It was no doubt the highlight of Week 10 in the National Football League. The Sunday night showdown featured the two best defenses in the league as the Houston Texans barreled into Soldier Field to take on the Chicago Bears.
The focus of all the pregame talk was on the defenses and rightly so. A look at the numbers will give you an idea of just how dominant these teams are on the defensive side of the ball. Both defenses are among the top 10 teams in yards per game, rushing defense, sacks, scoring, and turnover ratio.
Defensive coordinators Wade Phillips and Rod Marinelli have developed young talent and utilized veteran skill to create brilliant defensive systems that are not only tough, but passionate and intelligent. These defenses make stops when it counts and consistently come up with big plays. Both teams are full of defensive superstars and the Texans’ J.J. Watt and the Bears’ Charles Tillman are early favorites for the defensive MVP award this season.
A rainy and windy night at Soldier Field was the perfect stage for this tough, defensive struggle. Since the Texans play most of their games indoors, the Bears thought to have the advantage in the rough weather conditions, especially when it came to their defensive specialty. Turnovers.
Only the NFL could produce the poetic justice that followed. On the Bears’ first offensive drive of the game, former Bears safety Danieal Manning of the Houston Texans forced a fumble by tight end Kellen Davis and recovered the ball in Bears territory. The Bears quickly got a taste of their own medicine, served up by a product of their own defensive system.
And it didn’t stop there. Bears running back Michael Bush picked up an important 4th and 1 near midfield, only to fumble the ball after about a 10-yard gain. The Texans recovered. Danieal Manning made his presence known again at the end of the first quarter, intercepting a Jay Cutler pass at the Houston 10 yard line to halt one of the only productive drives of the game for the Chicago offense.
The first quarter ended with the Bears’ three drives resulting in a fumble, a fumble, and an interception.
The Bears would turn the ball over a fourth time before the half, an interception by Houston’s Kareem Jackson with 1:16 left on the clock.
On the other side of the ball, the defensive Chicago Bears had struggles of their own. The weather conditions dictated that the game would be won on the ground, and Texans running back Arian Foster heeded the call. Foster finished the night with 29 rushing attempts for 102 yards and the game’s only touchdown reception. The Bears uncharacteristically struggled to defend the run, and Arian Foster took advantage all night long. His powerful running helped keep the Texans offense on the field and run out the clock in the fourth quarter in this very close defensive struggle.
If creating turnovers and dominating in the running game were the keys to winning this game, anyone would have picked the Chicago Bears as the clear winner. As Hines Ward of NBC observed at halftime, the Texans charged into Chicago and “beat the Bears at their own game.”
Life is about to get much harder for the Chicago Bears. Sitting atop the NFC North at 7-2, a casual observer may think all is well. With the loss this week, however, Chicago is only one game ahead of the defending division champions in Green Bay, who look poised to make a run for the division title and the playoffs after a bye week that will help heal some of their injured players. Perhaps even more poignant than the threat of the Green Bay Packers is the loss of quarterback Jay Cutler to a concussion sustained from a nasty hit taken late in the second quarter. There is no news yet on the severity of the injury and when Cutler may be able to return to the lineup, but it would not be surprising if backup QB Jason Campbell received the start in the Bears’ next matchup against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night. In a game that promises to be as tough as the last, the Bears need their starting quarterback to be able to compete against the fiery 49ers defense.
As if the loss of their quarterback and a looming division rival were not enough, the Bears schedule looks to significantly increase in difficulty for the second half of the season. Three of their next five games will be divisional matchups against the surprising Minnesota Vikings and rival Green Bay Packers. The other two come against a tough Seattle Seahawks squad and the Monday night battle against the 49ers. They finish up the year facing two teams currently with losing records, but both on the road at Arizona and Detroit.
Life will surely be more difficult for the Chicago Bears and their loyal fans for the second half of the season, but that is certainly not to say the Bears will not rise to the occasion. It remains a tough road ahead, and the Chicago Bears would be wise to listen to the victory song of their fans at Soldier Field. It’s time to bear down.