The Texans’ defense has been giving up just 285 yards of offense per game, good enough for third best in the league. Just like the Bears, they are great at getting to the quarterback, racking up 25 sacks on the season.
J.J. Watt may just be the NFL‘s defensive player of the year with 10.5 sacks and a staggering 10 passes deflected—almost unheard of for a defensive lineman. Watt is relentless on the field, using speed, a quick first step, and power to beat his opponent. He typically lines up on the left side of the line, but has the ability to move around if needed.
The Bears right tackle, Gabe Carimi, has experience going up against Watt in college on a regular basis during their tenure together at the University of Wisconsin. Carimi has struggled this season in pass protection and Watt will pose yet another difficult task. In order to try and slow Watt down, Carimi will need to try and cut block him or rely on help from an extra blocker.
Lined up next to Watt is nose tackle Shaun Cody. Cody suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung Sunday against the Buffalo Bills and his status for Sunday is questionable (h/t Houston Chronicle). If Cody is unable to go Sunday, third year veteran Earl Mitchell will get the start. Roberto Garza and left guard Chilo Rachal will likely be matched up against the nose tackle on Sunday night.
Opposite of Watt at the other defensive end position is veteran Antonio Smith. He made his first Pro Bowl last season and currently has four sacks on the season. He doesn’t wow you with his speed, but he is quick off the ball and is a power rusher that could pose problems for left tackle J’Marcus Webb. Webb typically relies on his athleticism against pass rushers, but with Smith’s use of strength and power, he’ll have to be more reliant on his technique.
The Texans’ defense took a major hit when Brian Cushing was lost for the year earlier this season. Cushing was the captain of the defense and his loss has been felt. Tim Dobbins replaced Cushing at the inside linebacker position and has played well since being inserted into the lineup. Veteran Bradie James mans the other inside linebacker position and has done a good job anchoring a defensive unit that has yet to give up a rushing touchdown. In order to attack the inside linebackers, expect the Bears to not only run Matt Forte a lot but to also give more snaps to Michael Bush, who can wear down a team between the tackles.
Outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed are both good pass-rushers as well as solid against the run. Barwin has two sacks on the season with Reed racking up two and half. Both present the ability to rush the passer, stop the run, and play well in the passing game. Both Barwin and Reed lack to of the line speed and could have trouble stopping Kellen Davis or Matt Forte in the passing game out of the backfield.
Former University of Illinois standout Whitney Mercilus is slowly working his way into the Texans’ rotation and has been productive as of late. In his last two games he has a combine three sacks and two forced fumbles and is starting find himself with more playing time. He will have extra incentive Sunday night being back in the state of Illinois as well as wanting to prove to the Bears that they should of selected him ahead of Shea McClellin.
Since his arrival in Houston before the start of the 2011 season, Johnathan Joseph has been arguably one of the best cornerbacks in the game. He will be matched up against the Bears’ Brandon Marshall for likely the majority of the game. And although there is a physical disadvantage (Marshall 6’4″ and Joseph 5’11″) Joseph has played well against bigger, more physical receivers. The Texans will likely try their luck with Joseph facing him one on one in an attempt to slow down the Bears desire to get more receivers involved.
Lined up opposite of Joseph is Kareem Jackson. Jackson struggled his first two years in the league but has found himself becoming a more complete cornerback. He has excelled this season in man-to-man coverage and has played well against the run. The Bears will likely filter in Devin Hester and Earl Bennett as the number two receiver and hopefully the differences in the two receivers’ game can slow down the improving Jackson.
Glover Quin and former Bear Daniel Manning hold down the safety positions. Quin has stepped in and played nickelback at times and has played well at the free safety spot. Manning is much like the player he was in Chicago, he can excel at times coming up in the box and stopping the run, but continues to have lapses at times in pass coverage.
The key to getting to Manning is forcing him to bite on play action and then try to push the ball over top. Trying to extend Marshall or Hester deep on a double move could force Manning to jump on a route and open things up for the offense down the field.
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.