The Chicago Bears haven’t lost since a Monday night last month
against the Detroit Lions. Improved play from the offensive line
has keyed the turnaround, and now that unit gets another big test
from the Lions.
Detroit will look to knock around Jay Cutler and slow down Matt
Forte on Sunday while pulling off a season sweep of the Bears,
winners of three straight.
Although these teams trail undefeated Green Bay in the NFC
North, they currently own the conference’s two wild-card spots.
However, the Lions (6-2) would own a potentially key tiebreaker
over Chicago (5-3) if they win this game and sweep the season
series for the first time since 2007.
The Bears lost 24-13 in Detroit on Oct. 10 as their offensive
line struggled, committing nine false start penalties – six in the
first half. Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and the rest of the
Lions defense put Cutler under pressure for much of the day and
sacked him three times.
That may have been the low point of the first half of Chicago’s
season, but the offensive line’s improvement is a big reason the
Bears haven’t lost since that game.
Chicago is coming off a 30-24 victory at Philadelphia on Monday.
Cutler wasn’t sacked for the second time in 39 games with the Bears
as he completed 18 of 32 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns,
including the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.
“They’re really coming together,” Forte said of the offensive
line after rushing for 133 yards. “They’re getting used to being in
the same positions that they’re in. A lot of injuries got healed
up, and they’re playing real well.”
Besides being more effective at keeping Cutler upright – he’s
been sacked three times in the last three games compared to 18 in
the first five – the Bears are running the ball more often and more
effectively. After averaging 53.7 yards on 17.0 attempts through
three games, the Bears have averaged 30.2 carries and 161.2 yards
in the last five.
Forte has run for 686 yards in that span while averaging 6.1 per
carry, and he leads the NFL with 1,241 all-purpose yards. He has
eight carries for more than 10 yards in the past three games.
Cutler said it all comes down to the players up front.
“(The offense) can do anything we want,” he said. “It’s an array
of things we have in this offense, and when that front five is
comfortable and they’re picking things up and the pocket is clean
… it’s going to be hard to stop us.”
The Bears will see how much they’ve improved when they get a
rematch against a Lions defense which is tied for fourth in the
league with 24 sacks and tied for fifth with 11 interceptions.
Additionally, Detroit is holding teams to a 29.1-percent third-down
conversion rate – best in the NFL.
While Chicago is coming off a short week, the Lions have been
off since a 45-10 victory over Denver on Oct. 30. Matthew Stafford
threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns while the defense sacked
Tim Tebow seven times.
After back-to-back losses in which the offense struggled to move
the ball, the Lions felt good going into their bye week, although
they know there’s room for improvement.
“The main thing we talked about was consistency,” coach Jim
Schwartz said. “We have played very, very well at times. Other
times, we haven’t played our very best. … Our challenge is to
make sure we don’t repeat mistakes and to keep the same thing from
biting us the same times.”
While the offense has stalled at times, especially with top
rusher Jahvid Best missing the last two games due to a concussion,
Detroit also has had problems stopping the run. Each of the Lions’
last seven opponents have rushed for at least 110 yards, and
they’re giving up 137.6 per game this season to rank 28th in the
Forte ran for 116 last month for his fourth 100-yard rushing
game in his last six meetings with Detroit.
The Detroit defense could benefit from the possible return of
rookie defensive tackle Nick Fairley. This year’s 13th overall pick
missed the first month of the season and the Denver game with a
However, Best, who ran for 163 yards including an 88-yard
touchdown against the Bears, is unlikely to play this weekend.
Detroit has lost its last three visits to Chicago – all during
its league-record 26-game losing streak on the road. Since that
slide, however, the Lions have won a franchise-record six straight
away from home. This season, they’ve opened 4-0 on the road for the
first time since 1956, when they went on to win the NFL title.
“We’ve shown we’re a good team,” defensive end Cliff Avril said.
“But we also know that we haven’t done anything yet and that
there’s a lot of work left to do.”