Former first-round pick Jake Locker was expected to be the team’s long term starter, but following an injury on September 30th against the Houston Texans, he still has not been cleared to return, forcing veteran Matt Hasselbeck into the starting role.
In the six games he has played in this season, Hasselbeck has been mediocre, throwing for over 1,100 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. He doesn’t wow you with a perfect deep ball or have the ability to pick up big yardage with his feet, but he does all the little things right. The Bears will try and bring pressure with their front four, something they have not done as well in recent weeks like they had earlier in the season.
After a slow start to the season, running back Chris Johnson is finally heating up. In eight games this season, he has rushed for 595 yards on 131 carries with two touchdowns. A combination of Johnson simply not playing well and a struggling offensive line got him off to a bad start, but they have found their stride of late, rushing for 385 yards in their last three games.
Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher will have his toughest task of the season going up against Johnson.
Urlacher’s play has improved since his knee injury at the end of last year caused him to miss plenty of time during training camp. His ability to cover all areas of the field has decreased this year, but he has shown himself to be much more effective in recent weeks.
Expect the Titans and Johnson to try and test him early and often.
Following a breakout 2010 season in which he had 775 yards receiving and nine touchdowns, Kenny Britt was expected to become one of the league’s best young receivers. His 2011 season was cut short after just three games due to a knee injury. He was expected to be a big target for Locker but has struggled to find a rhythm with either quarterback.
In eight games this season, he has just 20 catches for 209 yards, good enough for fourth best on the team. His size and speed can be troublesome for opposing defenses, but he doesn’t appear to be 100 percent. Charles Tillman will likely be saddled with the task of matching up against him and given his recent success against bigger receivers, he should be able to keep Britt at bay.
Nate Washington leads the team in yards (443) and yards per catch (15.8) and is tied for the team lead in touchdowns (three). He has a penchant for the big play and will likely see a lot of Tim Jennings. Expect the Bears to keep safety help over top to prevent him from burning them deep.
Rookie Kendall Wright has been impressive, hauling in a team high 40 catches and is tied with Washington for the lead in receiving touchdowns. His targets have been down in the last two games, only average seven looks in each but he has been effective when thrown to in the slot. D.J. Moore will be matched up against him, and if he struggles, the Bears have shown they are not afraid to sub in veteran Kelvin Hayden.
After a breakout 2011 season, tight end Jared Cook was expected to be a major factor in the Titans’ passing game. After eight games, he sits with 28 catches for 373 yards and has requested a trade due to a lack of involvement in the offense in recent weeks (h/t USA TODAY Sports).
As of now, it is unknown whether his request will be granted before the Thursday trade deadline, but if he is still a Titan come Sunday, he poses a matchup problem for the Bears.
Good size, speed and hands makes Cook one of the best young tight ends in the game that most haven’t heard about. Ineffective quarterback play and an offense that doesn’t feature his abilities makes his 2011 stats all that more impressive. Expect the Bears to use a combination of Nick Roach and one of their safeties to try and slow Cook down.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work on BleacherReport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.