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.
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.