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Bears vs. Titans: What to Watch 4

The Bears have been struggling to stop the run — they’re currently 16th in the NFL. So they face a big challenge against Titans running back Derrick Henry, the NFL’s rushing leader.

Veteran Bears left tackle Charles Leno (72) is one of two Week 1 starters on the Bears’ offensive line  who will play against the Titans on Sunday. Right guard Germain Ifedi is the other. James Daniels is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. center Cody Whitehair is on the COVID-19 reserve list. Right tackle Bobby Massie is on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Veteran Bears left tackle Charles Leno (72) is one of two Week 1 starters on the Bears’ offensive line who will play against the Titans on Sunday. Right guard Germain Ifedi is the other. James Daniels is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. center Cody Whitehair is on the COVID-19 reserve list. Right tackle Bobby Massie is on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Kamil Krzaczynski/AP Photos

Key matchup

With at least three Week 1 starters out from the offensive line — left guard James Daniels, center Cody Whitehair and right tackle Bobby Massie — plus backup right tackle Jason Spriggs on the COVID-19 list, the Bears will have a makeshift line in this game.

Seventh-round rookie Arlington Hambright is expected to start at left guard, with second-year undrafted free agent Alex Bars at center and former defensive tackle Rashaad Coward at right tackle. An injury to backup center Sam Mustipher last week left the Bears without an available center on their roster to replace Whitehair — nobody who even played center in college, in fact.

That presents a big opportunity for the Titans’ front seven, especially defensive linemen Jeffery Simmons, Daquan Jones and Jack Crawford vs. the Bears’ interior offensive line. The Titans have struggled to stop the run this season (128.1 yards per game, 22nd in the NFL) and sack the quarterback (seven sacks, 31st in sacks per pass play).

Three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jadeveon Clowney is questionable (knee), but his impact has been limited this season: no sacks, six quarterback hits, three tackles for loss. So this could end up being a not-so-titanic battle of the movable object vs. the repressible force.

Trending

Bears kicker Cairo Santos has made his last 11 field-goal attempts, including a clutch 51-yarder with 13 seconds left in regulation to force overtime against the Saints last week. He has made 14 of 16 field-goal attempts and 15 of 15 extra-point attempts this season.

The last time he played at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee, last October, Santos went 0-for-4 on field-goal attempts for the Titans in a 14-7 loss to the Bills and was cut the next day. The Bears signed him . . . and the rest is history.

Player to watch

The days of the one-man wrecking crew in the backfield are withering in the NFL, but the Titans’ Derrick Henry can be an unstoppable force, as the Patriots and Ravens found out in last year’s playoffs.

Henry, who led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns last season, again leads the league with 775 rushing yards and eight touchdowns at midseason.

The Steelers held him to 75 yards on 20 carries (3.8 average) in Week 6, but the once-impregnable Bears run defense will be challenged to match that. The Bears are 16th in the NFL in run defense.

X-factor

The Bears have had a tumultuous week, with two players on the COVID-19 list, Whitehair testing positive for the coronavirus and receiver Javon Wims suspended two games for slugging Saints cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson. They also lost an on-field practice Thursday and then had to travel to Nashville. Coach Matt Nagy has been an expert at guiding his team through adversity in his three seasons. Against a quality opponent, he’ll need that touch more than ever in this one.