A familiar face will be patrolling the sidelines at Solider Field on Sunday when the Houston Texans visit the Chicago Bears in a cross-conference matchup.
Lovie Smith, who coached the Bears from 2004-12, returns as the Texans' new leader and he'll have a chance to score both his first win against his former employer and his first win with his current employer in one fell swoop.
Both teams are coming off of difficult losses in Week 2. The Bears lost yet another game to the archrival Green Bay Packers last Sunday night, while the Texans faltered in the fourth quarter in their defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos.
Neither team is expected to contend for a playoff spot, but with two sophomore quarterbacks going head-to-head, that makes this a good measuring stick for their respective rebuilds.
Houston (0-1-1) at Chicago (1-1)
Three Things to Watch
1. Lovie Smith returns to Chicago
The former Bears head coach will be making his third visit to Soldier Field since the team let him go after the 2012 season. To this day, many Bears fans wish that never happened. From 2004 to 2012, Smith became the third-winningest coach (81-63) in franchise history, trailing only legends George Halas and Mike Ditka. He led the Bears to six winning seasons, three NFC North titles, an NFC championship, and an appearance in Super Bowl XLI. Both the Bears and Smith have only had limited success since then.
In the post-Lovie era, the Bears have gone 62-85 with just two playoff appearances and five losing seasons. In the post-Chicago era, Smith went 8-24 in two seasons (2014-15) as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. From there, Smith took his coaching to the college ranks, where he led the University of Illinois from 2016 to 2020. In Champaign, Smith posted just one winning season (2019), finished with a 17-39 record, and was knocked at times for his recruiting efforts. Smith was the Texans' defensive coordinator last year and was promoted to the top job during the offseason.
Smith's last two appearances at Soldier Field didn't go so well. In 2014, he brought the Bucs to Chicago, where the Bears won 21-13. In 2018, he returned to Chicago's lakefront as the head coach of the Fighting Illini. That day, they fell to USF 25-19. Smith also lost to Chicago as the Bucs' head coach during a home game in 2015.
To say he'd like to redeem himself with a win would be an understatement. This year so far, the Texans have shown some flashes but that has yet to reflect in their win-loss record. They began the season by playing Indianapolis to a 20-20 tie in a game in which they were outscored 17-0 in the fourth quarter. Last week, they were no match for the Broncos in a 16-9 loss in Denver.
2. Both teams need to show more on offense
This is especially true for the Bears and quarterback Justin Fields. During the Bears' first two games, the 11th overall pick from 2021 has completed just 15 of 28 pass attempts for 191 yards and two touchdowns. Only eight passes have gone beyond the line of scrimmage. He went just 7-of-11 against the Packers last Sunday night, and there were no rain or harsh field conditions to blame. Although he did have what looked like a touchdown run in the fourth quarter taken from him by the officials. He's also thrown two interceptions and taken five sacks this year.
Not helping matters has been a lack of production from players such as Darnell Mooney, who has yet to prove himself as this team's No. 1 receiver (2 rec., 4 yds.). Tight end Cole Kmet hasn't popped up in the box scores either (0 rec.), and rookie Velus Jones Jr. has yet to take the field. He may also miss this week's game as he continues to deal with a hamstring injury. At the moment, the Bears leading receivers are Equanimeous St. Brown (3 rec., 57 yds., TD) and running back David Montgomery (5, 38), and that needs to change.
Speaking of Montgomery, he posted his first 100-yard game of the season, and just the eighth such game of his career, against the Packers last week (15 att., 122 yds.). Getting more consistency from him will be a major boost for this offense. The Bears are eighth league-wide in rushing offense (139.5 ypg), but they could be higher on that list if Montgomery can return to his Iowa State form. Bottom line, the Bears' offense needs to operate with more efficiency and consistency.
The Texans also have some things to clean up on this side of the ball, including getting more from quarterback Davis Mills. The Stanford alum has seen drops in his completion percentage (56 percent from 66.8 percent) and yards per attempt (5.6 from 6.8) compared to his rookie season. Although he hasn't thrown any interceptions, he's only found the end zone twice (both were caught by tight end O.J. Howard) and has been sacked six times. The good news is receivers Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins (combined for 220 receiving yards) have provided Mills with some stability.
The area where the Texans seem to struggle the most is with running the ball. They rank 25th in both rushing offense (78.5 ypg) and third worst in yards per carry (3.4), and they have yet to score a rushing touchdown. Rookie Dameon Pierce leads Houston with 102 rushing yards, albeit on 3.9 ypc. Perhaps they can get it right against a Bears team that's had issues stopping the run.
Mills will be playing through pain this week as he's listed with a thumb issue on the injury report. Offensive lineman Austin Deculus (ankle), and tight ends Pharaoh Brown (shoulder) and Brevin Jordan (ankle) are also banged up.
3. Building blocks on defense
These teams are even in the pass-rushing department, as they both have five sacks. The Bears got three of those on Aaron Rodgers last week, while the Texans got the same amount on Russell Wilson. They have combined for 22 quarterback hits and 23 tackles for loss as well. The aggressiveness is there, but here is where these teams need to make adjustments.
The Bears own the worst run defense in the league (189.5 ypg), while the Texans are third-worst (163.0 ypg). The Bears are much better against the pass (7th, 183.0 ypg), while the Texans rank 26th in that department (270.5 ypg). Both teams have also struggled in the takeaway department, as Chicago only has three, while Houston has only recorded two.
The game plan is simple for both teams. They need to keep up the pressure on opposing QBs, force more turnovers, and stop the run. Defense is Smith's bread and butter, and his team will need to limit Fields' opportunities. The task for the Bears will be to keep the Texans one-dimensional. Chicago cannot allow Houston to do damage through both the air and the ground, while the Texans need to prevent the Bears from moving the ball at will.
Injuries are a concern for both defenses heading into this week's game. The Bears list linebackers Roquan Smith (hip) and Matt Adams (hamstring), along with DBs Jaylon Johnson (quad) and Dane Cruikshank (hamstring), on their injury report. The Texans' walking wounded on defense consists of linebackers Blake Cashman (shoulder) and Kamu Grugler-Hill (neck), defensive linemen Maliek Collins (knee), Kurt Hinish (foot), and defensive back Isaac Yiadom (thigh).
The Texans are 4-1 all-time against the Bears, but Chicago won the last meeting with Houston two years ago. Both teams are in similar spots in terms of trying to right the ship, but the Bears will use their home-field advantage and superior run game to get back into the win column and make Smith 0-3 against his former team.
Prediction: Bears 16, Texans 13
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who 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 can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
*Price as of publication.