The obvious recipe for success with the Tennessee Titans is plenty of Chris Johnson running the ball. But the Titans proved they didn't need that game plan the last time they played the Chicago Bears in a 21-14 Tennessee victory in 2008 when Johnson rushed for just 8 yards.
After another slow start to the season, Johnson has rushed for 385 yards over the past three games. Will he be the first running back in 18 games to top 100 yards against the Bears on Sunday? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Chris Johnson will be the first running back to rush for over 100 yards against the Bears this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The Bears are still likely to win the game, but it sounds as if the Titans plan to commit to the run on Sunday. If that turns out to be Tennessee's game plan, then it's a good bet Johnson goes over 100 yards rushing. After a miserable start to the season, Johnson has topped the 100-yard mark twice in the past five weeks, and had 99 yards rushing in Tennessee's last game against the Indianapolis Colts. So far the Bears have given up virtually nothing on the ground and enter Sunday with the NFL's No. 1 defense in fewest rushing yards allowed. But if the Titans give Johnson the ball enough times, he is talented enough to run for 100 yards, even against the highly-rated Bears' defense.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. The Bears haven't allowed a 100-yard rushing performance in more than a year, 18 games to be exact (Oct. 10 2011, when Jahvid Best gained 163 yards). So it's highly unlikely that takes place Sunday in Tennessee. Besides, Johnson hasn't exactly been lighting it up. Johnson's last 100-yard rushing performance came on Oct. 21 (195 yards) against a Buffalo Bills' defense ranked last at stopping the run. Chicago's penetrating interior defenders will make Johnson indecisive and force him to run laterally instead of straight ahead. My guess is Johnson's numbers Sunday could look similar to what he did the last time he faced the Bears (14 attempts, 8 yards) on Nov. 9, 2008.
Scott Powers: Fiction. There are two reasons why this won't happen: Johnson has been inconsistent this season, and the Bears defense is just too good. I expected something closer to when Johnson ran for 24 yards against the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago. On the season, he has gone over 100 yards just twice. It also helps that the Titans' passing attack isn't lethal.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Mostly because Johnson won't get the carries if the Bears get a decent lead. I think you'll see one big (30-plus-yard run) and a few other 10-plus-yard carries for Johnson, but he's not going to shred the Bears' run defense, which according to Football Outsiders, ranks fourth in the league. The Bears' defensive line will stop Johnson inside, but I think his recent resurgence shows he can still get yards outside. I'm pretty confident the Bears will be ready.
Fact or Fiction: Matt Forte has to take on a bigger role in the Bears' offense.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Mike Tice agrees that Forte needs more touches. But for the Bears to get that done, the offense has to do a better job on first down and sustaining drives. It's kind of tough to get Forte going when the offense only has the ball for 23 minutes, 22 seconds like it did at home against Carolina. Not only were the Bears 2-of-8 (25 percent) on third down last week, but they currently ranked dead last in the league on first down, averaging 4.1 yards per play. It's difficult to run the ball when you're always facing second- or third-and-long. Getting Forte more touches in the passing game is also an option, but for whatever reason, his receptions have fallen off this season dramatically. Forte is still one of the top two or three skill position players on the offense, a fact that should not go overlooked when the Bears devise their weekly game plans.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. Forte needs to, but he can't do it if the staff doesn't call his number. Compounding that is the fact there simply aren't enough balls to go around with a dynamic playmaker at receiver such as Brandon Marshall, who will command his fair share of touches. Forte received 22 attempts in back-to-back outings against the Jaguars and Lions, but hasn't run more than 16 times in any other game. That's simply not enough for Forte to get in any type of a rhythm. The club also hasn't utilized Forte much in the screen game. What's interesting is the Bears haven't been in too many situations where they're playing from behind and need to resort to the passing game. So it seems a tad mind boggling the Bears aren't running Forte more, especially considering what they paid him in the extension. With the cold weather starting to take hold, maybe the Bears start utilizing Forte more. Either way, the offense should go through Forte more than it should even Marshall.
Scott Powers: Fact. Ideally, yes, Forte would be more involved in the offense whether rushing or catching the ball. His numbers are down in both categories. The Bears paid him to be a difference-maker, and he hasn't been utilized as one yet this season.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Only because the Bears are 6-1 and Forte hasn't been ignored. While I would like to see more of Forte, because I believe he's the best offensive player on the Bears, or at least the most consistent, it's not like he's being totally overlooked with 436 yards in six games. Obviously the passing game is a bit more vertical with the inclusion of Marshall, so his catches are down. I think the Bears' play-calling certainly needs to improve, as evidenced by their struggles on first down. Forte is averaging slightly fewer than 16 carries a game, with a 4.6 yard per carry average. I like the idea of keeping him fresh, if that's possible right now, as the Bears find their rhythm on offense, because if and when Jay Cutler gets the passing game going, Forte can really take off when he's needed to. The Bears haven't had to fully rely on Forte yet, and that's a good thing.
Fact or Fiction: Tim Jennings is the MVP of the defense through seven games.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Charles Tillman is a close second, but I'll give the award to Jennings for his NFL-high six interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Jennings has been a remarkable story. We always knew he was a good player, but few thought he was capable of performing at an All-Pro level. Jennings is also fourth on the team with 43 tackles which proves there is very little he cannot do on a football field despite his size limitations.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. As good as he's been, Jennings couldn't make the plays he's made without a significant contribution from the pass rush, which has forced quarterbacks to make errant throws. Besides that, the corner on the opposite side -- Tillman -- is responsible for almost as many turnovers (five), and he's taken two of his interceptions to the house. Tillman has said in the past that the MVP of the defense is the defense, and I totally get what he's saying given the symbiotic relationship shared between the secondary, the pass rush, and the linebackers, which play a huge run in stuffing the run and forcing teams to throw. Jennings definitely deserves recognition for his accomplishments, but there are several other players on that defense making meaningful contributions.
Scott Powers: Fact. There are plenty of defensive stars on this team, but Jennings has stood out with his six interceptions and one touchdown. He and Tillman have given the Bears an elite cornerback combo.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. That's not to take away from Jennings, who is probably my favorite Bears player to talk to, and has taken advantage of every opportunity he's been afforded to make plays. He's honest, insightful and someone Bears fans should really root for, but even he knows he's getting those chances for big plays because offenses often shy away from his cornerback peer Tillman. But Jennings deserves credit for finishing them. It's really tough to come up with a singular MVP for a group that prides itself on their coaches' cliche, "The star of the defense is a defense." In a lot of ways, the Bears' defense reminds me of the Bulls' defense under Tom Thibodeau, who espouses a philosophy that all five defenders are connected by a string. Each movement helps or harms his teammate. That's how the Bears' defense is playing. The defensive line brings the pressure, the linebackers contain, the defensive backs make plays. I'd be tempted though to give the award to Tillman, just because some people were writing him off.
Fact or Fiction: With the Texans looming, the Bears are in for a trap game against the Titans on Sunday.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The Bears were so lucky to escape last week with a win that I don't think they take this road game in Nashville lightly. The Titans are not a bad team and could upset the Bears. It's not impossible. But with games coming up against Houston, San Francisco and Minnesota, the team knows it needs to capitalize on these winnable games and stack more victories before they hit the rough part of their schedule.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. This really doesn't fit that textbook “trap game” definition because the Titans are actually a decent team playing at home with a quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck who has a track record for success against the Bears (4-1 regular season record). The truth is this game is a very winnable one for the Titans. The Bears have gotten off to slow starts all season, and the Titans have scored on their opening drive in three consecutive games. Sure, that doesn't mean much on the surface. But on the road this season, the Bears are 0-1 when the opponent scores first and 31-34 overall since 2004 when the opponent puts points up first.
Scott Powers: Fiction. After the scare the Carolina Panthers gave the Bears last week, I don't think they're overlooking anyone at this point. If anything, I think the Bears, especially their offense, are looking to rebound strongly after last week's poor performance.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I don't really believe in trap games, and especially not with a coach like Smith. Maybe they exist in a sport where you're playing every day and preparation for each day is minimal, but in the NFL where each week is devoted (at least for players) to a single opponent, focus is easier to control. Besides Smith's equanimity, the veterans on the defense have long cultivated a professional atmosphere and the offense isn't good enough to overlook anybody. If the Bears lose, it's because their weaknesses (i.e., the offense) are exposed.