Bears/Lions keys to the game

The Bears (5-3) take on the Lions (6-2) in an NFC North matchup this Sunday at Soldier Field. We discuss what Chicago needs to do on both sides of the ball to pick up its fourth win in a row.

The last time the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions met, things didn't turn out well for the Monsters of the Midway. Amidst a raucous Ford Field crowd, the Bears were beaten 24-13, snapping a six-game win streak in the series. Since that Week 5 matchup, Chicago has rattled off three straight wins. Detroit, on the other hand, has gone 1-2 the past three weeks, dropping to 6-2. The Lions are still in second place in the NFC North but are now just a game up on the Bears.

This will be the 164th meeting between the two clubs. Chicago holds a 93-65-5 advantage in the series. The Bears' 93 wins are the most against any single opponent. At home, Chicago is 52-24-4 versus the Lions, and has won five of the last six meetings at Soldier Field.

Injuries

The Bears will be without T Gabe Carimi, who had arthroscopic surgery on his knee yesterday, and TE Kyle Adams, who was placed on IR this week. Devin Hester is listed as questionable with an ankle injury. DT Matt Toeaina (knee), DE Julius Peppers (knee), TE Kellen Davis (shoulder) and S Major Wright (ankle) are all probable and expected to play.

For the Lions, RB Jahvid Best (concussion) has been ruled out. DT Sammie Hill (ankle) is questionable and not expected to play. Neither is P Ryan Donahue (quad). Starting S Louis Delmas is also questionable. TE Brandon Pettigrew (elbow), QB Matthew Stafford (finger/ankle), K Jason Hanson (knee) and WR Rashied Davis (foot) are all probable.

CHICAGO ON OFFENSE


RB Matt Forte
Streeter Lecka/Getty

Bears Offensive Rankings
Points scored: 10th (25.0)
Total offense: 17th (341.8)
Rushing offense: 11th (120.9)
Passing offense: 18th (220.9)

Lions Defensive Rankings
Points allowed: 6th (18.4)
Total defense: 10th (331.3)
Rushing defense: 28th (137.6)
Passing defense: 6th (193.6)
Turnover ration: 1st (+13)

-As we can see from the numbers above, the Lions have a hard time stopping the run. In the first meeting between these two teams, RB Matt Forte rushed for 116 yards on 22 carries. He will once again have to be the workhorse on Sunday. He's averaged 22 carries per game the last four contests and will need to tote the rock just as many times, if not more. The second-leading rusher in the NFL needs a big game this weekend if the Bears are to win.

-The front five offensive linemen (LT J'Marcus Webb, LG Chris Williams, C Roberto Garza, RG Chris Spencer and RT Lance Louis) will be making their fourth straight start together. The unit has grown rapidly the past three games, showing improved continuity each and every week. They have allowed just three sacks during that time against three quality defensive lines.

Yet Detroit's defensive front is arguably the best in the game. In Week 5, the Lions sacked QB Jay Cutler three times and pressured him throughout most of the contest. The unit is fourth in the NFL in sacks (24.0) and can bring pressure from every position. DT Ndamukong Suh is one of the top interior rushers in the game, while DE Cliff Avril and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch are a formidable duo off the edge. If the Bears are to be successful throwing the ball, the offensive line must limit the pressure from Detroit's front four.

-The Bears have had a lot of success running to the right side behind Louis and Spencer. If that's to continue on Sunday, Spencer must be able to contain Suh one-on-one. Louis was playing right guard in the Week 5 meeting and Suh dominated. Spencer must do a better job of not allowing him to penetrate and disrupt plays in the backfield. Don't be surprised if the Bears use both Garza and Spencer to clear Suh out on running plays.

-DT Corey Williams is a space eater (6-4, 320) who is stout against the run. Chris Williams doesn't have the strength to move Williams out of the hole by himself, so expect the Bears to trap Williams on interior run plays.

-I expect Chicago to line up in a lot of power formations this game in order to load up and stuff the ball down Detroit's throat. That means FB Tyler Clutts should see plenty of time on the field. The Lions' trio of linebacker are very good and have to be accounted for on every running play. Clutts cannot be too aggressive in leading through the hole. He needs to hts the gaps strong but not out of control, making sure to locate and lock up at the second level.

-Detroit's secondary is a very opportunistic group. They are fifth in the league in interceptions (11). CB Chris Houston is second in the league with 4 picks. Both he and CB Eric Wright present a tough challenge for Chicago's wideouts. Even if Devin Hester plays, he won't see much time on offense. Roy Williams will take most of his reps. Don't expect much from him, or Johnny Knox, on the outside. Which is why Earl Bennett out of the slot will be so important in this game. In the first matchup, Dane Sanzenbacher led the team with six catches out of the slot position. Bennett should be able to do even better against Detroit nickel back Aaron Berry. I expect a huge game from Bennett.

-Jay Cutler threw for 249 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs in the Week 5 matchup. If he can duplicate that stat line, it should be good enough for a Chicago win. If the offensive line can give him time o throw, he could easily improve on those numbers. To that end, expect coordinator Mike Martz to chip on the pass rushers with backs and tight ends.

CHICAGO ON DEFENSE


WR Calvin Johnson
Kim Klement/US Presswire

Bears defensive rankings
Points allowed: 14th (21.8)
Total defense: 23rd (374.3)
Rushing defense: 11th (110.0)
Passing defense: 26th (264.3)
Turnover ratio: 7th (+1)

Lions offensive rankings
Points scored: 3rd (29.9)
Total offense: 13th (355.9)
Rushing offense: 27th (95.3)
Passing offense: 10th (260.6)

-The Lions can put up points with the best of them, thanks in large part to the passing duo of QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson. "Megatron" leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns (11) and is fourth in receiving yardage (804). Against Chicago in Week 5, Johnson caught five passes for 130 yards and a TD. The score came on a 73-yard pass in the second quarter, when he beat S Chris Harris down the seam. The Bears have been playing their safeties very deep in the past few weeks and I fully expect that to continue. Chicago's coaches can live with Johnson catching balls underneath but will do everything in their power not to let him beat the defense deep. On passing downs, it wouldn't be surprising to see S Chris Conte 2t yards behind the line of scrimmage before the snap.

-The other way to limit Johnson is to put pressure on. In the two losses prior to last week's win, the Detroit front five allowed eight sacks. The Bears will need to continue that trend. LT Jeff Backus is the most consistent of the group in protecting the quarterback and handled DE Julius Peppers well in Ford Field. Peppers leads the team in sacks (5.0) and, even though his knee is less than 100 percent, has been very disruptive as of late. Keep an eye on that matchup. In addition, defensive tackles Amobi Okoye and Henry Melton must be able to work through the veteran duo of C Dominic Raiola and Stephen Peterman and provide pressure up the middle.

-The only other threat in the passing game is TE Brandon Pettigrew. He can be a beast in the middle of the field. In passing situations, Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher need to know where Pettigrew is on every play.

-The Lions do not rush the ball well and will be without their starting running back. The team is relying on a timeshare between 31-year old Maurice Morris and second-year player Keiland Williams. The duo has average just 88 rushing yards combined the past two weeks. If the Bears allow these two to run on them, they have no chance of holding down the third-most prolific scoring offense in the league.

-Of the Lions' 395 total yards against the Bears in Week 5, more than half came on just three plays. Which brings us to the biggest key for Chicago's defense: do not allow the big play. If that means dropping the safeties back 25 yards on passing downs, so be it. If that means stacking the box in running situations, so be it. If that means not calling a blitz all game, so be it. Whatever it takes, the Bears must keep Detroit's offense in front of them and force the Lions to move the ball methodically down the field.

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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.


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