NFL Preview - Chicago (6-1) at Tennessee (3-5)|
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Go ahead, call the Chicago Bears the ugliest 6-1 team in
See if they care.
In spite of an offense that's 26th in the league in yardage and 30th in
passing - and with a defense that's scored 22.1 percent of the overall points
- the Bears arrive in Week 9 with a 1 1/2-game bulge over the Green Bay
Packers and Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North.
They head to Nashville this weekend to face the Tennessee Titans with a chance
to win a sixth straight game for the first time in six years.
Chicago scored its lone touchdown on its first possession in a six-point win
against Detroit two weeks ago, then had to rally from a 12-point hole in the
final quarter to edge past one-win Carolina last week.
In the two games, the Bears totaled 506 yards and quarterback Jay Cutler was
sacked 11 times.
"I don't think you can hit the panic button offensively," Cutler said. "We
just need to keep getting better. We have to keep looking at our mistakes,
Overall, the former Vanderbilt passer is 23rd in the NFL with a 78.9 rating.
But he's been lights-out when it counts, posting a league-best 132.0 mark in
the fourth quarter, including a 12-of-14 effort for 80 yards and a score in
the defeat of the Panthers.
Chicago last won six straight when it started 7-0 in 2006, en route to a 13-3
finish and a Super Bowl berth.
"It is about execution most of the time, but we're not going to change what we
believe in or anything like that," coach Lovie Smith said. "We are going to do
it better. We're not going to apologize for being 6-1."
In his first season with the Bears after a trade with Miami, wideout Brandon
Marshall has 675 yards on 50 catches -- already 13 more receptions than any
Chicago receiver managed last season.
The Titans are 30th in total defense (421.2 yards) and 31st in scoring defense
Chicago allows 14.3 points per game. And Tim Jennings' interception return
against the Panthers accounted for an NFL-leading sixth defensive TD.
The Bears, who haven't won three straight road games since 2010, are 2-0 at
Tennessee since the franchise moved from Houston. The Titans are 2-2 at home
after losing a late seven-point lead in a 19-13 OT loss to Indianapolis last
week. They ran 59 offensive plays compared to the Colts' 76.
Indianapolis forced the extra session with a 14-play, 80-yard drive and went
80 yards on nine plays to win in OT.
Had Tennessee won, it would have reached .500 for the first time in 2012.
"You're 3-5, that's not good enough," coach Mike Munchak said. "Frustration,
it means work your way through it, and let's find a way to turn this around
and get to 5-5. Find a way to become a better player and a better team."
Not to mention some locker-room chaos.
Receiver Kenny Britt is lobbying for more downfield throws, though the Titans
rank near the top of the league with 30 passes of more than 20 yards. Tight
end Jared Cook, according to reports, wants to be traded though he's tied for
second on the team with 28 catches for 373 yards and two TDs.
On the bright side, 2009 offensive player of the year Chris Johnson has 385
yards and two TDs on 58 carries in three games after gaining only 210 on 73
rushes without a score in the first five.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 931
yards with four TDs and two interceptions in four games as a replacement for
injured Jake Locker. Hasselbeck has a 96.2 passer rating, 837 yards, six
touchdowns and no interceptions in winning two of three against the Bears.
Locker remains questionable this week with an injured shoulder, though Munchak
has repeatedly said that the youngster will start when able.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Cutler's ability to stay vertical has been inconsistent at best so far, with
his 25 sacks putting him third in the league in terms of most-harassed
That said, the matchup with the Titans might be a boon because Tennessee has
registered a pedestrian 11 sacks - tied for fourth-least in the league. If
he's got time, expect Cutler to target the prolific Marshall and boost the
team's standing from the lower third in both pass yards per attempt and pass
yards per game.
If the Bears are what people say they are -- thanks, Dennis Green -- then
they'll be able to go on the road and extend a win streak to six games.
Because the Titans aren't particularly adept at scoring or keeping opposing
quarterbacks from staying upright, it seems a difficult task unless Johnson
can control the game with his legs or either Hasselbeck or Locker is able to
work with what seems to be a fractured receiving corps.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bears 20, Titans 10
11/01 12:40:38 ET