By Jeff Joniak-
(WBBM) Here are Jeff Joniak’s “Keys to the Game” for the Bears as they welcome the Texans to Soldier Field on Sunday night.
Offense: Lower The ‘Watt-age’
There must be a game plan to reduce the impact of Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips moves him around utilizing his speed, power, and size. Watt is the NFL leader in sacks with 10.5, but he’s also batted down 10 passes, put 21 hits on quarterbacks, and made 18 tackles for loss.
For the most part Watt lines up on the strong side of the offense on base downs, and rushes from defensive tackle on passing downs, where his quickness and relentless motor is hard to negotiate. It will be interesting to see how the Bears attack Watt, because the Texans also have Barrett Reed, Connor Barwin, and rookie Whitney Mercilus to deal with.
Protecting Jay Cutler is going to be a challenge, ditto finding running lanes for Matt Forte and Michael Bush. The Texans have yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season. Getting rid of the ball quickly and on time and staying committed to the run in an effort to shorten the game and keep the defense fresh are all factors against the Texans.
Defense: Conquering The Deception
Houston’s offensive is built on deception and balance. What the Texans may lack in explosiveness, they make up for in execution, and ball-security. The Texans stretch gaps with their zone scheme, so staying gap sound and using their quickness will be critical for the Bears to disrupt the run game.
The 6-1, 229-pound Arian Foster is a chain mover, with the fourth most first downs in the league with 45. He also leads the NFL with 11 touchdowns. If Foster is grinding away in the run game, it sets up the boot game of veteran quarterback Matt Schaub, who is efficient, accurate, and values the ball.
Andre Johnson is not as fast as he once was, but he’s fast enough and has 25 receptions in the last three games now healthy after several seasons of nagging injuries. Houston has dominated time of possession this season leading the NFL, and the Bears have to find a way to get off the field when they get the opportunity.
Special Teams: Make Plays
In a game like this one, where every snap is going to matter, the Bears will try to build on the number of big plays they made in Nashville last week. Field position is going to be important and things like a special teams takeaway, return touchdown, or blocked kick could be the spark that turns the game.
Robbie Gould has been outstanding this season and his leg could be the difference maker in this battle of outstanding defenses. Houston’s Shayne Graham is fourth all-time in field goal accuracy, but had one blocked last week by Buffalo.
Punter Donnie Jones is fourth all time in gross and net punting average in NFL history and is currently averaging more than 40 yards in both gross and net. The Texans have given up punt and kickoff return touchdowns this season, so there is a vulnerability there and an opportunity for Devin Hester to build on the momentum he established last week against the Titans.
Intangibles: Winning Is Contagious
It’s better to play the Texans in Chicago than in Houston, but that said, their ability to run the ball and protect the ball gives them an edge over other road teams.
Right now both teams are confidently attacking their opponents and thriving off of their defensive excellence. The Texans are doing it with an outstanding pass rush and stopping the run. The Bears are doing it by taking the ball away and scoring by any means necessary.
The success both teams are having is contagious, meaning every player on the field is in a frenzied state trying to be the guy to make the next big play. It’s going to create an enormous amount of energy in Soldier Field and in turn creating an environment that will be playoff-like The key here, if you’re the Bears, is don’t let the energy go to waste.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Bears on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffJoniak.