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4 things to watch in Bears-Texans game

Bears quarterback Justin Fields
Bears quarterback Justin Fields

The Bears will look to rebound from last weekend's loss to the Packers when they host the Texans (0-1-1) Sunday at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to follow in the contest:

(1) Will the Bears passing game be more productive?

The Bears rank eighth in the NFL in rushing, having compiled 99 yards on the ground against the 49ers and 180 yards versus the Packers. But they've attempted an NFL-low 28 passes and rank last in the league in total yards, passing yards and first downs.

One day after Justin Fields completed 7 of just 11 passes for 70 yards in a 27-10 loss in Green Bay, coach Matt Eberflus acknowledged Monday that the Bears need more production from their passing game, saying: "We're looking at that. I think that is a concern. We want to get better there. We want to improve. There's no question."

The Bears stuck with their running game in Green Bay because it was working; David Montgomery rushed for 122 yards on 15 carries, the third most productive outing of his four-year NFL career. But Eberflus conceded that his ideal offense is one that can both run and pass effectively.

"I just think you need balance," Eberflus said. "We'd like to be 50/50 in a game that you're able to do that and we want to have balance for sure because it keeps the defense honest."

The Bears will face a Texans team Sunday that's coached by Lovie Smith and features a 4-3 defense that's much like their own. The unit is led by defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Jonathan Greenard and linebacker Christian Kirksey.

(2) Will receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet be more involved in the offense?

A more balanced offense no doubt would lead to more opportunities for Mooney and Kmet to make plays in the passing game. Expected to be key offensive weapons this season, the two have combined for just two receptions for four yards in the first two games, with both catches by Mooney.

In 2021, Mooney (81 receptions for 1,055 yards and four TDs) and Kmet (60-612-0) combined for 141 catches for 1,667 yards and four TDs. Eberflus admitted this week that the Bears offense will only be successful if Mooney and Kmet are more involved in the passing game.

"We need to highlight our skill," Eberflus said. "We know that. So we're going to try to do a better job of that. We will do a better job."

Fields told reporters that Mooney is "going to get involved for sure," but the quarterback added: "We're not looking at individual stats. We're just all trying to come together as 11 and put as many points on the board [as possible]."

Mooney and Kmet are both confident that the Bears' aerial attack will soon take flight, with Mooney saying: "We're remaining optimistic with the pass game stuff. We're going to get this figured out."

(3) Will the Bears run defense improve?

The Bears entered Week 3 ranked last in the NFL in run defense after allowing 176 yards on the ground to the 49ers and 203 yards to the Packers. Following the Green Bay loss, linebacker Nicholas Morrow said: "It's hard to win games when you let teams run the ball on you."

The defense focused on sharpening its fundamentals in practice this week, with Eberflus telling reporters that missed tackles aren't tolerated and that "it's something we have to correct and we're going to work tirelessly to get that done."

The Bears coach felt that the tackling issues against the Packers were caused by poor technique and not a lack of effort or focus.

"We are tackling too high right now," Eberflus said. "We've got to tackle lower. We've just got to do a better job of executing the way we tackle."

The Bears defense will face Texans running back Dameon Pierce, a 2022 fourth-round pick who leads all NFL rookies in rushing with 102 yards on 26 carries.

"Really good player," said defensive coordinator Alan Williams. "Quick, spins, can jump cut, has some explosiveness in him, good contact balance, which means that on contact when he's getting hit that he doesn't stop his feet, he keeps going. He's one that we're going to have our hands full against."

(4) Will the Bears improve to 3-0 against their former coach?

Smith will make his second appearance at Soldier Field since compiling an 81-63 record and leading the Bears to three NFC North titles and one NFC championship during nine seasons as their coach from 2004-12. As Buccaneers coach, he lost to the Bears 21-13 in 2014 in Chicago and 26-21 in 2015 in Tampa.

Though he's never coached with Smith, Eberflus has heard a lot about him from longtime NFL coach Rod Marinelli, who has worked with both men. Eberflus possesses an "appreciation for what [Smith] has done for the game of football," adding: "He's had his units playing the right way, has respected the game that way and the accomplishments he's had. He's been a head coach for a long time and he's been steady that way and really good."

Like Eberflus, Williams admires Smith despite never having worked with him.

"I have respect for him," Williams said. "He's one of the guys that you would say is from coach [Tony] Dungy's tree, and so I kind of have a feel for what he would be, or I think I do, what he would be telling his guys in the meetings and how he wants his guys to play. Love that he's a head coach in the NFL again. That part of it I'm proud of. Excited for him. But at the end of the day, he's the opponent across the field and he's trying to come into our house and take what we have, and so with that in mind, we're going to do everything that we can to make sure that he goes away with a frown on his face."

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