Two unlikely first-place teams will meet in the Windy City this weekend as the Tennessee Titans go for their 9th consecutive win against the Chicago Bears.
Overshadowed by the likes of the Colts and the Jaguars, the Titans have raced out to a three-game lead in the AFC South. Coming off of a last-place finish in 2007, the Bears have seized the advantage in the NFC North through the season’s halfway mark.
Here are this week’s keys to a Titan victory.
The Titans must vex Rex
Universally regarded as one of the league’s worst starting quarterbacks, to the chagrin of Chicago fans (sarcasm), Rex Grossman has played the role of spectator in 2008.
Kyle Orton has injected life into the once-moribund Chicago passing attack with his solid performance. Unfortunately for the Bears, Orton is probably going to miss a few games due to the sprained ankle he suffered in last week’s victory over the hapless Lions.
Enter Rex Grossman. The much-maligned signal-caller gets yet another chance to man the fort at QB. The Titan defense must force Grossman into making the mistakes that have been a staple of his less-than-stellar NFL career.
Just throw it, baby! (but with caution)
Managing the game has been the forte of Kerry Collins during his tenure as Titans’ starting QB in 2008. On paper, this week’s matchup with Chicago’s 30th ranked pass defense should allow Collins to have one of his more successful days throwing the football.
However, it would be wise for Kerry to exercise some caution. Despite allowing a ton of yards, the Bears’ passing defense has held opposing quarterbacks to a 72.6 QB rating, allowing only 9 touchdowns while picking off 12 passes.
Facing a Chicago defense that is stout against the run (6th), advancing the football via the forward pass will be important for Collins and the Titans. However, avoiding interceptions against a deceptively opportunistic Lovie Smith D will be of greater significance.
Move the chains on 3rd downs
On Sunday, the Titans face a Bears’ defensive unit that is especially tough on third downs. Chicago is currently tied for 2nd in preventing third-down conversions, with opposing teams moving the chains on 3rd downs only 32% of the time.
On third-and-shorts, the Titans must find a way to Smash and Dash their way through and around the Bears’ tough run defense. On third-and-longs, guys such as Bo Scaife and Brandon Jones have to step up with clutch grabs to keep potential scoring drives moving.
What are your keys to a Titan victory over the Bears?