The Houston Texans (7-1) head to Chicago to take on the Bears (7-1), in what many people are saying could be a preview of the Superbowl. Although the two teams are to and near the top of their respective conferences, they’ll need to prove they can actually win playoff games before they are touted as Superbowl contenders.
However, near the halfway point of the season, the matchup is almost certainly the most intriguing of the week. The Bears have been led by their defence, recalling the squad that challenged the Colts for the Lombardi trophy in 2006.
Of course this squad has almost completely been revamped since the Bears were NFC champions. Although, linebacker Brian Urlacher still commands from the middle of the field, his playmaking abilities have declined since his prime (his pick-six last weekend notwithstanding). Cornerback, Charles Tillman has had a half of a season that puts him firmly in the discussion for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Tillman, another veteran that played in the 2006 season, has excelled at punching the ball out of the hands of receivers and backs, forcing seven fumbles so far this year, the most of any player in the league.
However, at the age of 31, he is not as fast as he used to be potentially making him susceptible to a deep throw from Texans’ quarterback, Matt Schaub. But the Bears will limit this vulnerability by playing in its standard “Cover Two” defensive formation, keeping its safeties back in zone coverage to defend against the pass.
What this means is that the matchup of running back, Arian Foster and the Houston offensive line against the Bears front-seven becomes one of the deciding factors in the game. According to Football Outsiders, the Chicago front seven is second to only Tampa Bay in stopping the run. The Houston offensive line, meanwhile, is ranked tenth overall in Outsiders’ advanced statistics.
If Arians and the line can get the run game going, they open up the play-action passing game. This would enable the Texans to get favourable matchups in the secondary for its receivers and tight ends.
It will be a similar story going the other way. Chicago running back, Matt Forte and his line will need to create some space against a Houston line that is eleventh against the run. Defensive end, J J Watt will be looking to continue his stellar season against Jay Cutler, the hot-and-cold quarterback of the Bears. Cutler, who Football Outsiders rank near the bottom of the NFL, will need to be accurate and quick against a line adept at rushing and swatting the ball and the improved Houston secondary.
The Bears are favoured by 1.5 points at home. Although on the road, the Texans should be able to find a way to overcome the raucous Chicago crowd and come away with a win. All of America will be able to watch the Sunday Night matchup on NBC at 8:20 PM EST.