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NFL Preview - Chicago (6-1) at Tennessee (3-5)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Go ahead, call the Chicago Bears the ugliest 6-1 team in the NFL.
See if they care.
In spite of an offense that's 26th in the league in yardage and 30th in passing - and with a defense that's scored 22.1 percent of the overall points - the Bears arrive in Week 9 with a 1 1/2-game bulge over the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North.
They head to Nashville this weekend to face the Tennessee Titans with a chance to win a sixth straight game for the first time in six years.
Chicago scored its lone touchdown on its first possession in a six-point win against Detroit two weeks ago, then had to rally from a 12-point hole in the final quarter to edge past one-win Carolina last week.
In the two games, the Bears totaled 506 yards and quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked 11 times.
"I don't think you can hit the panic button offensively," Cutler said. "We just need to keep getting better. We have to keep looking at our mistakes, keep improving."
Overall, the former Vanderbilt passer is 23rd in the NFL with a 78.9 rating. But he's been lights-out when it counts, posting a league-best 132.0 mark in the fourth quarter, including a 12-of-14 effort for 80 yards and a score in the defeat of the Panthers.
Chicago last won six straight when it started 7-0 in 2006, en route to a 13-3 finish and a Super Bowl berth.
"It is about execution most of the time, but we're not going to change what we believe in or anything like that," coach Lovie Smith said. "We are going to do it better. We're not going to apologize for being 6-1."
In his first season with the Bears after a trade with Miami, wideout Brandon Marshall has 675 yards on 50 catches -- already 13 more receptions than any Chicago receiver managed last season.
The Titans are 30th in total defense (421.2 yards) and 31st in scoring defense (32.1 points).
Chicago allows 14.3 points per game. And Tim Jennings' interception return against the Panthers accounted for an NFL-leading sixth defensive TD.
The Bears, who haven't won three straight road games since 2010, are 2-0 at Tennessee since the franchise moved from Houston. The Titans are 2-2 at home after losing a late seven-point lead in a 19-13 OT loss to Indianapolis last week. They ran 59 offensive plays compared to the Colts' 76.
Indianapolis forced the extra session with a 14-play, 80-yard drive and went 80 yards on nine plays to win in OT.
Had Tennessee won, it would have reached .500 for the first time in 2012.
"You're 3-5, that's not good enough," coach Mike Munchak said. "Frustration, it means work your way through it, and let's find a way to turn this around and get to 5-5. Find a way to become a better player and a better team."
Not to mention some locker-room chaos.
Receiver Kenny Britt is lobbying for more downfield throws, though the Titans rank near the top of the league with 30 passes of more than 20 yards. Tight end Jared Cook, according to reports, wants to be traded though he's tied for second on the team with 28 catches for 373 yards and two TDs.
On the bright side, 2009 offensive player of the year Chris Johnson has 385 yards and two TDs on 58 carries in three games after gaining only 210 on 73 rushes without a score in the first five.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 931 yards with four TDs and two interceptions in four games as a replacement for injured Jake Locker. Hasselbeck has a 96.2 passer rating, 837 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in winning two of three against the Bears.
Locker remains questionable this week with an injured shoulder, though Munchak has repeatedly said that the youngster will start when able.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Cutler's ability to stay vertical has been inconsistent at best so far, with his 25 sacks putting him third in the league in terms of most-harassed quarterbacks.
That said, the matchup with the Titans might be a boon because Tennessee has registered a pedestrian 11 sacks - tied for fourth-least in the league. If he's got time, expect Cutler to target the prolific Marshall and boost the team's standing from the lower third in both pass yards per attempt and pass yards per game.
If the Bears are what people say they are -- thanks, Dennis Green -- then they'll be able to go on the road and extend a win streak to six games. Because the Titans aren't particularly adept at scoring or keeping opposing quarterbacks from staying upright, it seems a difficult task unless Johnson can control the game with his legs or either Hasselbeck or Locker is able to work with what seems to be a fractured receiving corps.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bears 20, Titans 10
11/01 12:40:38 ET
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