By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) The Bears (2-8) host the Titans (5-6) at Soldier Field on Sunday at noon. Here are my keys to the game.
This is the game that requires an extraordinary amount of homework. Under coordinator Dick LeBeau, the Titans defense is complex and comes at an offense from a bunch of different angles and personnel groupings. It’s a 3-4 defense with unpredictable zone blitzes. Assuming Matt Barkley starts for the injured Jay Cutler, his prep for his first NFL start needs to be on point. LeBeau will bait Barkley and throw the kitchen sink at him. As it is, the Titans offer up a high volume of blitzes, and on second down they have the second-most sacks in the league with 12 on blitzes. Players to block include star three-technique defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo. Running the ball will be critical for the Bears.
Defense: Survive the shell game
With rookie Bears inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski starting for the suspended Jerrell Freeman, look for Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie to try to yank the chain of an inexperienced pro. Tennessee offers multiple formations, looking for enviable matchups all fueled by an old-school power running game. Every defender needs to pitch in to stop DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. They love to run it, and the Bears have to stop it.
Marcus Mariota thrives with his compact, quick release and excellent downfield vision. He’s mobile and is running the most productive and efficient red-zone offense in the game. Right tackle Jake Conklin is playing at a Pro Bowl level. The Bears defense will need to be patient because the Titans will bleed you down the field, ranking eighth in the league in five-minute drives thanks to a third-down conversion rate that ranks fifth in the league.
Special teams: Big chances
The Bears’ kick return unit is coming off its best game, against the Giants in New York last week. The unit is starting to come together with Deonte Thompson. The Titans are 27th defending kickoffs. Assuming Eddie Royal can play through a sore toe, he also has the potential to make an impact against a Titans’ punt coverage unit that ranks 25th.
Intangibles: Resolve vs. morale
Taking the temperature of the Bears early on in this game will potentially tell us a lot about what type of game they are going to play. They are trying to avoid their third three-game losing streak of the season and another bushel full of injuries and suspensions. They’re getting tested, but morale has held up. With so many young players in prominent roles for this game, it will be critical for them to understand there are steps that need to be taken to develop as a team and as an individual. There can be no short cuts. The hope is the play of the team will prevent an “uh-oh, here we go again” moment from infecting the resolve of the 2016 Bears.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.