Reporting Brien Straw
The 7-1 Texans travel to Chicago to face the 7-1 Bears for a nationally televised match-up Sunday night. Here are some position battle’s that will determine the outcome:
- Matt Schaub versus the Bears’ pass defense. Keeping Schaub “clean” as they like to say, will be critical. Schaub’s completion percentage drops by more than 10 percent when under pressure – which is to be expected, but what will also be expected if Matt doesn’t have time to throw is interceptions. The Bears have 17 so far this season (that’s more than two a game!), and creating turnovers is a key to Chicago’s success.
- Arian Foster versus Bears’ rush defense. Chicago’s famous for a strong front four that dominates the line of scrimmage allowing linebackers Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Nick Roach to clean up and make tackles. However, the Bears front is more geared to rushing the passer and the defense is right at the league average of 4.3 yards per rush allowed. Foster is averaging 4.0 yards per rush, but will need to average more than 4.5 per attempt to keep the Bears defense “honest” and not just attack the quarterback.
- Devin Hester (and Eric Weems) versus the Texans coverage units. It’s well established the Texans have struggled covering punts and kicks, they’re allowing 25 yards per kickoff return and more than 10 per punt return. Hester has taken 17 punts or kickoffs to the house in his career averaging 23.8 yards per kickoff and 12.6 per punt return. (2012 NFL averages: 24.2 per kick return, 9.2 per punt return) The Texans coverage units looked much better last Sunday against the Bills, and must keep it up against the league’s most dangerous return man Sunday night.
- J.J. Watt versus J’Marcus Webb. According to ProFootballFocus.com Watt is having the best season of any player in the league. Webb is just the 35th best tackle in the NFL. He’s allowed four sacks and 16 quarterback hurries through eight games, and if J.J. can get to Jay Cutler he’s more than capable of throwing picks.
- Brandon Marshall versus Jonathan Joseph. Marshall is having an All Pro caliber year and is clearly the number one target for Bears’ QB Jay Cutler. Joseph is considered among the best corners in the league, but because of a bad hamstring has not had his best season. He must be at his “elite-level” best Sunday night.
- Matt Forte versus Texans rushing D. Opponents are averaging 4.0 yards per rush on the Texans this season – just below the 4.3 yards per attempt league average. Forte is 10th in the league at 5.0 yards per attempt. Look for the Bears to try and exploit this differential. If they can, they win.
- Owen Daniels (and Garrett Graham) versus Bears coverage of Texans TE’s. The Bears love to keep their safeties deep – in cover two coverage. They also like to use their linebackers to cover tight ends. Simply put. Daniels and Graham must make them pay.
- Nate Newton versus Bears DE’s. Chicago has two outstanding defensive ends in Juluis Peppers and Isreal Idonije that they’ll move from side to side to find the best match-up to exploit. Both will get their whacks at Newton a first-year starter and weakest link on the Texans O-Line. Newton has allowed Matt Schaub to be sacked three times, hit another four, and hurried seven times this season according to ProFootballFocus.com. Idonije has hit, hurried or sacked the QB 21 times this season, Peppers 29 times. When you add in the 16 times their back-up Corey Wootton has pressured a quarterback, you’ve got a lot of pressure headed Schaub’s way. Newton must play his best game.
- Danieal Manning versus his old team. The Bears felt they could do better at safety with Major Wright and Chris Conte and let Manning sign with the Texans in 2011 without a fight. It’s human nature for Manning to want the Bears to pay for what he might consider “arrogance and stupidity…?” Instead let’s hope we see the safety that has been a huge addition and another major reason why the Texans defense has gone from 31st in the league prior to his arrival to Top 5 since.
- Texans versus the “National Match-Up.” The game against the Packers was – correctly or not, was deemed one of the most important and significant in Reliant stadium history. The Texans laid a huge egg in that game suffering their only loss of the season. Sunday will provide just the third match-up of 7-1 teams in the past 20 years in the NFL, and a third “national” audience for the Texans to prove they are elite and loaded with players that should receive post-season honors (see: All Pro & Pro Bowl recognition). Win and the Texans gain that. Lose and it will take a Super Bowl run to earn it.