Big-time clash:As we noted earlier this week, Sunday night's game at Soldier Field will feature a rare matchup in the second half of the season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it will be only the fifth time since 1970 that a pair of one-loss teams have met in Week 10 or later. Ten of ESPN's 14 experts are predicting a Bears victory, but the oddsmakers have made the Bears slim 1.5-point favorites playing at home. One reason: The Texans have not been prone to the kind of mistakes the Bears have capitalized on this season. The Bears lead the NFL with 28 takeaways, but the Texans have the fewest turnovers (six). That's not good news for those who hope the Texans will collapse under the pressure of a prime-time game at Soldier Field. It could happen, but so far the Texans are 3-0 on the road this season.
Chicago RB Matt Forte has shined recently, but a challenging matchup against Houston awaits him on Sunday.
The running game: The Texans technically have the NFL's second-best run defense because they are allowing an average of 81.9 rushing yards per game. But it's only fair to point out that opponents have attempted the second-fewest running plays against them (165), probably because of early deficits. Opponents' 4.0 yards per carry is tied for No. 22 overall in the league. So while we discussed the possibility that the Bears could see some favorable early looks in their passing game, there is every reason to think they should test the Texans' run defense with Matt Forte and Michael Bush. (Remember, the NFC North is once again the Black and Blue division!) Forte has broken free for runs of 46 and 39 yards over the past three weeks. If he or Bush scores a rushing touchdown Sunday, it will be the first on the ground the Texans' defense has given up this season.
Paring down: Over the past six weeks, the Detroit Lions have simplified their offense in ways that are obvious to knowledgeable outside observers. In preparing for Sunday's game at the Metrodome, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams said the Lions have "narrowed down" their offensive menu. "They've streamlined what they're doing," Williams said. "Not a lot of formations like we saw last time [in Week 4]. They are sticking to a package and doing that well." That doesn't mean the Lions have been more conservative. In fact, quarterback Matthew Stafford has nine attempts that traveled at least 21 yards in the air over the past three weeks. It just means they have gotten back to one of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's most basic tenets: having the ability to run a wide variety of plays with the same personnel packages.
Preparing for Reiff: We've spent plenty of time discussing the Lions' increasing frequency and impact of using offensive lineman Riley Reiff as a sixth offensive lineman/tight end. It has shifted from a novelty to a significant part of the Lions' offense, and the Vikings spent considerable time discussing and preparing for the look this week. Williams said: "[T]his might be a stretch in some sense, but he's a little bit like Adrian Peterson in that you can't simulate him in practice. Everyone thinks with Adrian that, 'Hey these are just designed plays for him and we stop this.' But when you get in a live situation, Adrian Peterson is a different deal. That's the same thing with the extra lineman coming in. He does a great job. He's athletic, he gets his pads down and he's going to be a handful." That's high praise from an opponent.
Peterson's power: What's most amazing about Peterson's 458-yard spurt over the past three weeks has been how it's largely come against defenses with at least one extra defender near the line of scrimmage. How is Peterson defeating those schemes? The answer is nothing more complicated than flat-out breaking tackles. Not only is Peterson leading the NFL with 515 yards after contact, 156 yards more than the next-best running back, but he is also averaging 3.1 yards per rush after first contact. The Lions have every reason to bring at least one of their safeties into the box to defend him, but if Peterson continues his current surge, they'll have to be prepared to gang-tackle him.
(Statistics courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information unless otherwise noted.)