INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 19: Derek Stingley Jr. #24 of the Houston Texans stretches prior to kickoff of a preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on August 19, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)
The Texans are 2 ½-point underdogs at Chicago. After the tie against Indianapolis and the loss at Denver, the Texans (0-1-1) have a chance to upset the Bears (1-1). Here are five plot lines that could figure in the outcome at Soldier Field.
FRONT SEVEN MUST HARASS FIELDS
Second-year quarterback Justin Fields hasn’t been impressive throwing the ball in the first two games. First-year coach Matt Eberflus, the former defensive coordinator at Indianapolis, is relying on a run-oriented offense that won’t change considering how bad the Texans are against the run, allowing 163 yards and 4.7 a carry.
Fields has 19 carries for 48 yards, a 2.5 average. The 49ers and Packers were able to keep him bottled up for the most part, and when he did take off, they did a good job of getting multiple defenders on him quickly. Against the Texans, that kind of success will depend heavily on how ends Jonathan Greenard, Jerry Hughes and Rasheem Green are able to set the edge.
The defensive ends have to be disciplined and not get caught charging up the field and allowing Fields to take off and get outside of them. Tackles Maliek Collins and Roy Lopez have to get an inside push whether it’s Fields or backs David Montgomery or Khalil Herbert doing the running.
DEFENSE NEEDS STINGLEY TO BOUNCE BACK
Even though he made some good plays in the loss to the Broncos, rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. was schooled by veteran receiver Courtland Sutton. Coach Lovie Smith said Stingley is going through a learning process, and it’s important to see how he bounces back against the Bears.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Bears try to test Stingley with Darnell Mooney, their best receiver who caught a touchdown pass in a victory over the Texans in 2020 at Soldier Field. Mooney has good speed and should become Justin Fields’ go-to receiver if the Bears start to throw the ball more.
Fields averages 14 passes and 7.5 completions per game. His completion percentage (53.6) and rating (69.2) are among the worst in the league. When the Bears have to throw, expect Fields to look for Mooney.
By the way, if the Bears pick on Stingley the way the Broncos did, it’ll be another example of how much respect opponents have for the Texans’ other cornerback, Steven Nelson, who’s off to a terrific start.
MILLS DESPERATE FOR BOUNCE-BACK GAME
Davis Mills is coming off one of his worst starts. He was off target in the seven-point loss to the Broncos. His receivers didn’t help him by not getting open enough. Mills tried to make pinpoint passes and overthrew or underthrew too many receivers. He’s held the ball too long or gotten rid of it too soon. That inconstancy must stop against the Bears.
It’s interesting to analyze how Mills has played going back to 9:49 left in regulation against the Colts. Since the strip sack that ignited the Colts’ comeback from a 20-6 deficit to a 20-20 tie, Mills has been underwhelming, to say the least. He’s completed 22 of 45 for 203 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He’s been sacked five times.
Mills has to improve against the Bears, who are surrendering only 183 yards a game passing. The Texans have been in the red zone twice, once in each game. They’ve scored one touchdown. His accuracy, which wasn’t an issue as a rookie last season, has to get better. He and his favorite receiver, Brandin Cooks, have to get on the same page as they were last season.
PIERCE SHOULD HAVE BREAK-OUT GAME
Because the Bears have the NFL’s worst run defense allowing 189.5 yards a game, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton should make sure rookie running back Dameon Pierce touches the ball at least 25 times.
Hamilton wisely called 15 runs for Pierce at Denver, and he responded with 66 yards, a 4.6 average. His longest run was 12 yards, and he’s capable of much longer. Pierce, who weighs 218, has shown a propensity for making quick cuts and breaking tackles. He’s also got good vision. He’s been tough to bring down. Now he needs to get the ball more – a lot more.
Hamilton also should think about getting Pierce involved in the passing game — short, safe passes for Davis Mills and a chance to get the ball to Pierce in space to see what he can do when he’s not running between the tackles.
TUNSIL, HOWARD HAVE TO PLAY CONSISTENTLY
Offensive tackles Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard are the only offensive players starting Sunday who started in the 36-7 loss to the Bears in 2020. Tunsil and Howard have to play better by avoiding penalties and not allowing sacks at crucial times.
In the second quarter of the loss at Denver, Davis Mills ran 16 yards to the Broncos’ 9. Tunsil was called for holding, making it first down at the 35. The drive stalled at the 26, and Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked a 44-yard field goal. At this early part of the season, the offense hasn’t been good enough to overcome those kind of mistakes. Howard had a false start and gave up a sack in the fourth quarter in Denver territory.
Tunsil and Howard are the Texans’ best linemen. If the offense is going to improve, they have to lead the way against the Bears by becoming more consistent and helping the offense have its best game.
(John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com)