Bears vs. Titans: 8 Keys to the Game for Tennessee
I would have said that Tennessee stands no chance against Chicago.
That said, the Bears are heavy favorites going into the weekend, and it'll be a tough matchup for the Titans.
If they want to win, they'll need to do a lot of things very well. Here are eight things they must do if they want to score an upset.
1. Run the Ball Well
I have not been Chris Johnson's biggest fan this season, but if the Titans want to beat the Bears, then Johnson will be a big factor.
The Bears are currently the NFL's highest-scoring defense, and they don't get those defensive points from running plays. They get them by forcing turnovers, usually via the passing game.
It will behoove the Titans to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible. Johnson will have to settle for short runs when he can get them. If he tries to go for the home run, then the Titans will be forced to pass, and will end up turning the ball over.
Two or three big runs are not what the Titans need. They need a reliable, consistent running game. Johnson hasn't been that consistent running back this season, so he'll need to step up his game if he wants to help his team win.
2. Pressure Cutler
Jay Cutler is one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but when he starts seeing constant pressure from the defense, he starts to make mistakes.
That's exactly what he did facing Green Bay in Chicago's only loss of the season.
Clay Matthews could not be contained by the Bears' line, and he had his way with Cutler. Cutler kept trying to get the ball out early, and started turning it over.
The Titans need to get him off his rhythm as soon as possible. If they can do what Green Bay did, they could keep the Bears' offense off the board.
Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley ought to do well when lining up over the left tackle, since J'Marcus Webb is one of the worst left tackles in the league.
3. Take Away the Deep Threat
One area where the Bears have really struggled this season is in the passing game.
They don't have the best group of receivers, and their best receiver, Brandon Marshall, is new to the team. When he and Cutler have been out of sync, the whole offense suffers.
Other than pressuring Cutler, taking away Marshall is the most important thing that they can do defensively. Cutler likes Marshall, and he likes throwing the ball deep.
If the Titans make their No. 1 priority taking away Cutler's passes to Marshall, they'll make Cutler take a little bit more time getting the ball out, since he likes looking to Marshall first.
Buying that little extra time could help the defensive line get to Cutler more often.
It's a case of "help me help you," more or less. The more pressure the defensive line gets, the easier it is for the defensive backs to cover, and vice-versa.
If both units do well, the Bears will stall offensively.
4. Attack the Pass, but Don't Forget the Run
While the pass attack is where most of the defensive focus should fall, the defense can't let itself forget about Matt Forte.
If they do, he'll make them pay for it.
This is where pre-game preparation comes in handy. The defense needs to be able to read, as best it can, when the Bears are calling designed runs vs. designed passes.
Tennessee's run defense has been terrible when Colin McCarthy is out, but he seems to be healthy again, so they ought to be alright against the run—if it doesn't take them by surprise.
The Bears have a terrible offensive line overall, so Forte doesn't get any extra help from them. That makes the defense's job a little easier.
If the interior defensive line stuffs the run successfully and forces the Bears to pass often, then they'll have a much easier time.
5. Watch out for Julius Peppers
Remember what I said about getting pressure from the defensive line and forcing the quarterback to make bad throws? The Bears are really good at that.
Most of the pressure comes from All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers only has five sacks on the season, but he's constantly in the backfield, a thorn in every quarterback's side.
Chances are that it'll be up to Michael Roos to prevent him from wreaking havoc on the passing game, and as good as Roos is, that's no easy task.
If Peppers makes himself a factor, Matt Hasselbeck will end up turning the ball over, and that will be a recipe for disaster against this team.
Missed tackles have plagued the Titans this season.
It's been, by a large margin, the biggest problem on defense, and with a terrible pass rush and horrible safety play, that's saying something.
When you're going against the likes of Marshall, Cutler and Forte, missed tackles will come back around to bite you, and the Titans cannot afford that.
However, the area I in which could see this hurting the team the most is on special teams.
Devin Hester is probably the greatest kick-returner of all time. Tennessee special teams play has been very good this season, except for tackling.
Missed tackles have resulted in short fields for a lot of opposing offenses. When you're facing a returner as dangerous as Hester, you can't let that happen.
If the Titans have trouble with Hester early on, they may need to just kick the ball out of the backfield and take the touchback.
7. Score a Lot of Points
Now I don't think that the Titans defense is nearly as bad as it looks on paper.
It has given up a league leading 257 points this season, but they aren't among the league's worst defenses.
That said, I don't really think they'll be able to limit the Bears offense, special teams and defense to under 30 points. This is not a game that Tennessee can win by scoring three touchdowns and then holding on.
They will need to see the end zone—a lot.
This means, unfortunately, an aggressive offensive plan against a very good defense. They'll need to throw the ball a lot, and they'll need to do it well.
Is this strategy risky? Yes, but it's realistically the only way the Titans can get a W out of this opponent, unless the defense plays its best game of the season by a wide margin.
8. No Stupid Mistakes
While that game was an officiating travesty, the point remains: the Titans simply cannot make those kinds of mistakes.
That, hopefully, was a onetime thing that should never have happened and will hopefully never happen again, but that isn't the only thing the Titans must avoid.
David Stewart can't allow defenders to get into his head and get penalties. Defensive players can't make helmet-to-helmet hits that draw big penalties, and there definitely can't be any false starts.
Tennessee needs to play mistake-free football to beat the Bears. It'll be difficult, but the Titans do, on occasion, play with great discipline.
Not to make it a cliche, but beating the Bears will take a team effort. Everyone will have to do their part on both sides of the ball.
Chicago is 6-1 for a reason. They're a very good team. But, if the Titans come together and perform, they just might send the Bears back home with a second loss.