Preps Talk

Bears-Texans preview: Houston's ball

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Bears-Texans preview: Houston's ball

Dealing with a touchdown triad

The Bears defense in 2012 has faced no defense without an apparent weakness. Until now.

Houston Texans running back Arian Foster leads the AFC in rushing, fifth overall in the NFL. He has 10 rushing touchdowns; no one else has more than seven, and the Bears have seven as a team.

Wide receiver Andre Johnson devastated the Bears for 10 catches, 148 yards and two touchdowns the last time the two teams met. Two-thirds (42) of the balls thrown to him (63) have been caught. In his 10th season, he has caught at least one pass in 90 consecutive games.

Quarterback Matt Schaub was the MVP of the 2010 Pro Bowl and has a career passer rating of 92.7 to go with membership in the august 2004 quarterback class (Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger).

Schaub has been sacked a total of 10 times in eight games, compared to Jay Cutlers 28. Foster leads his conference in rushing. Someone is blocking very, very well for them.

It is a triad of offense reminiscent of the Dallas Cowboys template of Troy Aikman-Emmitt Smith-Michael Irvin. None of the Texans are at those Hall of Fame levels but the problems are obvious.

Schaub is smart, hes a heck of a quarterback, and it all works together with their run game, said offensive coordinator. They sell that run and that zone blocking, and they come out and boot and play-action, and he manages that stuff extremely well. Very smart. Extremely smart. Thats a heck of an offense.

Balance, balance, balance

The NFL may be a passing league but Houston is 7-1 with an offense that is top-10 in virtually every offensive category. The Texans are No. 2 in scoring with 29.6 points per game, one-tenth of a point per game ahead of the Bears but with 24 offensive touchdowns on the season vs. the Bears 19.

It has been happening with an offense that is near perfectly balanced, even slightly tilted toward the run: 280 running plays, 264 pass plays, a 51-49 run-pass ratio.

The Texans have had exactly one offensive lineman in their history center Chris Myers, installed as a team captain this week named to a Pro Bowl. Yet they considered their line good enough last offseason to cut starting right tackle Eric Winston. The sack total on Schaub and Fosters year speak to how that line has performed.

The task for the Bears is to win enough matchups along the line to disrupt Schaubs drops and timing, and the cadence of Foster and the run game.

They are all pretty athletic, said linebacker Lance Briggs. They move well. Their running style really complements their pass because they do a lot of play action off of it -- boots, play action. They find ways to get Schaub extra seconds. They have a lot of different routes. A lot of crossing routes; a lot of zig-zag routes.

If he has enough time, theyll find a way to pick us apart.

Stopping Schaub

The Bears rank No. 1 in opponents passer rating (62.9), ahead of San Francisco (72.9) and the Texans (75.4). But Schaub is not Blaine Gabbert nor Cam Newton nor Sam Bradford.

In the past two years only Aaron Rodgers (117.3) and Tom Brady (108.8) have higher passer ratings on the road than Schaub (107.2), who has thrown only three interceptions vs. 15 touchdown passes in alien environments.

The problem with Schaub and the Houston offense is that it just does not help out defenses. The Texans have exactly six giveaways for the season and three of those were interceptions of Schaub by the Green Bay Packers, the one team to beat the Texans.

The Bears have 28 takeaways for the season, No. 1 in the NFL. But if the Bears are counting on Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman or anyone else to put points on the board, they will be in trouble.

Tennessee Titans coaches and players all talked of the preoccupation during pre-Bears practices last week with avoiding giveaways, to the point where the suspicion was that it produced added tension and tentativeness, which may have added to the turnover avalanche.

The Texans, with their lone fumble through eight games, are far more matter-of-fact.

You cant drop the ball as a running back or any skill position, Foster said simply. You always got to be cognizant of it.

IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show Roundup

IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show Roundup

CLASS 1A

Revealing the Class 1A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 1A Bracket

CLASS 2A

Revealing the Class 2A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 2A Bracket

CLASS 3A

Revealing the Class 3A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 3A Bracket

CLASS 4A

Revealing the Class 4A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 4A Bracket

Predicting Class 1A-4A

CLASS 5A

Revealing the Class 5A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 5A Bracket

CLASS 6A

Revealing the Class 6A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 6A Bracket

CLASS 7A

Revealing the Class 7A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 7A Bracket

CLASS 8A

Revealing the Class 8A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 8A Bracket

Class 7A and Class 8A Predictions

 

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”