The Chicago Bears (2-2) and Detroit Lions (4-0) will face off this evening on Monday Night Football from Ford Field. Chicago's 93 wins against the Lions (93-64-5; .589) are the most against any single opponent in franchise history. The Bears have won six-straight meetings in the series and 10 of the last 12 overall.
Under coach Lovie Smith the Bears are 6-1 on Monday Night Football, including four-straight victories. Chicago last faced Detroit on MNF in 1995, a 27-7 victory by the Lions. The two teams have met on Monday in primetime on four previous occasions, all in Detroit, with the Lions holding a 3-1 edge.
The Lions are one of the hottest teams in football right now and will be looking to prove their undefeated start is no fluke. Chicago is hoping to stay in the playoff hunt with a big division road win.
-The Bears will be without T Gabe Carimi (knee) and WR Earl Bennett (chest) for the third game in a row. Frank Omiyale will fill in for Carimi, with Dane Sanzenbacher taking over for Bennett. S Chris Harris (hamstring), TE Matt Spaeth (calf), G/C Chris Spencer (hand), CB Charles Tillman (hip) and DE Corey Wootton (hand) are all probable and expected to play.
-Out for the Lions are WR Rashied Davis (foot) and OT Jason Fox (foot). Those with questionable tags are CB Aaron Berry (groin), DT Nick Fairley (foot), DE Lawrence Jackson (hamstring) and S Amari Spievey (hamstring). Spievey practiced just Friday this week, in a limited role, but he said he'll play. And it looks as if Fairley will make his season debut, although in a limited role.
KEYS TO THE GAME
RB Marion Barber
Brian D. Kersey/Getty
-First and foremost, the Bears have to be able to run the ball. Detroit has a talented defensive line and solid linebackers but they are giving up 113 yards per game on the ground, so it's not impossible to run on them. Coordinator Mike Martz needs to call RB Matt Forte's number at least 15-20 times tonight. Even if the team isn't picking up huge chunks of yardage, they have to keep the threat of the run alive. Martz bailed on the run against New Orleans and Green Bay. Opposing defenses then didn't have to worry about the run, so they came after Cutler and manned up the wide receivers tight. The line couldn't handle the pressure, QB Jay Cutler got thrown around, the receivers couldn't get into their routes and the team lost.
-Expect RB Marion Barber to have an increased role tonight, which should aid in helping the offense establish the run. The coaches eased him in last week and didn't need to overwork him with Forte rushing for career-high yardage. This week though, they'll need his downhill running style to add some punch to the run game, especially in short-yardage situations. The goal should be to get Forte 15-20 carries and Barber another 10 or so. Balance Forte's speed with Barber's power and the ground game has a chance.
-Of course running the ball effectively depends almost entirely on the offensive line creating holes. Last week, the unit did a great job of playing hard-nosed, smash-mouth football. But Carolina's front seven is nowhere near as formidable as Detroit's. DT Ndamukong Suh is a force inside and DT Corey Williams is a load to move. Trying to block either one-on-one with guards Chris Williams or Lance Louis will be futile. The front-five will need to apply double teams in the middle and use quick traps to counter Suh's penetration.
-Detroit's starting linebackers – DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant – are a speedy, experienced group that work well in tandem with the defensive line. Tulloch, in particular, is a tackling machine. He was second in the NFL in tackles last season. The Bears' defensive line will need to find these three at the second level and make sure they are accounted for. Unfortunately, the team's best blocker in space, G Chris Spencer, will be serving as a backup due to a hand injury. C Roberto Garza and Louis have been decent in getting out early and sealing off linebackers, but Williams has struggled. His awareness has been lacking and must improve tonight.
-Protecting Cutler is always key but it may be especially so against the Lions. Suh is an aggressive player who said this week he wants to hurt some Bears players tonight. That means he'll be coming hard after Chicago's signal caller. If he gets a good look at Cutler, it could result in an injury. Lance Louis must stay low, play with power and keep Suh contained, with Garza helping out more often than not.
-The problem with focusing too much on Suh is it will leave RT Frank Omiyale and LT J'Marcus Webb out on islands against defensive ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch. Both are quick, powerful edge rushers who come hard after the quarterback on every passing down. If these two start getting pressure from the outside, the Bears would be wise to throw in a number of draws and screen plays to keep them on their toes. Draw plays might be especially effective, letting Vanden Bosch and Avril fly up field and run themselves out of the play.
-If the Lions get aggressive and go heavy on the blitz, which is likely, Chicago's receivers will be left one-on-one with the corners. Chris Houston and Eric Wright are very good in man coverage, so don't expect a whole lot from receivers Devin Hester or Roy Williams. Yet WR Dane Sanzenbacher, who will line up across from nickelback Brandon McDonald on most plays, should have success underneath, especially as the hot receiver. Expect Cutler to look his way often. Detroit's safeties are banged up, meaning the Bears should take shots down the field with WR Johnny Knox, something they haven't done all year. Even if they fall incomplete, it will at least stretch the defense
-I would go on about the importance of getting TE Kellen Davis involved in the pass game, but that's obviously never going to happen, so I won't even bother.
DE Julius Peppers
-Everything comes down to pressure from the front four with this group. Detroit's coaches remember all too well DE Julius Peppers ending QB Matthew Stafford's season last year and they'll do everything in their power to make sure that doesn't happen again. So Peppers should see a heavy dose of double teams. But hasn't that always been the case his entire career? It's time he flips the switch and starts playing at the level we all know he's capable. If he's disruptive, he'll be able to throw Stafford off his game.
-While Peppers is being double teamed, one of the other defensive linemen has to step up. Henry Melton and Israel Idonije will both see plenty of one-on-ones. They need to take advantage of those opportunities. If Melton continues his poor play, I expect to see Amobi Okoye get more reps. The worst thing that can happen tonight is for Stafford to have time in the pocket.
-The Lions' biggest threat is WR Calvin Johnson. He's as dominant as they come and has almost single-handedly lifted his team to victories the past two weeks. The Bears must not let him go crazy. He'll get his, just don't let it be a 200-yard, two-touchdown performance. Getting S Chris Harris back will help. If they roll him over the top on Johnson, with CB Charles Tillman playing tight underneath, they'll have a chance. And when he does catch the ball, Chicago must wrap up. Johnson is huge (6-5, 239) and is extremely dangerous after the catch.
-TE Brandon Pettigrew is the team's second-biggest weapon in the passing game. He's a big, fluid receiver with good hands. Most linebackers cannot cover him one-on-one. If the Bears become too preoccupied with Megatron on the outside, Pettigrew will eat them up down the seams. In zone coverage, LB Brian Urlacher must be aware of Pettigrew at all times to ensure he doesn't do too much damage.
-The Lions have not run the ball well so far this year, averaging as a team just 3.0 yards per carry. That said, RB Jahvid Best is an explosive back. He's a threat to score from anywhere on the field. The Bears need to make sure this isn't the game he breaks out of his slump. If Chicago's defense is getting gashed on the ground, they won't stand a chance.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.