January 22, 2021

Bears vs. Titans preview: 5 things to watch during the Week 9 matchup

The Bears are looking for their first win against the Tennessee Titans since 2012. The road team has won each of the past five contests in this series.

The Bears (5-3) and Titans (5-2) kick off at noon Sunday from Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee.

Here are five things to watch for in the Bears vs. Titans matchup:

Bears offensive linemen – who are they?

The Bears will, of course, have an offensive line Sunday. But it’s anyone’s guess as to who those five players will be. Left tackle Charles Leno and guard Rashaad Coward are expected to be in the lineup, and right guard Germain Ifedi was cleared from the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday.

Right tackle Bobby Massie went on injured reserve this week with a knee injury, so he'll be out at least three weeks. Backup tackle Jason Spriggs tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. Days later, injured center Cody Whitehair tested positive for COVID-19. Backup center Sam Mustipher is dealing with a knee injury.

The remaining options include Alex Bars, Arlington Hambright and Lachavious Simmons on the active roster, plus practice squad linemen Dieter Eiselen, Aaron Neary and Badara Traore. Bars, who has the most experience, figures to start somewhere. Hambright and Simmons are both rookies.

What do O-line issues mean for Foles?

It begs the question, what does all this mean for the quarterback? Foles has been sacked nine times in the past two games. What happens with the Bears potentially down multiple starters?

“Preparation-wise, it stays the same,” Foles said. “And mindset-wise, it stays the same. We’ve got to go play the game. We’ll play aggressive, play attacking, do what we have to do to win the game as a team."

With backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky injured, the last thing the Bears need is for Foles to get knocked around. Matt Nagy is confident in third-string QB Tyler Bray, but the Bears would much rather Bray remain on the sideline.

Derrick Henry vs. Bears’ front seven

The Bears are going to have their hands full against the NFL's leading rusher Derrick Henry. Bears rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson said there isn’t a running back built quite like Henry.

“We’ve got to attack him and not let him deliver blows to us, and get after him from the jump,” Johnson said.

Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said the key will be setting the edge. The Bears must be sound in their gaps and not allow Henry to find space out wide, because Henry is a big-play threat every time he touches the ball.

“We’ve got to do a great job of being on the same page and getting our gap integrity right and do a great job tackling this guy,” Pagano said.

Cairo Santos vs. Nissan Stadium

The Bears kicker returns to the sight of his worst NFL performance, when he went 0-for-4 on field goal tries at Nissan Stadium as a member of the Tennessee Titans in Week 5 of 2019. The Titans cut ties with Santos the next day.

Santos is thriving in his new home in Chicago. Santos hasn't been afraid to relive his worst day in his sessions with the media. He actually called Nissan Stadium "a great place to kick."

Santos is 14-for-16 on field goals this season.

“I’m thinking less and trusting the process more," Santos said. "And things are aligning well."

Tannehill’s resurgence

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill has finally found a home in the NFL. After seven seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Tannehill revived his career with the Titans in 2019, helping them to the AFC Championship game.

Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was Tannehill’s offensive coordinator in Miami in 2014 and 2015, which were statistically two of Tannehill’s best years in Miami.

“I’m not surprised the guy’s gotten better,” Lazor said. “He clearly, statistically, he has. People might be surprised to hear it, but we actually – after the 2014 season – we felt like he was on track. The organization made some [coaching] changes after that, but we thought he was on track.”

Tannehill’s quarterback rating ranks fifth in the NFL right now. This Bears secondary might be the toughest he has faced, outside of maybe the Pittsburgh Steelers.