The big, bad Chicago Bears are among the one-loss elite of this NFL season for good reason.
With a defence like the one that has wreaked havoc on its opponents so far, scoring points almost as prolifically as some team’s offences, the reputation is well deserved.
But will they have met their match this Sunday night when the Houston Texans come to town for a battle of 7-1 teams?
In the undisputed game of the week, the prime-timer features strength on strength when the AFC’s leading team travels to face one of the best in the NFC. And by strength on strength, we mean a Texans defence that may be every bit as good as the one they are facing.
“It’s a really good defence,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler told reporters in Chicago on Wednesday. “From top down, the front seven, the secondary is good. They are very well coached. They don’t give up big plays. They are tough against the run. They present a lot of challenges.”
How tough are they? Let’s start with one of their most impressive feats to date — through eight games, they are the only team in the NFL that hasn’t allowed a touchdown on the ground.
With their ability to get an opposing offence off of the field in quick order, the Texans have held their opponents to an average possession time of 24:47 per game, also the best in the league.
And then there is Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, a serious candidate for NFL defensive player of the year. In his reign of terror on opposing offences so far this season, Watt has 10.5 sacks and 10 pass knock downs.
As for the Bears, they’ve scored seven defensive touchdowns, more than any team in NFL history through eight weeks. Among their many weapons is cornerback Charles Tillman had an incredible four forced fumbles in last Sunday’s blowout win over the Tennessee Titans.
It would appear that both teams have the ideal balance to compete. The Bears lead the NFL with a plus-116 point differential while the Texans are second at plus-100. And one more element to the toss-up — the Texans are 3-0 on the road and the Bears are 4-0 at Soldier Field, where some frigid weather could roll in for Sunday’s tussle.
Meanwhile, give the oft-maligned Cutler some credit: As much as the Bears offence may be improved, he acknowledged on Wednesday that it is his team’s defence that is carrying the freight.
“We’re eight, nine years behind those guys,” Cutler said. “They have been in the same system a long time. We just have to be able to focus on ourselves and every guy has got to get a little bit better each week, every day in practice. If we get a little bit better, we’ll be better. That’s our goal.”
With Colorado and Washington each voting to legalize the medical use of marijuana on Tuesday, the punchlines were quick to come on twitter and elsewhere that the Broncos and Seahawks would suddenly become even more popular with NFL players.
Where there’s smoke, there isn’t fire as far as the NFL is concerned, however.
“The NFL’s policy is collectively bargained and will continue to apply in the same manner it has for decades,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told USA Today. “Marjuana remains prohibited under the NFL substance abuse program.”
PURSUIT OF PERFECTION
What does an 8-0 start get the Atlanta Falcons?
Nothing guaranteed, obviously, but history suggests good things could await. Since 1978 when the 16-game schedule was instituted, the Falcons are the 15th team to start 8-0. Of the previous 14, nine made it to the Super Bowl.
“I want to be 16-0,” Atlanta receiver Roddy White said. “Well ... 19-0.”
With a horrid defence and a 3-6 record, it’s already play-out-the-string time for the Tennessee Titans but it’s time to hand the ball back to quarterback Jake Locker. Titans coach Mike Munchak said that Locker, who separated his non-throwing shoulder in Week 4, will get the start Sunday vs. the Dolphins ... Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez returned to practice on Wednesday after skipping Tuesday and not travelling to the U.K with the team for their Oct. 28 victory over St. Louis at Wembley Stadium ... The league announced that the San Diego Chargers have been fined $20,000 for trying to hide the use of those “sticky” towels in a game against Denver last month.
TILLMAN PICKS FATHERHOOD OVER FOOTBALL
He may be a candidate for the NFL’s top defensive player this season, but how about father of the year as well?
Charles Tillman, the ball-hawking cornerback for the Bears, says he may miss Sunday’s showdown with the Texans because his wife Jackie is about to give birth to their fourth child.
“The wife is due any day, so hopefully this baby can stay in until after the game on Sunday,” Tillman said in an interview with Chicago radio station WSCR on Wednesday. “I hope she says in. But if she comes Sunday, I think I’m going to have to be at the hospital Sunday.”
Tillman has more reason than family support to miss the game. One of their previous children, Tiana, required a heart transplant as an infant.
Bears coach Lovie Smith didn’t seem phased by the prospect when asked about Tillman’s status by reporters in Houston.
“Things happen in life,” Smith said. “Whatever we’re faced with, we’ll deal with.”