By Matt Citak
The Chicago Bears, after starting off the 2017 season with two consecutive losses, upset the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-17 in overtime this past Sunday. Led by the running back duo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, Chicago ran for 220 total yards and two touchdowns against the usually stout Steelers’ defense. Howard and Cohen also finished the game as the Bears’ two leading receivers, totaling nine receptions for 50 yards. While Howard is clearly still the lead back in Chicago, it has become quite clear that Cohen will play a very large role in their offense as well.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears limited Ben Roethlisberger to just 235 passing yards and one touchdown on a 56.4 completion percentage. Chicago racked up three sacks on Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offensive line, and finished the game with five quarterback hits.
The Green Bay Packers head into Thursday Night Football also coming off an overtime win this past Sunday, over the Cincinnati Bengals, 27-24. Green Bay will have their hands full with Howard and Cohen, as their defense currently ranks 21st in the NFL in rushing yards allowed at 113.7 yards per game. The Bengals trio of Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, and Jeremy Hill totaled 112 yards on 28 carries last week.
Green Bay’s offensive line will hobble into the game against Chicago. The Packers lost their primary backup tackle, Kyle Murphy, to a foot injury against the Bengals, and have since placed him on injured reserve. Murphy had started the last three games due to other injuries among Green Bay’s offensive linemen. Starting tackle Bryan Bulaga, making his season debut on Sunday, left the game after just 47 snaps when he aggravated the ankle injury that forced him to miss the first two games of the season. Their other starting tackle, David Bakhtiari, has missed the last two games due to a hamstring injury. Both Bulaga and Bakhtiari were limited in practice on Tuesday.
NFL ON CBS analyst Rich Gannon will be calling the Tennessee Titans-Houston Texans game with play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan this Sunday at 1:00 PM ET on CBS. Gannon weighed in on Thursday night’s Bears-Packers matchup, as well as other upcoming NFL ON CBS action.
Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers – 8:25 PM ET Thursday – CBS and NFL Network
CBS Local Sports: With Green Bay’s offensive line very banged up, will the Bears be able to get consistent pressure on Aaron Rodgers on Thursday?
Rich Gannon: Obviously that’s a huge concern when you look at the problems that the Packers have had, especially with the tackle position. They just put their third offensive tackle down because of injury. They’re really thin right there now. [David] Bakhtiari has been hurt, [Bryan] Bulaga, Kyle Murphy [too]. That really impacts everything they can do in the passing game and with the protections. That’s going to force Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy, the play-caller, to make significant adjustments against this Chicago defense. The Bears have to be able to get Aaron Rodgers off the spot, put pressure from the edges, and really try to stress this offensive line that’s going to have some issues with communication. They don’t have the continuity, so that’s always a concern. The Packers will still move the ball, but that’s going to be a problem when you look at the issues and injuries they’ve had up front.
CBS Local Sports: How can the Packers limit the running back duo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen?
Rich Gannon: A few things. It sounds simple, but taking proper angles, getting a bunch of guys to the football, tackling well. They’re going to have to crowd the line of scrimmage a little bit on the early downs. The thing the Packers do a really nice job of is they’ll bring some run blitzes, some run pressures on first and second down. They’ve got a couple really good safeties that are terrific at doing it. When you look at the Packers safety position, it’s the best in football. [They have] Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Kentrell Brice, Josh Jones. They’re all really good run-support players. You’ll see a lot of that in the early downs. A lot of eight-man football. Dom Capers does a nice job of bringing some perimeter pressure, some corners and safeties on first down, to try and discourage them from running the ball outside.
Tennessee Titans vs. Houston Texans – 1:00 PM ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: A lot of people predicted that this would be a breakout season for Marcus Mariota. Have you seen signs of that through the first three games of the season?
Rich Gannon: You’re seeing progress. It’s not easy coming back from that type of injury. There’s been a lot of change around the young quarterback when you look at the head-coaching change during his first season, and even the assistant change going from Ken Whisenhunt to Mike Mularkey, now Terry Robiskie is calling plays. That could slow down the growth and progress. But he’s throwing the ball better from the pocket. He’s more comfortable from the pocket. You see him playing faster from under center. He still can make plays with his legs, but he’s being more patient, and he’s not always looking to run first. He’s taking the extra hits back there in the pocket. After some time, you’ll start to see him develop a better rapport with the receivers. He’s always had it with Delanie Walker and the tight ends, but you see him throwing the ball a little better and a little more accurately outside the numbers.
CBS Local Sports: After having a strong effort against the Patriots last week, what will Deshaun Watson need to do in order to beat the Titans?
Rich Gannon: For a guy like Deshaun Watson, every time he goes out it’s a new learning experience. He only has a handful of reps and a handful of starts under his belt. Each time out is an opportunity for him to get better and to feel more comfortable. It’s also an opportunity for Bill O’Brien, who calls the plays down there in Houston, to get a better sense and a better feel for what [Watson] is capable of, what he likes, what he doesn’t like. There are a few things I really like about [Watson]. His ability to extend plays. He’s accurate from the pocket. He’s a natural leader. He has a lot of the intangibles you like at the quarterback position. The problem they have right now is just about every ball there goes to DeAndre Hopkins. They need more production from the receivers opposite him. The tight end position has been disappointing as well. Obviously having [C.J.] Fiedorowicz on IR hurts. They need more production around the quarterback and the passing game, other than DeAndre Hopkins.
Oakland Raiders vs. Denver Broncos – 4:25 PM ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: How will Oakland’s offense bounce back from last weekend’s poor performance against the Broncos defense this Sunday?
Rich Gannon: It’s going to be a good challenge, because Denver’s defense is going to take a long, hard look at what the Redskins did to them [on Sunday night]. It wasn’t overly complicated. They played a lot of Cover 2 Shell in the secondary. They really tried to collapse the pocket around the quarterback. When you study the Raiders right now, you see that Amari Cooper is really struggling. He’s not getting a lot of touches. He’s had some drops. They’ve got to quickly turn the page, clean up what they did the week before against the Redskins, and really make sure they get off to a good start. The challenge with a team like Denver, which has a great defense, is that they’ve got good pass rushers and really good cover corners. That’s really what makes a good defense. You’ve got Aqib Talib playing outstanding football and Chris Harris Jr. at the other corner. You’ve got Von Miller. You have guys that can rush and guys that can cover. That’s going to be the challenge for the Raiders. But I expect Derek Carr will rebound after what was probably his worst performance in the last two years.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.