After last week’s narrow escape against the Panthers, the Chicago Bears will be on their toes against another seemingly overmatched opponent as they visit the Tennessee Titans. The Tennessee offense has been battling injuries all season, but running back Chris Johnson has started looking like his old self, which is bad news for any opposing defense.
Johnson’s not the only key player to watch in this contest, though. These three factors will go the furthest toward determining which team earns the win at LP Field on Sunday.
1. Can Chris Johnson get in a rhythm early?
Four out of his last five games, Chris Johnson has topped 90 yards rushing. Nobody’s expecting him to match his 195-yard, two-touchdown showcase against Buffalo, but Johnson needs to establish a legitimate running threat to keep the Bears’ turnover-happy defense honest.
Of course, Chicago won’t make that an easy task, considering that they’re still ranked No. 1 in the league against the run despite giving up nearly 50 yards over their average last week. The bet here is that after being made to look quasi-mortal by Carolina, the Bears will take out their frustrations by pummeling Johnson on Sunday.
2. Will the Titans find any kind of a pass rush?
A huge factor in Carolina’s near-win at Soldier Field a week ago was the Panthers’ ability to bring consistent pressure on Jay Cutler. Pass protection has been Chicago’s biggest weakness all year, but Tennessee is ill-equipped to take advantage of it.
The Titans are tied for 28th in the league with a dreadful total of 11 sacks in eight games. Youngsters Mike Martin and Akeem Ayers have shown some promise, but promise won’t keep Cutler from picking apart the Tennessee secondary.
3. Can anything slow down the Bears’ ground game?
Neither Matt Forte nor Michael Bush is in a position to challenge for the league lead in rushing, but between them they have the Bears ranked ninth in the NFL on the ground. Chicago’s ability to control the clock is a major reason for the team’s hot start, and it’s hard to imagine the struggling Titans changing that pattern.
Tennessee ranks 28th in the league against the run, having surrendered nearly 140 yards a game to opposing backs. Unless banged-up Colin McCarthy and his fellow linebackers raise their level of play in a hurry, Chicago is liable to make those run-defense stats look even worse by game’s end.
Prediction: Bears 21, Titans 14
On the road against a running game on the rise, Chicago isn’t likely to turn this game into a blowout, but the Bears have too many advantages to take their second loss here. Even if Cutler makes a mistake or two, the Bears will pick up another couple of turnovers and ride Forte and Bush to yet another out-of-division win.