Texans vs Bears: Individual Battles to Watch During Sunday Night Showdown
Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
From J.J. Watt to Brandon Marshall to Arian Foster, Sunday night's matchup between the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears features a bevy of intriguing battles between some of the league's best superstars.
While Marshall and Andre Johnson are perennial Pro Bowlers at their position, no player is more deserving of a Pro Bowl selection this season than Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.
The 6'5", 295-pounder is dominating the league like no other 3-4 defensive end has in history. Using his long arms, incredible strength and rare athleticism, the second-year pro has recorded 39 tackles, 10.5 sacks and an unbelievable 10 passes defended.
Watt's ability to harass passing lanes has earned him the nickname J.J. Swat, and the rising superstar will be able to feast against Chicago Bears right tackle Gabe Carimi.
Taken 18 picks after Watt, Carimi entered the league as one of the most pro-ready offensive linemen after starting 49 games at Wisconsin.
Although he's been a good run-blocker, the 6'7", 316-pounder has been less than stellar in pass protection due to his lack of quick feet.
In the battle between two former first-round picks, Watt has the clear edge.
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In 2011, the Texans addressed their biggest hole—their pass defense—by bringing in cornerback Jonathan Joseph.
This offseason, the Bears attacked their weakness at wide receiver by trading for the talented but troubled Marshall.
Those look like investments well made.
Joseph helped transform Houston's defense from a laughing stock into one of the league's most formidable units, as Houston ranked No. 2 in total defense in 2011.
Although he's just 5'11", 193 pounds, the former Cincinnati Bengal isn't afraid to make a tackle or get physical at the line with receivers.
However, the former first-round pick will have a mighty task in slowing the 6'4", 230-pound Marshall.
After an up-and-down stint in Miami, the Bears traded two third-round picks for Marshall, and the results have been tremendous.
Through eight games, Marshall has tallied 59 receptions for 797 yards and seven touchdowns, including four games with at least 119 receiving yards.
While Joseph probably has better long speed than Marshall, the Bears' newest weapon will win the matchup because of his superior size, strength and run after the catch ability.
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Both the Bears and Texans boast two of the game's best all-around receivers, but they also happen to have two of the league's true bell cow running backs.
In Houston, Arian Foster has emerged from an undrafted free agent to the best back in the NFL.
Combining vision and speed with excellent lateral movement and great hands, Foster is the go-to guy for Gary Kubiak.
Even with defenses gearing up to stop the run, Foster has rushed for 770 yards and 10 touchdowns already.
Chicago's stellar run defense is led by its two Pro Bowl linebackers—Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs—and both veterans will be tasked with holding Foster in check.
Urlacher has lost a few steps as age and injuries have sapped him of his rare speed, but the 13-year pro still has the instincts and awareness to make plays.
Briggs is actually the bigger threat to stopping Foster, as the 6'1", 244-pound 'backer is in the midst of another fantastic season.
Who's a better NFL running back: Arian Foster or Matt Forte?
For Chicago, the offense runs through versatile back Matt Forte.
Though he's only found pay dirt three times this year, Forte is averaging a robust 5.0 yards per carry and has caught 20 passes.
The 2008 first-round pick will have an easier time running against a Houston defense that's without star linebacker Brian Cushing for the rest of the year (ACL) and without starting nose tackle Shaun Cody, who suffered a punctured lung and broken ribs in last week's win against Miami (via SBNation.com)
As long as the Bears are able to strike a balance on offense, they'll definitely have a chance at taking down the best team in the AFC.
However, J.J. Watt will surely have something to say about that.
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