The Tennessee Titans (5-6) look to bring their record to .500 for the fifth time this season as they travel to the Windy City to take on the Chicago Bears (2-8).
Jay Cutler, Chicago’s starting quarterback, is unlikely to play this week due to an injured shoulder, so it seems as though the Titans caught a break with inexperienced backup qb Matt Barkley set to make the start.
Or did they?
For some strange reason, Tennessee has struggled recently against backup quarterbacks.
36-year-old journeyman backup Shaun Hill made the start for the visiting Minnesota Vikings in this year’s season opener. Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with a gruesome knee injury the prior week, and newly acquired Sam Bradford arrived just days before kickoff.
Hill was solid in his lone start of the season, completing 18 of 33 passes for 236 yards. Most importantly, Tennessee’s defense could not get to him or force him into making mistakes (zero turnovers, sacked zero times).
As a result, the Vikings were able to keep the game close enough for their stout defense to eventually take over. Minnesota escaped with a 25-16 victory.
In the 2015 season finale, the Indianapolis Colts literally pulled a couple of guys off the street when injuries to Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck forced them to sign Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley to their roster.
Both qb’s saw action against the Titans that day, and both threw first half touchdowns in a 30-24 victory over Tennessee.
In week 2 of the 2015 season, the Cleveland Browns handed the keys to the offense to backup qb Johnny Manziel after Josh McGown suffered a concussion in their season opener.
Manziel had the best day of his brief career at the Titans’ expense that afternoon, sealing Tennessee’s fate with a couple of touchdown bombs to wide receiver Travis Benjamin. Cleveland upset the Titans 28-14.
And even in victory this season the Titans struggled against the opposing backup.
Week 6, Tennessee hosted the winless Cleveland Browns and their backup qb Cody Kessler. The third string qb torched the Titans for 336 passing yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions that day.
Tennessee held off a furious comeback rally by the Browns to win 28-26.
There was one striking similarity between the above mentioned losses the Titans suffered at the hands of backup qbs, they all received help from their defense and special teams.
Minnesota’s defense scored twice in the second half of the season opener, while Indianapolis notched their own pick-six in the 2015 finale.
Manziel’s 2015 victory was aided by a timely punt return for a touchdown from their special teams unit.
And true to form, those scenarios may be the only way that a banged-up, out-manned Chicago team leaves Soldier Field Sunday with a victory.
In addition to Cutler, the Bears will also be without their starting left guard (ankle injury), and best receiver Alshon Jeffery (suspension).
This is one the Titans simply cannot afford to let slip from their grasp. Indianapolis bailed out Tennessee with a Thursday night loss, and Houston remains just two games up in the loss column after a fourth quarter collapse cost them the game in Mexico Monday night.
Beware of the Bears’ backup qb, Tennessee. History shows us they are not to be taken for granted with this team yet.