A lot has changed for both teams since the Lions whipped the Bears 24-13 in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football a month ago.
That dominant victory propelled the Lions to 5-0, but they've lost two of three since then. The embarrassing loss dropped the Bears to 2-3, but they've won three straight since to climb to within a game of Detroit for second place in the NFC North.
That loss left the Bears' offensive line at ground zero. The line was flagged for six of the team's nine false-start penalties, and it allowed quarterback Jay Cutler to be sacked three times and pummeled on several other occasions.
After that game, right guard Lance Louis was moved to right tackle to replace struggling Frank Omiyale, and Chris Spencer was inserted at right guard. Sunday will mark the fourth straight game that the same players start in all five line spots, and the improvement has been noticeable.
Behind the new alignment, Cutler has been sacked just three times in three games. In the most recent, Monday night's victory over the Eagles, Cutler was not sacked at all for the first time this season.
"I was thinking about that halfway through the game," he admitted. "I was like, 'Let's not jinx this yet.' I didn't want to say anything, but it was looking pretty good. Those guys played well. They're getting better and better. They're getting more relaxed out there. Mike (Martz) is doing a great job of calling plays and helping them out."
Another change in the Bears since their first meeting with the Lions has been the reduction of big plays that the defense has permitted.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford torched the Bears with a 73-yard touchdown toss to Calvin Johnson, and running back Jahvid Best had an 88-yard scamper and a 43-yard jaunt. The longest play they have allowed in the three games since then is a 33-yard run by the Eagles' LeSean McCoy.
"We're very pleased with them, especially Chris Conte," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's doing a great job for a young guy, a rookie coming in, and that's hard. It's hard first to be accepted. The veterans want to see what you can do, (but) they're letting him hang around a little bit with them now. Major Wright, also. They're eager to learn, and they both have talent. They're not there yet, but they should get better each week they play."
--WR Devin Hester (sprained ankle) would not have participated in a Wednesday practice if the Bears, who played Monday night, actually had done anything. He is probably questionable at this point.
--OT Gabe Carimi is not expected to play Sunday, as his return from a partially dislocated kneecap in Week 2 continues to drag on.
--TE Kellen Davis (shoulder) may not get much practice in this week, but he has a good chance of playing Sunday.
--S Major Wright (ankle) could be limited during practice but should play on Sunday.
Big plays destroyed the Bears in their first meeting this season with the Lions, and eliminating those has been Job One on defense ever since. Lions RB Jahvid Best had a touchdown run of 88 yards in Week 5 and also added a 43-yard pickup, while WR Calvin Johnson caught a 73-yard TD pass. Best is not expected to play this week, so the Bears can devote more attention to Megatron and hopefully put more pressure on QB Matthew Stafford, who was sacked just once and completed 73.1 percent of his passes.
The Bears have averaged 32 rushing plays per game during their three-game winning streak, and they expect to continue getting RB Matt Forte 25-30 touches per game. They are also getting solid production on the ground from Marion Barber, who has been effective spelling Forte and in short-yardage situations. WR Earl Bennett gave the passing game a huge boost last week in his return, especially on third downs, where he is usually Jay Cutler's go-to guy.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bears 6-2 CB Charles Tillman gives them the best matchup against the Lions' 6-5 WR Calvin Johnson, who had five catches for 130 yards in the first meeting. Young safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright will also have to do a better job containing Johnson than former starting safeties Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather did last time. They were the ones victimized by Johnson's 73-yard touchdown.
Bears LT J'Marcus Webb and RT Lance Louis vs. Lions DRE Kyle Vanden Bosch and DLE Cliff Avril, each of whom has five sacks.
164th regular-season meeting. Bears lead series, 93-65-5. The Lions won the first meeting this season, in a Monday night game on Oct. 10, but the Bears have won the last three games at Soldier Field.
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