Pair of playoff hopefuls look to break two-game losing streaks
Although COVID-19 continues to affect the NFL in some form or fashion every week, the league has been able to make it to Week 9 without major disruptions. This week will pit the AFC South vs. the NFC North when the Tennessee Titans (5-2) host the Chicago Bears (5-3). Both teams head into this game as losers of two straight.
A missed fourth-quarter field goal ended the Titans' comeback hopes at home against Pittsburgh two weeks ago. Then last week, they took a trip to Cincinnati where Joe Burrow and the Bengals stepped up in a big way and defended their home field. The Titans were previously unbeaten before this stretch, and now they're tied with Indianapolis atop the AFC South standings. But despite these recent losses, the Titans are still major postseason contenders.
As for the Bears, the Rams dominated them in Los Angeles on "Monday Night Football" two weeks ago. They were able to force the Saints into overtime at Soldier Field last Sunday, but the Saints pulled out the win in the extra frame. Thanks to Green Bay's loss to Minnesota that same day, the Bears only trail the Packers by a half-game in the NFC North. Both teams need a win to get back on track. The Bears weren't able to practice on Thursday because of coronavirus concerns, but they returned to Halas Hall on Friday.
Chicago at Tennessee
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 8 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Titans -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The Bears' inconsistency on offense
Matt Nagy's offense, and play-calling to some degree, have been frustrating for Bears fans to watch this season. Especially over these last two weeks. During this stretch, Nick Foles has taken nine sacks and thrown three interceptions. It seems like the pass rush is already in his face before he can even set his feet to throw. Because of that, Foles has had to settle for shorter throws in order to avoid the pressure.
The Bears have yet to have a 300-yard passing game this season, and they rank 22nd in passing offense (225.0 ypg). Not only has the offensive line struggled to protect Foles, but they're still having trouble opening holes for the running game. While the 96 yards they ran for against the Saints was the most since gaining 130 in Atlanta in Week 3, and the fourth-biggest rushing total this season, the Bears are still averaging just 3.8 yards per attempt (third-to-last in the league) and 85.6 yards per game (second-to-last).
Using Cordarrelle Patterson as a running back isn't working. Once defenses see him in the backfield, they already know that he's either taking a handoff or catching a dump-off pass out of the backfield. Patterson has only gained 25 yards from scrimmage in his last three games combined. On the positive side, David Montgomery accounted for 89 of those 96 yards last week, which is his season-high. Montgomery only has two career 100-yard games, which both came last year as a rookie.
The offensive line hasn't been great this season, and they've definitely struggled over these last couple of weeks as they've constantly had to shift players. The O-line has taken a pounding from both injuries and, more recently, COVID. Jason Spriggs, Germain Ifedi, and Cody Whitehair (who is also dealing with a calf injury), are all on the league's COVID-19 list. The Bears placed Bobby Massie (knee) on injured reserve at the start of the week, Sam Mustipher (knee, did not practice) and Rashaad Coward (ankle, did practice) are banged up, and James Daniels is already out for the season (torn pectoral muscle).
The only healthy linemen that have practiced this week are Alex Bars, Charles Leno Jr., and rookies Arlington Hambright and Lachavious Simmons. The Bears even had practice squad lineman working with the starters this week. Also injured is backup quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. He hurt his shoulder during his three-yard carry against New Orleans last week, and he saw a shoulder specialist this week and won't be available on Sunday. Tyler Bray will be Foles' backup this week.
Anthony Miller has limited in practice with a toe injury, while Cole Kmet is still recovering from an injured groin. Needless to say that it could be a long day for the Bears offense come Sunday.
2. The defense can't do it by themselves...
But God bless them for trying. During the last three games, Chuck Pagano's defense has totaled six sacks, 27.5 tackles for loss, 14 quarterback hits, eight pass deflections, and four takeaways. But the main reason why his unit has given up 356.0 yards per game during this stretch is because it has spent a lot of time on the field. The Bears have punted on 13 of their last 34 offensive possessions, while five have ended in turnovers and four resulted in turnovers on downs.
When the offense can't sustain drives, it keeps the defense on the field longer. If the Bears can get more from their offense, it would benefit the defense and allow them to make more plays. This side of the ball is also dealing with injuries. Defensive linemen John Jenkins (ankle), and Roy Robertson-Harris (shoulder) have not practiced this week. Safties Tashaun Gipson Sr. (foot), and Eddie Jackson (knee) were limited, while defensive backs DeAndre Houston-Carson (forearm) and Buster Skrine (shoulder) were able to participate.
3. The Titans are full of talent
The Titans have numerous playmakers on both sides of the ball. Running back Derrick Henry has already rushed for a league-leading 775 yards and eight touchdowns (tied for second). And that's not just coming on volume; his 4.8 yards per carry rank 12th. He's gone over the 100-yard mark in four games so far this season, including a 212-yard effort against Houston in Week 5. Henry's combination of size (6-foot-3, 247), speed, strength, and old school running style make it difficult for any defense to tackle him. The Bears are 16th against the run this year (120.0 ypg), so you can expect Henry to get the ball early and often.
When Henry isn't doing his damage out of the backfield, Ryan Tannehill is making things happen through the air. He's completing 67.4 percent (ranks 11th) of his throws for 1,823 yards, 17 touchdowns (fifth), with just three interceptions. He's tied for seventh in yards per attempt (7.8) and is fifth in passer rating (109.8). Tannehill has only been sacked eight times this season, but that total could increase since he'll be facing a Bears defense that ranks ninth in sacks (17). Expect the Bears lean heavily on their defense again.
Tennessee's offense ranks fifth in total offense (407.0 ypg), 18th in passing offense (251.4 ypg), fourth in rushing offense (155.6 ypg), and sixth in scoring offense (29.7 ppg). The Bears' offense, on the other hand, could get a slight break this Sunday if they play their cards right. That's because the Titans haven't always had success on defense in 2020. They rank just 24th in total defense (396.9 ypg), 26th in pass defense (268.7), 21st in rush defense (128.1 ypg), 16th in scoring defense (26.3 ppg), and second to last in sacks (7). They have, however, been successful in the takeaway department, where they're tied for third (12).
The Titans do have some injury concerns heading into this week. Wide receivers A.J. Brown (knee) and Adam Humphries (concussion protocol), offensive tackle Dennis Kelly (knee), and defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons (ankle) and Jadeveon Clowney (knee) are all listed as questionable.
Since the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997, they've played the Bears five times. The Bears have a 3-2 advantage, with all three wins happening in Tennessee. The Bears have also outscored the Titans 128-99 in those games, but the Titans did win the last game between these teams five seasons ago. The Bears are already 0-1 against the AFC South this year (lost to Indianapolis in Week 4), and they've lost their last six games against AFC South opponents.
Their last win against the division just happened to be against these same Titans back in Week 9 of the 2012 campaign. The Titans defeated Minnesota back in Week 3 and are 4-1 in their last five matchups with the NFC North. Unless the Bears find a way to get themselves together on offense, the Titans will go home with the win.
Prediction: Titans 28, Bears 20
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.