The regular season is here, fans!
After months of free agency, the draft, minicamps, OTAs, training camp, meaningless preseason games, lists, rankings and predictions, the season is here.
First up the Bears will travel to Houston to play the Texans on Sunday.
The opener against the Texans marks the first time the team has opened on the road since 2009 when they started the campaign in Green Bay.
The streak of six straight years of opening at home ends. They last won a road opener in 2008 when they spoiled the opening of Lucas Oil Stadium for the Colts in a 29-13 win.
With all that in mind, let’s meet the first opponent:
Record: 0-0 (9-7 last season, AFC South Champs)
Bears all-time record against: 0-3
Last match up: Week 10, November 11, 2012, Bears lost 13-6 at Soldier Field.
Historical match ups: That last game, the Bears came in 7-1 and the Texans 8-1. The Texans knocked Jay Cutler out of the game after he threw 2 INTs and concussed him. Jason Campbell came in and went 11/19 for 94 yards.
The game before that one was in Week 17, 2008, the Bears were in a win-and-you’re-in playoff scenario. The Bears kept the game tight and managed to come within seven with 1:31 to play but still came up short 31-24.
Key Injuries: The big one is J.J. Watt who is probable and likely play despite having back surgery weeks ago. He was limited in Wednesday’s practice. Their offensive line is banged up as Duane Brown is off of the PUP list but will sit with a quadriceps injury and RT Derek Newton (full participation Wednesday) is nursing a strained hamstring but is expected to play. WR Will Fuller was also limited Wednesday with a hamstring injury. Second-round pick C Nick Martin is on IR.
Offense: The Texans have a new QB after Brock Osweiler left the Super Bowl champs for a chance to be the man (and paid like one) in Houston. According to our sister site, Battle Red Blog, he’s also mastered the Texans’ complex offense. Osweiler will be throwing to Pro-Bowl WR DeAndre Hopkins and possibly Fuller, if the latter is able to play. Lamar Miller will be the main running back for the Texans’ attack. Osweiler made his first career start against Chicago last November and went 20/27 for 250 yards and two touchdowns.
Defense: The Texans’ defense is one the better units in the league, finishing third in yards allowed and seventh in points allowed. That unit is led by J.J. Watt, arguably the best defensive player in the league. Along with him on the defensive line is Vince Wilfork, who is older but still good. OLBs Whitney Mercilus and former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who might finally be clicking entering his third season will be attacking from the outside. The secondary still has Jonathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Quintin Demps and Andre Hal. Hal led the team with four picks last season.
Key match ups: Let’s start things off with J.J. Watt vs. Kyle Long. The Bears’ offensive line has had its issues coming into the season and Long is going to have his work cut out for him against one of the league’s best. Watt is so good that he will likely be doubled by Long and Bobby Massie but at times Massie will likely have to fight with one of the Texans’ OLBs and Long will be one-on-one with Watt. Watt is listed at RDE but he plays a lot on the left end and moves around but I think he will primarily be on Long and Massie’s side, hence my match up.
According to Brett Kollmann of Battle Red Blog, Watt typically rushes from a LDE spot to take advantage of the weaker RTs. Kollmann said that Watt might be used a little bit differently this year though and be kicked inside in the Texans’ nickel package.
On the other side of the ball, Tracy Porter is going to need to get off to a strong start to 2016 against Hopkins. Hopkins can do it all, he’s got good size (6’1" 214 lbs) and great speed. He could give a questionable Bears secondary fits all day. Additionally, if Fuller is able to go, he will be a deep threat lurking, looking for an opportunity should the secondary shadow Hopkins.
What to watch for: The Bears are going to want to get their running game going early and often, especially given the front seven of the Texans and the perceived weakness of Chicago’s OL. Dowell Loggains and John Fox don’t want to give the Texans’ pass rushers a chance to be able to tee off on Jay Cutler, so grinding out a run game early will help take the pressure off the OL. Kollmann said that defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will use a lot of stunts early in the game to test the reshuffled interior OL of the Bears.
On defense, Vic Fangio is going to want to harass Osweiler. The big-money QB has a lot of pressure on him and his OL is banged up. Expect Fangio to use blitzes up the middle and from the defense’s right side to go after the back-up offensive linemen in the game. For more on that listen to Les Wiltfong’s take here. As I mentioned before, Porter will likely be shadowing Hopkins and Kyle Fuller will likely be back on the field to guard Will Fuller.
Key stats: The Texans are 6-4 all-time in their home openers. Last year they lost 27-20 to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Since he entered the league in 2011, J.J. Watt leads the league in sacks with 74.5, 14.5 more than the number two player on that list, Von Miller.
Who’s ready for some Bears football?