Bears-Texans preview: Houston's ball

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Bears-Texans preview: Houston's ball

Dealing with a touchdown triad

The Bears defense in 2012 has faced no defense without an apparent weakness. Until now.

Houston Texans running back Arian Foster leads the AFC in rushing, fifth overall in the NFL. He has 10 rushing touchdowns; no one else has more than seven, and the Bears have seven as a team.

Wide receiver Andre Johnson devastated the Bears for 10 catches, 148 yards and two touchdowns the last time the two teams met. Two-thirds (42) of the balls thrown to him (63) have been caught. In his 10th season, he has caught at least one pass in 90 consecutive games.

Quarterback Matt Schaub was the MVP of the 2010 Pro Bowl and has a career passer rating of 92.7 to go with membership in the august 2004 quarterback class (Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger).

Schaub has been sacked a total of 10 times in eight games, compared to Jay Cutlers 28. Foster leads his conference in rushing. Someone is blocking very, very well for them.

It is a triad of offense reminiscent of the Dallas Cowboys template of Troy Aikman-Emmitt Smith-Michael Irvin. None of the Texans are at those Hall of Fame levels but the problems are obvious.

Schaub is smart, hes a heck of a quarterback, and it all works together with their run game, said offensive coordinator. They sell that run and that zone blocking, and they come out and boot and play-action, and he manages that stuff extremely well. Very smart. Extremely smart. Thats a heck of an offense.

Balance, balance, balance

The NFL may be a passing league but Houston is 7-1 with an offense that is top-10 in virtually every offensive category. The Texans are No. 2 in scoring with 29.6 points per game, one-tenth of a point per game ahead of the Bears but with 24 offensive touchdowns on the season vs. the Bears 19.

It has been happening with an offense that is near perfectly balanced, even slightly tilted toward the run: 280 running plays, 264 pass plays, a 51-49 run-pass ratio.

The Texans have had exactly one offensive lineman in their history center Chris Myers, installed as a team captain this week named to a Pro Bowl. Yet they considered their line good enough last offseason to cut starting right tackle Eric Winston. The sack total on Schaub and Fosters year speak to how that line has performed.

The task for the Bears is to win enough matchups along the line to disrupt Schaubs drops and timing, and the cadence of Foster and the run game.

They are all pretty athletic, said linebacker Lance Briggs. They move well. Their running style really complements their pass because they do a lot of play action off of it -- boots, play action. They find ways to get Schaub extra seconds. They have a lot of different routes. A lot of crossing routes; a lot of zig-zag routes.

If he has enough time, theyll find a way to pick us apart.

Stopping Schaub

The Bears rank No. 1 in opponents passer rating (62.9), ahead of San Francisco (72.9) and the Texans (75.4). But Schaub is not Blaine Gabbert nor Cam Newton nor Sam Bradford.

In the past two years only Aaron Rodgers (117.3) and Tom Brady (108.8) have higher passer ratings on the road than Schaub (107.2), who has thrown only three interceptions vs. 15 touchdown passes in alien environments.

The problem with Schaub and the Houston offense is that it just does not help out defenses. The Texans have exactly six giveaways for the season and three of those were interceptions of Schaub by the Green Bay Packers, the one team to beat the Texans.

The Bears have 28 takeaways for the season, No. 1 in the NFL. But if the Bears are counting on Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman or anyone else to put points on the board, they will be in trouble.

Tennessee Titans coaches and players all talked of the preoccupation during pre-Bears practices last week with avoiding giveaways, to the point where the suspicion was that it produced added tension and tentativeness, which may have added to the turnover avalanche.

The Texans, with their lone fumble through eight games, are far more matter-of-fact.

You cant drop the ball as a running back or any skill position, Foster said simply. You always got to be cognizant of it.

Blackhawks look to keep rolling vs. Coyotes

Blackhawks look to keep rolling vs. Coyotes

The last time the Blackhawks faced the Arizona Coyotes was the first game the current top line of Nick Schmaltz, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik were thrown together.

Yeah, the combination's worked out well. So has the Blackhawks' game in general, as they've won seven of eight including that Feb. 2 game. Now the Blackhawks will try to keep the momentum rolling with their lines and their game when they host the Coyotes Thursday night at the United Center.

The Blackhawks' current run of success started in the desert and part of that has been finding more consistent lines. Everything else has gradually improved off of that, from goal scoring to puck possession.

"I think it's puck possession, puck control, pace to the game," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we were very inconsistent in that early and we were defending way more than we were accustomed to. You're vulnerable for penalties, you're vulnerable for quality scoring chances against and not generating enough. I think that's the progression in our game now, it seems like all four lines are having the puck and having some zone time and having some rush chances, zone chances and it seems like every line's contributing there, and that's the big difference."

[RELATED: By the bye - Blackhawks keep rolling following break]

The Blackhawks' top line didn't have immediate chemistry but Quenneville kept them together and let them work on it. But as Toews said, it was about the group keeping the all-around game going, points or no points.

"Sometimes you just gotta work until things start clicking," Toews said. "Everyone seems to start paying attention when you start scoring goals, regardless of [the fact you're] doing things right. It's nice that we're scoring but we have to stick with what's making us a successful line at both ends of the rink right now."

Corey Crawford will start vs. the Coyotes. Niklas Hjalmarsson did not skate this morning but is expected to play. Quenneville said Michal Rozsival could draw into the lineup.

Broadcast information

Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: CSN
Live stream: CSNChicago.com

Blackhawks lines

Nick Schmaltz -Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Dennis Rasmussen-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
Ryan Hartman-Tanner Kero-Vinnie Hinostroza

Defensive pairs

Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Michal Rozsival-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltender

Corey Crawford

Injuries 

None

Coyotes lines (via Arizona Republic)

Tobias Rieder-Martin Hanzal-Radim Vrbata
Brendan Perlini-Christian Dvorak-Shane Doan
Max Domi -Alex Burmistrov-Ryan White
Jamie McGinn-Jordan Martinook-Josh Jooris

Defensive pairs

Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Luke Schenn
Alex Goligoski-Anthony DeAngelo
Jakob Chychrun-Connor Murphy

Goaltender

Mike Smith

Injuries

Lawson Crouse (lower body), Brad Richardson (tibia)

Ranking the five best games Mark Buehrle pitched with the White Sox

Ranking the five best games Mark Buehrle pitched with the White Sox

The White Sox will retire Mark Buehrle's No. 56 prior to June 24's game against the Oakland Athletics, a deserving honor for one of the best pitchers in franchise history. The left-hander compiled a 3.83 ERA and won 161 games during 12 seasons with the White Sox, and perhaps more impressively, he threw over 200 innings every year he was a full-time member of the team's starting rotation. 

So with the White Sox announcing Buehrle's number retirement ceremony for this summer, let's take a look back at the best games the St. Charles, Mo. native pitched with the White Sox. 

1. July 23, 2009: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 6 K vs. Tampa Bay. Time of game: 2:03

Buehrle's perfect game, complete with Dewayne Wise's legendary catch, sits at the top of mountain of Buehrle's historic achievements with the White Sox. This was a vintage Buehrle game, with him working quickly and getting plenty of weak contact. It just turned out that Tampa Bay couldn't get anyone on base in it.

2. April 18, 2007: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K vs. Texas. Time of game: 2:03

By game score, this was actually the best game Buehrle pitched in his career thanks to the two more strikeouts he had than in his perfect game. And in no-hitting the Rangers, Buehrle still faced the minimum — after walking Sammy Sosa, he picked off the former Cubs slugger. 

3. April 16, 2005: 9 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 12 K vs. Seattle. Time of game: 1:39

The 99-minute game might get lost in Buehrle's career thanks to his no-hitter and perfect game, but it's right up there in terms of how impressive it was. Not only did Buehrle set a career high in strikeouts against Seattle, but only one Mariners player got a hit that day (Ichiro, who naturally had all three). And it was the first — and still only — nine-inning game to be completed in under 100 minutes since 1984.

4. Aug. 3, 2001: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 K vs. Tampa Bay. Time of game: 2:12

Before Buehrle was an All-Star, World Series winner and no-hitter/perfect game thrower, he took a perfect game into the seventh inning against the Devil Rays before Damian Rolls singled to break it up. This wasn't Buehrle's first great start of his career — that came in a three-hit shutout of the Detroit Tigers on May 26, 2001 — but it stood up for a decade and a half as one of the best games he pitched in the majors. 

5. July 21, 2004: 0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 K vs. Cleveland. Time of game: 2:31

This was another brush with perfection for Buehrle, who only allowed a one-out, seventh-inning single to Omar Vizquel (he got Matt Lawton to hit into a double play after, allowing him to face the minimum for the first time in his career). This is the longest game in Buehrle's top five thanks to the White Sox blasting Cliff Lee and the Indians for 14 runs, but even then, barely over two and a half hours was a relatively brisk pace.