Titans QB poses threat to Bears

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard (24) reacts after an incomplete pass against the New York Giants during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J.

    Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard (24) reacts after an incomplete pass against the New York Giants during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J.

 
 
Updated 11/24/2016 6:09 PM

Since being selected second overall in the 2015 draft, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has been a red-zone marvel.

In his career, the just-turned-23 Mariota has thrown 31 touchdown passes in the red zone and zero interceptions. That's zero, as in none, zip, zilch, nada. His performance has "dipped" a bit this year, though. Last year his passer rating in the red zone was 116.1; this year it's 115.2.

 

Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was asked what makes the 6-foot-4 Mariota so dangerous inside the 20-yard line.

"Really the same reason he's been effective in every other part of the field," Fangio said. "He's athletic; his movement comes into play, and they've run special plays down there that he can execute well. They have a lot of offensive packages down in the red zone that they've been successful with."

Mariota ranked eighth in the league with a 100.3 passer rating though 11 weeks, and he was fourth in third-down passing at 105.9.

Whether it's in the red zone or not, Mariota and the Titans benefit from a stellar running game spearheaded by DeMarco Murray, one of only two players with 1,000 rushing yards through 11 weeks.

"They still run the ball well down there (in the red zone)," Fangio said. "They've got more variety in the red zone than most teams, and the quarterback is engineering it all."

Mariota comes into Sunday's game against the Bears at Soldier Field having thrown at least 2 touchdown passes in seven straight games, which is already a franchise record. He has an NFL-best 19 TD passes during that seven-week stretch, and his 116.8 passer rating during the streak is second only to Tom Brady's 123.3.

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The Bears coveted Mariota throughout the pre-draft process but would have had to give up a fortune to move up from their No. 7 spot to No. 2.

"We liked him a lot in the process when he was coming out," Fox said. "He's proved to be about what we thought he was in our evaluations. They're doing a great job with him. (Head coach) Mike Mularkey is a guy I'm very familiar with. (Offensive coordinator) Terry Robiskie and their offensive people have done a good job. They've got a good running game behind it, very capable offensive line, so they've got good people around him, which is helpful. But he's done an excellent job. He's very athletic."

Mariota is also the Titans' second-leading rusher with 264 yards on 45 carries for a 5.9-yard.

Bears rookie linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who is expected to make his second NFL start with Jerrell Freeman suspended for illegal PED use, said the Titans' quarterback is his, and everyone else's, primary concern.

"Marcus Mariota's No. 1," Kwiatkoski said. "The guy can extend plays, and he's great on his feet; that's a challenge for our whole defense."

At 5-6, the Titans have already matched their victory total from the previous two seasons combined. They had an opportunity last week to establish themselves as a contender in the AFC South but lost to the 5-5 Indianapolis Colts for the 11th straight time. Both teams trail the division-leading Texans, who are 6-4.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A victory over the Bears keeps the Titans in the race.

"Knowing the players in the locker room, and the character of this team," Mariota said, "we've done a great job of bouncing back, and we're going to have an opportunity Sunday."

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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