Sometimes, you have to win ugly. In a matchup of two of the top teams in the league this season it was the Houston Texans who came out on top in a game*ugly enough to match the weather conditions.
With the rain falling and the long grass at Soldier Field slick, this was always likely to be a game filled with handling errors on both sides. The six first-half turnovers and seven drops between the two teams were proof positive that neither side escaped those errors. However, in games like this it is about managing the errors and ensuring that they do not cost you the big plays. The Texans had half of the turnovers and only two of the seven drops, while the Bears put potential touchdowns and crucial conversions on the ground to thwart their efforts.
This was one of our first tastes of autumn football this season, and it was the ground and pound of the Houston Texans that won out as they held their place atop the AFC. Here are some of the key performances that helped maintain that slender lead over the chasing pack.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
In spite of the conditions in Chicago, the Texans’ pass defense was far busier than their run defense, by a ratio of 2:1. This put pressure on the likes of Johnathan Joseph, Danieal Manning, and Kareem Jackson, and the Texans’ secondary responded with a strong game. Things may have been different had Brandon Marshall hauled in that pass in the end zone over Joseph, but the real story of the game on the back end was the performance of Manning and Jackson, who both recorded season-high coverage grades. Between the two players they allowed three completions on six targets for 15 yards, with the three incompletions all coming with Jackson or Manning getting hands to the ball. Jackson’s interception was his fourth of the season but his first since the Week 5 victory in New York. Easily in the finest vein of form in his career, Jackson has allowed fewer yards in the Texans’ past six games (117) than he allowed in their first three (167).
In such weather conditions, you look for your offensive line and ball carriers to carry you, and this week Arian Foster and Justin Forsett put in the hard graft for the Houston offense. Due to the nature of the conditions, the play calling and the opposing defense, Foster was kept largely bottled for much of the game but the rushes on which he broke free were crucial for the Texans’ offensive success. Forsett and Foster both came up with long carries to set up Foster’s excellent touchdown catch prior to halftime, and it was the Bears’ inability to completely bottle the running game that allowed the Texans to do just enough to win. Neither passing game was going to win the contest in the conditions,*and it was the Texans’ discipline and commitment to their running game that proved to be the difference.
It says something of the season that J.J. Watt is having that a +1.9 game grade is his worst of the season. His ‘lull’ didn’t lead to a letdown from the rest of the Houston defense, however, with every front seven defender except Antonio Smith recording a positive run defense grade. Third-year nose tackle*Earl Mitchell,*making his first career start,*led the way in terms of stops*but this was a group effort, exemplified*by Brooks Reed working at inside linebacker in a five-linebacker set to allow rookie Whitney Mercilus on the field at outside linebacker. While Reed didn’t record a single stop, he did get the better of the Chicago fullback on a series of plays at the start of the third quarter, persistently redirecting the back and preventing the rookie from clearing the point of attack. There is little doubt that Matt Forte is the engine of the Chicago offense, and the Houston front seven ensured that he could never get on track.
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
Mistake After Mistake
There was a time when Kellen Davis was a great hope for the Bears’ offense. A two-sport star at Michigan State, Davis has the body size and athleticism to be a difference maker at tight end, but things simply will not come together in his second season as a starter. Davis has been an inconsistent run blocker this season and is still struggling to make a positive impact in the passing game. Off to a difficult start last night with a fumble on the first snap of the game, things didn’t improve for Davis, who dropped two passes and was overthrown by Jay Cutler for one of his two interceptions. With Marshall drawing coverage outside with some exceptional performances, the opportunity should be there for Davis to make an impact inside but he simply isn’t doing that in a positive manner. He needs to step up his game before the Bears start to lose patience.
Jennings Re-asserts Himself
In recent weeks,*Charles Tillman has taken the limelight in Chicago with an exceptional display against Calvin Johnson and the Lions on national television, in addition to*forcing a career’s worth of fumbles in a matter of weeks. What that run of form has served to do is cover up a fine season from Tim Jennings that has drawn some press, but arguably not enough. In spite of his electrifying, ball-hawking start to the season Jennings has been the most targeted corner in the league this season. In spite of getting his hands to nearly half as many passes (17) as he has allowed completions (40), teams continue to look his way and in slippery conditions Jennings made the Texans pay for this tactic. A combination of inaccuracy from Schaub and slippy, trippy footwork by Keshawn Martin gifted Jennings his two interceptions, but outside of that he also broke up another pass and allowed only one completion to Kevin Walter for 23 yards. Customarily, a second corner opposite a top-tier player will make plays but also be victimized for big plays. This cannot be said of Jennings, who has allowed more than 50 yards receiving only four times this season.
Has there been a better primetime performer this season than Henry Melton? Outside of the Bears’ disappointing defeat in Lambeau Field in Week 2, Melton has accumulated an overall grade of +10.2 in Chicago’s subsequent primetime games. This week it was All-Pro center Chris Myers who was on the receiving end of Melton’s primetime performance, as he yielded a sack and a tackle for loss in the run game to the second-year starter. The former Texas Longhorn now has 10 pressures (2 Sk, 2 Ht, 6 Hu) in primetime games this season to go with five stops in run defense. With Melton starting to build more consistency around these big games, he is developing into one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in the league.
- The 51-yard field goal by Robbie Gould may not have been a career- or season-long, but considering the conditions — essentially kicking from a wet meadow — you won’t see many more impressive kicks than that in the NFL.
- In his first career start, Earl Mitchell recorded four defensive stops, the second-most he has recorded in a single game. (Five in Week 17, 2011)
- Rookie defensive end Shea McClellin recorded a season-low with only a solitary snap on defense after picking up a concussion. The Bears used only 15 defensive players.
PFF Game Ball
On his return to Chicago, Danieal Manning was a difference maker for the Texans defense. Forcing two turnovers in the first quarter, Manning took away potential scoring opportunities with both plays to prevent a fast start by the Bears in a low-scoring game.