Cutler, Bears 'turn' corner against Lions

Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCT

Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and the Bears have won three straight games by an average margin of nearly 24 points per game. The Chicago Bears host the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football (8 ET, ESPN), the latest edition of the second-most played rivalry in NFL history (165th meeting). The Bears have won seven of the last eight games with the Lions but Detroit holds the edge on Monday night, winning four of five on the weeknight stage.

The two teams enter their Week 7 matchup on different ends of the standings. The Bears are 4-1 for the second time in the last three seasons and looking for their first start of 5-1 or better since 2006 when they began the year 6-0. The Lions, however, are last in the NFC North at 2-3, albeit coming off of an OT win against the Eagles in Week 6.

If the Lions are going to turn things around, they will need to get off to better starts. Entering Week 7, the Lions had been outscored by 33 points this season in the first three quarters (26th in NFL) but had outscored their opponents by 22 points in the fourth quarter (4th in NFL). Only the Broncos (79) have scored more fourth-quarter points than the Lions this season (73).

Perhaps one reason behind the Lions’ inconsistency has been their inability to stretch the field. Matthew Stafford ranked among the top 10 quarterbacks in the league in both completion percentage and touchdown passes on throws more than 20 yards downfield last season. So far in 2012, Stafford is completing under 30 percent of such passes with an interception and no touchdowns.

On the other sideline, Jay Cutler has the NFL’s second-highest average throw distance (9.9 yards downfield), but has actually had his success when the Bears have used more conservative personnel groupings.

Jay Cutler Passing by No. of WRs
This Season

Entering Monday, Cutler had a higher completion percentage, more touchdown passes, and fewer interceptions with two or fewer receivers on the field versus snaps with three or more. He also connected on six of his seven 30-yard completions this season in two-receiver sets.

Against the Lions last season, Cutler completed 70 percent of his attempts and threw a touchdown pass with two or fewer receivers on the field. He completed 64 percent of passes on all other snaps against the Lions with no touchdowns.

Defensively, the Bears have held opponents to a league-low 14.2 points per game in 2012 and they have done it by forcing turnovers. Chicago entered Week 7 tied for the NFL lead with 17 takeaways this season including a league-high 13 interceptions.

Perhaps most remarkably, five of those 13 interceptions have been returned for touchdowns. No team in NFL history had ever returned five picks for scores in its first five games of a season and no team in Bears history had done in three straight games as this year’s team has done from Weeks 3-5 (Bye in Week 6).

Will they make it four in a row against the Lions? Detroit quarterbacks have thrown four “pick-sixes” over the last two seasons—-only the Titans (5) and Chargers (5) have thrown more over that span.