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Five things to watch: Texans at Bears

Posted Nov 10, 2012

Here are five things to watch when the Texans (7-1) take on the Chicago Bears (7-1) on Sunday Night Football at Soldier Field in Week 10.


Here are five things to watch when the Texans (7-1, 2-0 AFC South) take on the Chicago Bears (7-1, 1-1 NFC North) on Sunday Night Football at Soldier Field in Week 10. Kickoff is Sunday at 7:20 p.m. CT.

1. Parade on Cutler?: In an evenly-matched game, the Texans’ biggest advantage might be their pass rush.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has been sacked 28 times, second-most in the league. The Texans have 25 sacks, tied for third in the NFL. Defensive end J.J. Watt, who leads the league with 10.5 sacks, was asked this week if he sees opportunities to sack Cutler.

“Yeah, I do,” Watt said. “I see opportunities for sacks against every offensive line. I obviously watched the film. You see the opportunities. You get excited.”

Texans outside linebackers Whitney Mercilus and Connor Barwin are heating up in the last two games. Mercilus has three sacks and two forced fumbles. Barwin has two sacks and eight quarterback hits. Defensive end Antonio Smith has 4.0 sacks this season, while outside linebacker Brooks Reed has 2.5.

2. Protecting the ball: The Bears have the most takeaways (28) in the NFL and have scored seven defensive touchdowns, most in NFL history through eight games. The Texans have the fewest giveaways (6) in the NFL, second-fewest in history through half a season.

“When you don’t hurt yourself as a football team, at the end of the day, you should have an excellent chance to win a football game or be in a dang good football game,” Kubiak said. “They’re the best in the business (at forcing turnovers) and well on their way to some records. We protect it pretty good, so it’s kind of a strength against a strength. Hopefully, we can hold up our end of the bargain.”

Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman has two interceptions and seven forced fumbles, including four in Week 9 against Tennessee. The Bears rank first in the league in turnover differential ( 16). Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has thrown just four interceptions this season and five in his last 12 games. Running back Arian Foster does not have a fumble this season, although protecting the ball could be more challenging with rain in the forecast on Sunday night.

3. Texans TEs: Tight end Owen Daniels is questionable for Sunday’s game because of a back injury. He will be a game-time decision. If he doesn’t play, the Texans will not only be without one of their top weapons but will have to make major adjustments to what they do offensively.

“It affects us a great deal because we’re very oriented with the versatility of those players (tight ends),” Kubiak said. “Can we still go do everything we do? Yeah, we can. You get limited as far as freshness of guys, or a nick in the game can throw you out of a lot of different things… But we’ve got to work through it. We have ways of working through it. We’ve had to adjust as coaches big-time this week and, bottom line, you’ve got to find a way to move the ball.”

Daniels did not practice on Wednesday and Thursday. He was “very limited” in practice on Friday, according to Kubiak. The Naperville, Ill., native is off to the best start of his career with 37 catches for 478 yards and five touchdowns through eight games.

Starting fullback James Casey and backup tight end Garrett Graham would play a more prominent role if Daniels is out. Kubiak said Casey, who plays both spots, would go from a 30-35 snap player to a 60-snap player. Fullback Tyler Clutts, a former Bear, also would be more involved on offense with Casey playing more tight end.

4. Foster vs. Forte: Both teams have Pro Bowl all-purpose running backs capable of doing damage as ball-carriers and receivers.

Foster ranks fifth in the NFL this season with 105.9 yards from scrimmage per game. He has 770 rushing yards and a league-leading 10 rushing touchdowns, all of which have come in the red zone. The Bears rank sixth in rushing defense with 88.0 yards allowed per game and have the NFL’s best red zone defense, limiting opponents to seven touchdowns in 19 trips inside the 20.

Forte ranks seventh in the league with 102.6 scrimmage yards per game. He averages 5.0 yards per carry and is second on the Bears with 20 receptions. The Texans rank second in rushing defense with 81.9 yards per game and have not allowed a rushing touchdown all season.

5. 8 to 80: Schaub is one of the NFL’s best road quarterbacks. His favorite target, Andre Johnson, could be in line for a huge night against Chicago with Daniels potentially unable to play and wide receiver Kevin Walter limited in practice all week by a groin injury.

In road games since 2011, Schaub ranks third in the NFL in passer rating (107.2) and first in yards per attempt (8.71). He averages 257 passing yards per game and has thrown only thrown three interceptions in 236 pass attempts. Since 2009, he has averaged 293.5 passing yards on the road and has a 101.2 passer rating, ranking third in the NFL in both categories.

Johnson is on a hot streak, with 25 catches for 279 yards in the last three games. The 31-year-old five-time Pro Bowler has said that he feels fresher physically with each passing week. The Bears have been susceptible in the air, ranking 16th in passing defense with 230.9 yards allowed per game.

Twitter.com/NickScurfield

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