The Chicago Bears (6-1) and the Tennessee Titans (3-4) will square off in Tennessee on Sunday afternoon. This will be the 11th time the two franchises have faced each other, with the series deadlocked at five apiece.
The two teams are meeting for just the fourth time since the Titans moved the franchise from Houston, with all four meetings being decided by seven points or less. The Bears have won both contests in Nashville.
The only Chicago player expected to miss the game due to injury is WR Alshon Jeffery, who will be out for the third straight game with a broken bone in his hand.
The Titans are a bit more banged up. LB Patrick Bailery and starting G Leroy Harris are out. Deuce Lutui will start in Harris' place. QB Jake Locker is doubtful, meaning veteran Matt Hasselbeck will get the start under center. CB Tommie Campbell, T David Stewart and LB Will Witherspoon are all listed as questionable. Probable for Tennessee: WR Kenny Britt, S Michael Griffin, LB Colin McCarthy, T Micahel Roos, C Fernando Velasco, WR Nate Washington.
Bears on Offense
Chicago's offensive rankings
Points scored: 8th (26.4)
Total offense: 22nd (319.6)
Rushing offense: 9th (124.0)
Passing offense: 25th (195.6)
Tennessee's defensive rankings
Points allowed: 20th (32.1)
Total defense: 21st (421.3)
Rushing defense: 19th (139.3)
Passing defense: 19th (282.0)
Turnover ratio: 22nd (-3)
Matchups to watch
G Lance Louis vs. DT Mike Martin
Tennessee has a pair of solid edge rushers in Akeem Ayers and Kamerion Wimbley. Yet the Titans player that gets the pass rush going is Martin, who has been a force from his defensive tackle spot. He has 2.0 sacks, six QB hits and nine hurries. When Martin is on, he can collapse the pocket and create havoc in the quarterback's face. Louis, as well as C Roberto Garza, will be tasked with keeping Martin out of the backfield so that Jay Cutler can step into his throws.
WR Earl Bennett vs. CB Alterraun Verner
The Titans will likely put their bigger cornerback, Justin McCourty, on Brandon Marshall. Meaning Bennett will get opportunities against Verner, a third-year corner who is arguably Tennessee's best secondary member. Bennett has been a big disappointment so far this season. Alshon Jeffery could return as early as next week, meaning it's time for Bennett to step up his game and become a bigger part of this offense. Cutler needs a quality third target and Bennett needs to prove he can be that player.
Keys on Offense
-Chicago's offensive line has given up 11 sacks the past two games combined. As a result, the passing attack has floundered for long stretches. The Titans are 30th in the league in total sacks (11.0) yet Wimbley and Ayers cannot be ignored. T Gabe Carimi has been horrible in pass protection this year, while J'Marcus Webb has been inconsistent. The next two games will feature two of the best defensive lines the Bears will face all season (Houston and San Francisco) so Carimi and Webb need to execute against the Titans and build some confidence heading into next week.
-The Bears are still the worst team in the league on first down, averaging just 4.19 yards per play. That has put them into numerous second-and-long and third-and-long situations, scenarios that haven't played out well for Chicago's offense. Improvement must come on the ground, where Matt Forte needs to be utilized. If the Bears can open holes on first down, this game could turn into a blowout.
-Red zone problems have plagued the Bears all season. They have scored just nine red zone touchdowns, 26th in the league. Their 47.4 touchdown percentage is 22nd in the league. They must improve in that area, starting with Tennessee.
-In general, the Titans have a very porous defense, against both the run and pass. There should be absolutely no reason the Bears should struggle to move the ball on offense. Coordinator Mike Tice continues to refer to the offense as a learning process but we've reached the mid-point of the season, so the honeymoon period is over. Chicago must dominate on Sunday against an inferior defense, giving them something on which to build heading into the second half, and the much tougher portion, of the season.
Bears on defense
Chicago's defensive rankings
Points allowed: 2nd (14.3)
Total defense: 6th (316.0)
Rushing defense: 2nd (77.9)
Passing defense: 16th (238.1)
Turnover ratio: 3rd (+12)
Tennessee's offensive rankings
Points scored: 28th (20.3)
Total offense: 24th (326.6)
Rushing offense: 13th (91.3)
Passing offense: 22nd (235.4)
Matchups to Watch
RB Chris Johnson vs. LB Lance Briggs
Tennessee's offense begins and ends with Johnson, one of the most-explosive backs in the league. Because of his blazing speed, Johnson is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. The Titans employ a zone-blocking scheme up front, which utilizes cutback lanes. With Briggs on the backside, most plays will filter to him, meaning he'll need to again be stout in tackling Johnson, thus taking away the biggest part of the Titans' offense.
WR D.J. Moore vs. WR Kendall Wright
No player in the NFL has caught more passes on third down (19) than Kendall Wright, the rookie out of Baylor. A quick player with outstanding speed, Wright has been a beast out of the slot keeping drives alive. Moore, who has been inconsistent this year, will have his hands full on passing downs holding Wright under wraps. One false move and Wright, who has been targeted more than any other Titans receiver in 2012, will pick up huge chunks of yards in the blink of an eye.
Keys on Defense
-S Major Wright is playing at a Pro Bowl level right now. Against the run, Wright has been a sure tackler and will be used against the Titans as the extra man in the box on running downs. Yet he'll also be tasked with covering TE Jared Cook, who is tied for the Titans' lead in receptions (28). Cook is a weapon down the seam and if the Bears forget about him, he'll make them pay.
-Down the field, the Titans have a couple of big hitters in receivers Nate Washington and Kenny Britt. S Chris Conte, who had a really bad missed tackle last week against the Panthers, will need to be solid on the back end, taking away the deep pass.
-The Titans are banged up along the offensive line, with four starters listed on the injury report. Chicago's defensive line must take advantage. The group is third in the league in total sacks (23.0). If they can add to that total and pressure QB Matt Hasselbeck, a savvy veteran who is 3-3 lifetime against Chicago, the Titans will struggle all day to move the ball through the air and the Bears will pick up their seventh victory of 2012.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.