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Key Matchup Problems Titans Present to the Bears

Derrick Henry's running and the play-action game out of the run are posing a few critical individual matchup problems for the Bears

When Mike Vrabel took over as Tennessee coach the immediate assumption around the NFL was the former linebacker wouuld have a team based around a strong defense.

After the Titans' run to the AFC championship game last year using a strong running game and defense, Tennessee has done a complete reversal and the Bears come into Sunday's game needing to be prepared to win a shootout. How they will do this with so many offensive line positions altered due to injuries remains to be seen.

The Titans have scored more than 30 points four times and 42 twice.

Their defense, on the other hand, has given up an average of 28.3 points over the last six games and is on a historically poor level defending third downs at a league-worst 61.9%. They have to blitz for pressure, ranking 10th overall in blitz percentage, but they are only 27th at producing pressure on quarterbacks.

Still, there is at least one difficult offensive matchup for the Bears this week individually and their own defense will be severely challenged to stop Derrick Henry. The entire game hinges on this because everything Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill can accomplish is due to the threat of the team's running attack.

Here are three tough matchups for the Bears this week.

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Bears LT Charles Leno Jr. vs. Titans DE Jadeveon Clowney

On paper the Bears have problems whether Tennessee puts Clowney in his traditional spot on the right side of the defensive spot or he moves to the other side as he often does in the way the Bears defense does with Khalil Mack. Leno faced Clowney once prior and gave up a sack and a couple of tackles for loss. Clowney has had a knee issue causing him to rest it from practice this week. Leno is the Bears experience on the offensive line in this game due to all their injuries, and the COVID-19 situation. They can't have their best chance to block Clowney fail. So far it's been slow-go for Clowney in Tennessee's defense as he hasn't yet recorded a sack, has 10 total pressures and six hits on the quarterback. He was a late Titans acquisition, so a slow start was predictable but by now his presence should be felt. Tennessee's pass rush has been abysmal, much like its third-down defense. The two go hand in hand. Tennessee has to blitz for its pressure, ranking 10th in the NFL in the number of blitzes but they generate only the 27th most pressures on quarterbacks according to Sportradar. If Clowney flips this week to the right side of the offense, it might be his best shot at causing pressure because it appears the Bears will be using Rashaad Coward at right tackle. Although it's his original offensive line position, Coward hasn't practiced extensively there since 2018.

Bears LB Roquan Smith vs. Titans RB Derrick Henry

This the big test of how far Smith has come over the past five weeks as he's surged into filling his role the way the Bears anticipated since his rookie year. Smith is averaging 10.2 tackles a game the last five weeks after 6.7 the first three games against lesser opponents. He's made eight of his 10 tackles for loss in the past five games, as well. A problem with tackling earlier, when he seemed to be hitting too high and bouncing off, now seems to be rectified. It's a good thing because hitting Henry too high is like hitting a rock. Henry is at a peak level in usage and production, averaging a career-high 110.7 yards per game. He's at his best running around right end, where he's averaged over 7 yards a carry. The most consistent yardage he's produced has simply come up the middle according to NFLGSIS tracking numbers. Tennessee's passing game largely revolves around Henry in terms of the play fake. However, Henry can get involved as a receiver. He hasn't been as effective at this for Tennessee this year with only 10 receptions, but the Bears have sometimes been vulnerable backs catching screen passes and throws in the flat, and this is where Smith has to be effective, as well.

Bears Edge Rusher Robert Quinn vs. Titans LT Ty Sambrailo

In years past, this would be a mismatch greatly favoring Quinn. That was then, this is now. Quinn has been entirely ineffective at making plays in pass rush over the last five weeks. He has had one quarterback hit in that period. Coaches have said he's getting good pressure but the Bears as a defense overall rank only 25th at pressures according to Sportradar, the league's official stat partner. So Quinn can't be doing too much right considering a huge majority of the Bears pass rush seems to be coming from Akiem Hicks or Khalil Mack. Beyond that Quinn has never been a strong run defender even when he's been at his best making sacks. Sambrailo is 6-foot-5, 311 pounds and the Titans run blocking schemes for Henry will greatly utilize mobility of blockers. Sambrailo's ability to block the back side on runs right will be important, since it allows him to turn those runs right into cutbacks to the middle where his best overall yardage has come. Pro Football Focus has given Sambrailo average grades at 64.5 overall and 67.0 as a pass blocker.

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