Clay Matthews Jay Cutler
It’s all about the Green Bay Packers.
They’re the common denominator for the Bears and Houston Texans, the only blemishes in their 7-1 records.
The Packers beat the Bears by beating up quarterback Jay Cutler. And they beat the Texans behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
For the Bears, particularly Cutler, on Sunday night, success against the Texans might come down to what they see, learn and can use from those games with the Packers.
There’s no better opportunity for Cutler to silence his doubters than this nationally televised matchup. Can Cutler’s skills translate into an elite performance against an elite defensive opponent in a marquee game?
“Every week, it’s our goal to rattle the opposing quarterback, whether it be with batted balls (or) sacks,” Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt said in Houston this week. “You always want to make the quarterback do things he doesn’t want to do.”
The Bears’ success likely will come down to what Cutler can accomplish:
The Texans are the only team that hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown, and they’re limiting teams to 82.4 rushing yards per game, second-best in the NFL.
The Texans’ defense leads the NFL in third-down efficiency at 26.47 percent. Heading into this week, Cutler is the 10th-best passer on third down, converting 61.3 percent of his passes with a 91.1 passer rating.
Defensive highlights for the Bears might be at a minimum with the Texans adept at protecting the ball. Quarterback Matt Schaub only has four interceptions, and running back Arian Foster has carried the ball 192 times without a fumble.
The Texans have outscored opponents 139-58 in the first half, the best mark in the NFL. Cutler has performed better in the second half of games, including his league-best 135.0 passer rating in the fourth quarter.
The Texans are expected to blitz a ton. According to Pro Football Focus, Cutler has a 92.5 passer rating when blitzed.
Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said Cutler is carrying the Bears’ offense.
“You look at it, and he’s doing a great job for us in the second half and, of course, in the fourth quarter,” Tice said. “We’ve had some games where we’ve started well. We scored on the first series a couple of games ago. We scored on the second series a couple of weeks ago.
“We just need to put a couple of drives together. We need to get that rhythm.”
Cutler never found it against the Packers and their 3-4 scheme, which is very similar to the Texans’ defense.
“(The Texans) present a lot of challenges,” Cutler said.
The Packers were able to neutralize wide receiver Brandon Marshall by using “two-man” coverage.
Essentially, they had two safeties over the top while underneath man-to-man coverage was employed using a trail technique.
But the Bears’ offense has evolved since that Week 2 loss. Cutler and Co. have beaten other teams such as the Cowboys that use a 3-4 defense.
For starters, Marshall is being used in more ways. Whether it’s lining up in the slot or going in motion, Marshall has found mismatches, and Cutler has found him.
“They’re top of the league when they’re going,” Texans safety Glover Quin said.
The Bears believe they do well against “single-high” man-to-man coverage (one safety over the middle). The Texans used that against the Packers at times and were burned.
Cutler made sure to closely watch film of the Packers’ 42-24 thumping of the Texans on Oct. 14.
“We like to run the ball a little bit more than Green Bay does,” Cutler said. “They’ve been in their offense for a long time, and they do a really good job at it. We’ll take bits and pieces from teams and see what’s successful and what translates into our offense.”
An 8-1 record might depend on that translation.