Wednesday morning, the Chicago Bears offense sat down to watch film of the Houston Texans' active and swarming defense. One of the games they watched was a Week 6 affair in which the Texans took their standard approach -- press coverage with a single-high safety -- and were torched by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for six touchdown passes and a total of eight explosive throws that traveled at least 16 yards.
Like the Packers, the Bears have the personnel to exploit single-high safety looks.
So for me, there are two questions that must be answered as the Bears and Texans prepare for Sunday night's showdown:
Will the Texans give the Bears the same look?
If so, will the Bears protect quarterback Jay Cutler enough to capitalize?
Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips told reporters -- jokingly, I assume -- that the Texans will double-team receiver Brandon Marshall on every play. Phillips made the convincing argument that the Bears "haven’t thrown it to the other guys very much except the running back," but if form holds, Marshall will get more opportunities than he might ordinarily to make big plays downfield early in this game.
"We've been pretty good against single-high teams," offensive coordinator Mike Tice said this week. Added Marshall: "I'm going to get some single coverage."
As we noted earlier this week, five of Marshall's seven touchdowns this season have come with the Bears leading by at least 17 points. Facing a deficit, opposing defenses have assumed the Bears would run to eat time off the clock and are bringing one of their safeties close to the line of scrimmage. That leaves the other safety in a "single-high" look that limits the attention paid to Marshall.
If the Texans open the game that way, the Bears could be in business if Cutler has enough time to throw. That's a big "if," of course, and not just because Cutler has been sacked 28 times this season. The Texans have arguably the NFL's best pass defense, allowing a league-low 17.4 QBR to opposing quarterbacks. Their standard four-man pass rush is averaging one sack per 11.7 dropbacks, the second-highest total in the NFL, and defensive lineman J.J. Watt has 10.5 sacks and nine tipped passes on his own.
With this game now two days away, I feel comfortable spending more time focusing on the Bears' offense than the rest of their team. Way back in training camp, as we noted, the Bears' confidence this season was based not just on their defense or special teams, but that they would finally have an offense to match those two long-running elite groups.
The Bears have started 7-1 without the strength of a consistently high-performing offense, but they are about to hit a stretch of games -- beginning Sunday night -- that will require the offense to be better. If the Texans play their single-high safety look, and the Bears protect Cutler, the offense has a great chance to do its part.