalo who share the lead with 31.

Key matchups: Without Jay Cutler the Bears have to put even more onto the plate of rookie RB Jordan Howard and stable mates Ka’Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford. The Titans are a tough run defense unit but Chicago must establish the run or LeBeau will have his guys teeing off on Matt Barkley.

The offensive line, possibly down three starters for a second straight week, could be the undoing and make this game ugly. Even if Bobby Massie returns from his concussion the Bears will likely be down both their starting guards.

For the defense it’s straight forward: shut down the Titans running attack. It’s what their offense is built on. The Bears have struggled somewhat without Eddie Goldman anchoring the middle of the defense and now without leading tackler Jerrell Freeman, even more back ups will have to step up to have a chance.

What to watch for: The Bears are going to need some strong play from their back ups that are being called into action down the stretch.

Matt Barkley doesn’t instill confidence in fans but he’s worth watching just to see if he could be a decent back up down the road. Keep an eye on young players such as Howard, Nick Kwiatkoski, Cameron Meredith and Deon Bush.

The young players are all we have left.

Key stats: The Bears are 26th with a -6 takeaway margin.

The Titans have three players on IR, the Bears have 14.

Mariota three six interceptions through the first six games of the season but has thrown just two since.

Can the Bears get their third win this weekend or is a young, up and coming Titans team going to be too much?