THREE KEYS FOR THE BEARS
Keep Cutler clean: Solid protection along the offensive line played a major role in Cutler’s improved performance over the past four weeks. The unit can’t afford a letdown with the stakes seemingly increasing with every game, as the Bears try to secure a division crown and homefield advantage for the postseason. Rookie right tackle J’Marcus Webb needs to work this week to eliminate his penchant for mental lapses, and refine some technical kinks in his game. If the offensive line maintains the level of play it has produced over the past four weeks, Cutler should be in for a big day against Detroit’s struggling secondary.
Harass Drew Stanton: The Bears face their second mobile signal caller in two weeks. But Stanton isn’t as explosive or as experienced as Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. Look for Detroit to call a different game offensively on Sunday than it did when quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Matthew Stafford were starting. The Lions will look to get Stanton out of the pocket with bootlegs and plays that give the quarterback run-pass options (Stanton averages 4.5 yards per rush over his career with Detroit). So the Bears need to corral Stanton in the pocket, force him to make decisions, and go through his progressions. Stanton has shown a tendency to make mistakes. He threw three interceptions in his only start of 2009, and there’s a good chance the Bears could force a repeat performance of that outing with steady pressure from the front four.
Take away Calvin Johnson: Johnson will be looking for redemption for the controversial play in the opener in which he caught what seemed to be a touchdown, only to have it taken away when he failed to complete what should have been the game-winning catch. It’s also a given that Stanton, given his inexperience, will look to feed the ball to the team’s most dynamic playmaker. So by taking away Johnson, the Bears eliminate most of the Lions’ offensive firepower. Covered primarily by Charles Tillman in the first matchup, Johnson caught just four passes for 45 yards.
THREE KEYS FOR THE LIONS
Make the Bears throw: The Bears aren’t letting opponents take away the rushing attack completely. So by the Bears staying committed to run, they can keep opponents off balance defensively with play action. The only way to take away play action and force the Bears to become a passing team is to snuff out the run. Detroit held Matt Forte to just 50 yards on the ground in the opener, and the Bears ended up passing 34 times in a game that was decided by just five points. The Lions need a similar performance against Chicago’s rushing attack if they expect to keep this game close. Even if Detroit can get the Bears to rely heavily on the pass, it’s pointless if the Lions can’t pressure Cutler and hold up in the secondary.
Keep the offense off the field: The Bears’ Cover-2 scheme allows for minimal gains if a quarterback can stay disciplined enough to take what the defense allows. Quarterbacks typically get into trouble against the Bears when they take unnecessary risks or succumb to pressure from the front four. So if Stanton can avoid Chicago’s pressure long enough to make short completions and keep the chains moving, the Lions have a decent shot at keeping Cutler and the Bears’ explosive offense off the field. That would be a positive, considering the Bears are 1-2 this year when they’ve scored 17 points or fewer. Short slants and crossing routes to a big target such as Calvin Johnson -- who possesses superior run-after-catch ability -- aren't a bad thing.
Get off to fast start and avoid turnovers: With the roll Chicago is on, it would be natural for the Bears to get off to a slow start; especially after last week’s emotionally-taxing victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. So the Lions can best take advantage of any potential letdown by taking it to the Bears quickly. In fact, if Detroit takes possession first, a deep attempt on the first play from scrimmage to Johnson shouldn’t be out of the question. Avoiding turnovers could also help out the Lions tremendously. The Bears are 1-2 this season when they’ve finished a game with an equal turnover margin.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: IDONIJE VS. CHERILUS
Chicago’s sack leader, defensive end Israel Idonije should get plenty of one-on-one situations against right tackle Gosder Cherilus because of all the manpower the Lions are expected to devote to blocking Julius Peppers.
Cherilus missed practice Thursday because of a knee issue that Idonije may be able to exploit off the edge with speed rushes.
BY THE NUMBERS
201: Total yards from scrimmage by Matt Forte in the season opener against the Lions, in which he caught seven passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
162: Games between the Bears and Lions, which ranks as the second-longest active running rivalry in the NFL. The Bears have won five straight over the Lions and four of five at Ford Field.
3: Career games in which Cutler has thrown four touchdown passes or more, which ties for second in franchise history with Billy Wade behind Sid Luckman, who has put together four such games.
156: Consecutive starts for Lions left tackle Jeff Backus, who will match up with Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.