The Bears (3-5) are riding their first winning streak under Lovie Smith after consecutive victories over San Francisco and the New York Giants. They play the Tennessee Titans (3-5) on the road, who have been licking their wounds during the bye week. Let's take a closer look at the injuries and their impact on the matchups.
Rookie Craig Krenzel is set to make his third start. Although the Bears are undefeated when he starts, Krenzel has struggled to complete a respectable percentage of his passes. He appears to be adjusting to the speed of game, and it's affecting the timing of his release and when the ball gets to the receivers in their routes. The sacks he has taken over the last two weeks have taken their toll. He had a lot of discomfort in his side when he tried to throw during practice on Wednesday but was able to participate more fully on Thursday. He's expected to play, but if not, Jonathan Quinn would take back the starting role. Running back Thomas Jones (toe) is expected to return to action this week. Although listed originally as questionable, Jones returned to practice Wednesday but is still being called a game time decision. Anthony Thomas performed well in his place, rushing for two touchdowns last week and over 100 yards. He'll be ready to go if Jones needs a breather or cannot return. Rex Tucker will make his third start at right guard after returning from a dislocated elbow in training camp. It was a struggle for him in the last two games, as he has tried to work his way back. He is likely to face off with Randy Starks, although veteran defensive end Kevin Carter has been used at defensive tackle some earlier in the season. The Bears let Mike Gandy go this week to make room for Marc Colombo (knee) who has returned from the PUP list after missing roughly two seasons of action. Colombo has taken some reps with the first offense at left tackle, and the Bears are eager to press him into game action.
The Titans' linebacker corps has been decimated by injury. They've been without middle linebacker Rocky Calmus for the entire season, as well as Peter Sirmon. Brad Kassell and Rocky Boiman have filled in for them. Defensive end Bo Schobel has begun practicing in hopes of returning to action from the PUP list. The Titans would like him to return so he can add pressure to a defense that has generated 16 sacks in 8 games. Free safety Lance Schulters has been hurt most of the season. He's suffering from a shoulder injury now, but also missed a big chunk of time with a foot injury. Lamont Thompson has played well for Schulters, and has 3 interceptions. Defensive end Carlos Hall has been nicked up and as a result has had a slow first half of the season. If he is limited, rookie Travis LaBoy has been coming on as a pass rusher of late.
The Titans' defense is coming off a 4 sack game and will look to continue the trend against the Krenzel-led Bears, who have been sacked 10 times in the last two games. The Bears will expect to see blitzes from stacked fronts on the majority of downs until they can prove they can defeat it, and Krenzel can deliver the ball on time and with accuracy to his hot read. The Bears will need to remain dedicated to the run, add some 3 step drops for Krenzel to establish timing, and continue to run draws and screens to keep the defense off guard. While rollouts might seem plausible, Krenzel has not shown an ability to gather himself to accurately throw on the run. At some point, they might try to work the tight end back into the passing game.
Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye (ankle) returned to action last week and played the entire game. He doesn't appear to be at full strength, but did manage to record a sack. He'll face veteran right tackle Fred Miller. Miller has been nicked up as well. Safety Todd Johnson had one of his better games last week at free safety for Mike Brown, who is out for the year (achilles). R.W. McQuarters and rookie Nathan Vasher have played well for Charles Tillman (knee) who is hoping to begin practicing soon. Vasher already has 3 interceptions. The hamstring injury that plagued Brian Urlacher in the preseason and during the first month of the regular season seems like a distant memory. His play has picked up over the past two weeks.
The Titans are loaded with injuries to their skill position players. Quarterback Steve McNair is expected to return after missing significant playing time in recent games due to a bruised sternum. McNair is off to a very slow start, with only 4 touchdown passes. If he can't play or finish the game, Billy Volek will see action. It can be argued that the backup Volek has outperformed McNair. Chris Brown, like his counterpart Thomas Jones, is trying to get back to top form after a toe injury. If Brown needs a rest, veteran Antowain Smith is available. Deep threat Tyrone Calico will not be available, and tight end Erron Kinney (calf) is starting to show progress. The Titans have good depth at tight end with Shad Meier and Ben Troupe. The Bears play a physical brand of defense, and if they hit like they did last week, it could be a long afternoon for the Titans' offense.
The Titans like to wear teams down with the power running of Chris Brown. Since the Bears usually do a great job of rotating their defensive linemen, it shouldn't be a big factor. Look for the Bears to continue to apply pressure, and possibly test the condition of Steve McNair. The Titans will seek to test the ability of the Bears' secondary to cover veterans Derrick Mason and Drew Bennett.