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Three Key Bears Against Winless Houston

If the Bears are going to get back above .500, these three players are going to need to have solid games on Sunday.


If the Bears are going to get back above .500, these three players are going to need to have solid games on Sunday.

After a bitter loss last week, the Chicago Bears return home this Sunday to take on former head coach Lovie Smith and his new team, the Houston Texans. Despite the tough loss in Green Bay, the Bears find themselves in the rare position of being favored this week against winless Houston.

This contest will feel like looking into a mirror for both teams. Much like the Bears, the Texans are in a rebuilding year with a second-year quarterback under center with a defensive oriented head coach running a Cover-2 playbook and a “run first” mentality. And both teams are coming off their first losses of 2022.

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With all that in mind, here are three players to keep a close eye on if Chicago is going to bounce back and get a win this week.

Lucas Patrick – Center/Guard

Patrick was one of the key free agents first-year General Manager Ryan Poles targeted this offseason. The expectation was that Patrick would help add some veteran stability to an otherwise young offensive line. A thumb injury sidelined Patrick for most of training camp and relegated him to rotating with Tevin Jenkins at Right Guard each of the first two games, but that may be changing.

Patrick is no longer listed on the injury report and was seen snapping the ball in practice throughout the week. Head coach Matt Eberflus may come from the school of “treat all news about your team as if you’re guarding the nuclear launch codes” but all signs would point to Patrick sliding over to center for this game.

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This should benefit the anemic Bears offense in several ways, some more obvious and others more subtle. Obviously, this would take current Sam Mustipher out of the starting lineup. According to Pro Football Focus, Mustipher is currently ranked 27th out of 35 eligible centers this season with a grade of 57.7. Patrick and Jenkins, meanwhile, both have grades in the mid-60’s while sharing time at right guard. Starting Patrick for Mustipher will also allow Jenkins to stay in the right guard spot and solidify two positions with one move.

More subtly, starting Patrick at center might also help the pass protection. The center is usually in charge of adjusting the protection scheme according to what the defense presents. Houston does play a base Cover-2 which is usually as honest of a defense as they come, but the Texans have blitzed more than a typical Cover-2 defense has to start the year. Having Patrick, a veteran in his 7th NFL season, at center could help the line adjust the protection throughout the game as needed to give Justin Fields as much time as possible in the pocket.

Speaking of Fields, one grey area that could be concern with Patrick playing center is the quarterback-center exchange. Mustipher has been the center for almost all of Fields’ snaps so far, so a change at center could be slightly jarring. Hopefully the transition will be smooth and no snaps wind up in the ground as the Bears can’t afford to lose the turnover battle in this game.

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Roquan Smith – Linebacker

Smith is coming off a tough outing against Green Bay, getting pushed aside by blockers and not getting the runners down quickly with his tackles. Coach Eberflus talked about the tackling during the week, saying players were getting too high in their approach and needed to get lower to bring the ball carrier to the ground.

To make matters harder, Smith has not practiced all week with a hip injury, though Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams sounded like he expects Smith to play. If Smith can’t go, undrafted rookie and Chicago-area native Jack Sanborn could make his first NFL start.

The Bears will need Smith to be sharp and decisive in this game. Houston features a bruising running attack with rookie running back Dameon Pierce coming off of a 69-yard game against Denver last week where he averaged 4.6 yards per carry. The Bears can’t afford to have another performance like last week, giving up over 200 yards on the ground.

Smith sat out the beginning of training camp because he was trying to negotiate a new contract. Through two games in a new system, it’s hard to say that Smith has earned that new deal but a solid performance this week could help turn that narrative around.

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Cole Kmet – Tight End

To say that 2022 has gotten off to a rough start for Kmet would be an understatement. A dark-horse candidate to be a breakout star, the third-year pro has instead floundered, failing to register a catch through two games and only being targeted twice, dropping one of them.

To say that the lack of production is entirely Kmet’s fault would not be fair. Kmet has done a fair amount of blocking through the first two games and Fields has only attempted 28 passes so far this season, by far the lowest in the league.

This could be an ideal matchup for Kmet, however. The Texans feature a strong secondary, which could force Fields to look beyond his wide receivers for open looks. The Cover-2 defense can be susceptible to a strong, pass-catching tight end working the middle of the field, another item in Kmet’s favor.

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Cole Kmet is four inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than Texans middle linebacker Christian Kriksey. Fields and Kmet will need to take advantage of that matchup throughout the game.

Final Prediction – Bears 20, Texans 16

Don’t look for this to be an all-time classic kind of game. Both teams will have fits and hiccups offensively while simultaneously giving up big yards in the ground game defensively. Overall, look for Chicago to take advantage of home field and get that one extra touchdown in the red zone to come away with a victory on Sunday.

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Written By

Adam is a Chicago Bears fan despite being born after 1985 and growing up during the tumultuous Dave Wannstedt era. As a result, he is desperate to get to cheer on a Super Bowl champion and enjoy a franchise quarterback. Adam lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and daughter.

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