The Chicago Bears have an opportunity tonight to stay atop the NFC North. A victory tonight on Monday Night Football over the Lions would keep Chicago in first place in their division and put three games of separation between them and Detroit.
This will be the 165th meeting between the two franchises. Chicago holds a 94-65-5 advantage in the series. The Bears' 94 wins against the Lions are the most against any single opponent. Chicago has won seven of the last eight meetings in the series, and four straight at Soldier Field.
G Lance Louis
Bears on Offense
Chicago offensive rankings
Points scored: 2nd (29.8)
Total offense: 20th (346.2)
Rushing offense: 10th (123.6)
Passing offense: 23rd (222.6)
Detroit defensive rankings
Points allowed: 24th (27.4)
Total defense: 9th (324.0)
Rushing defense: 12th (96.4)
Passing defense: 16th (227.6)
Turnover ratio: 18th (-1)
Matchups to Watch
G Lance Louis vs. DT Ndamukong Suh
The Lions boast one of the best defensive lines in the game and it all starts in the middle with Suh. The former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year possesses a rare combination of size, strength and explosiveness. If he is able to penetrate into the face of QB Jay Cutler, Chicago's passing attack will struggle. If the Bears are forced to double Suh on the inside, that opens up one-on-one matchups for defensive ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, a pair of dangerous edge rushers. Which is why it is imperative that Louis keeps Suh under wraps. Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranks Louis the 11th best pass-blocking guard in the league so far. If he performs as expected, and keeps Suh out of the backfield, the Bears should be able to score enough points to pick up a victory.
WR Brandon Marshall vs. CB Chris Houston
The Lions are severely beat up at the cornerback position. Currently, Houston is their only corner with a chance at covering Marshall, which isn't saying much. Marshall currently ranks ninth in the NFL in both receptions and receiving yardage. In all but one game, he's been unstoppable. The one contest in which he was shut down was the club's only loss, which is no coincidence. If Marshall takes advantage of Houston and has his typical big day, Chicago will win.
Keys on Offense
-RT Gabe Carimi has struggled in pass protection this year. PFF ranks Carimi the fourth worst pass blocking tackle in the league through the first five weeks of the season. He'll matchup with Cliff Avril, one of the best edge rushers in the game. Carimi has to step up his game and keep Avril out of the backfield.
-The same goes for LT J'Marcus Webb, who will get a heavy dose of Kyle Vanden Bosch. Webb has shown a lot of improvement this season but often gets eaten up by quality pass rushers like Vanden Bosch. Expect OC Mike Tice to chip and double on the left edge to give Webb support.
-Two of the Lions' top three cornerbacks, Jacob Lacey and Bill Bentley, will not play tonight. Detroit this week had to re-sign Alphonso Smith, whom they cut in late August, just to fill the roster. They'll rely on Smith and sixth-round rookie Jonte Green to cover Chicago's wideouts. This means both Earl Bennett and Devin Hester should be able to play a big role in the team's aerial attack. Bennett is coming off a hand injury that has kept him out since Week 3. Out of the slot, against a sixth-round rookie, Bennett should be able to capitalize.
-With WR Alshon Jeffery out with a cracked bone in his hand, Bennett and Hester must step up. But picking up the slack will also fall on TE Kellen Davis and RB Matt Forte. Davis is slowly earning the trust of Cutler, catching five passes for 88 yards the past two games. If he can be a weapon in the middle of the field, that will open up space near the sidelines for the wideouts. The same goes for Forte, one of the best pass-catching running backs in the game. If he can exploit Detroit's linebackers and safeties out of the backfield, it'll be a long day for the Lions' defense.
-The Bears-Lions rivalry has turned nasty the past few years, culminating in an on-field brawl in their second meeting last season. In the past, we've seen Jay Cutler meltdown when he gets angry. If the Lions get under his skin, he may start forcing passes and turning the ball over. Despite what goes on after the play, Cutler has to stay calm and be a professional.
Bears on Defense
Chicago's defensive rankings
Points allowed: 1st (14.2)
Total defense: 3rd (291.2)
Rushing defense: 1st (65.8)
Passing defense: 14th (225.4)
Turnover ratio: 3rd (+9)
Detroit's offensive rankings
Points scored: 12th (25.2)
Total offense: 2nd (419.6)
Rushing offense: 19th (99.8)
Passing offense: 2nd (319.8)
Matchups to Watch
WR Calvin Johnson vs. CB Charles Tillman
In the first matchup between these two teams last year, Johnson caught five passes for 130 yards and a touchdown – a Bears loss. In the second meeting, he caught seven passes for just 81 yards and no scores – a Bears win. This is not a coincidence. If Johnson gets loose and has a big game, Detroit likely wins. If Tillman can shut him down, Chicago likely wins. If coordinator Rod Marinelli needs to roll safety help over the top of Johnson, so be it. But the absolute number one key for the Bears on defense is shutting down Megatron.
DE Julius Peppers vs. LT Jeff Backus
Getting pressure on QB Matt Stafford will be key in this game and that starts with Peppers. The Bears have gotten pressure from nearly every defensive lineman this year but Peppers is still the engine that makes the D-line go. Backus is one of the best pass-blocking tackles in the game, so it's likely the Lions will leave him on an island to protect the blind side. If Peppers can exploit this matchup, combined with pressure from the other pass rushers, it will be a long day for Stafford.
Keys on Defense
-The Lions are in the bottom half of the league in rushing but that doesn't mean they can't move the ball on the ground. RB Mikel Leshoure – who, due to injury, missed his rookie season last year and the first two games this year – has provided a spark to Detroit's rushing attack. The Bears are the best team in the league at stopping the run. If they keep Leshoure under wraps, the Lions will become one-dimensional, which will lead to turnovers. In the second meeting last year, the Bears shut down Detroit's run game, which led to four Stafford interceptions.
-When Stafford isn't throwing to Megatron, he usually looks to his tight ends. Brandon Pettigrew is second on the club in receptions and receiving yards. While a lot of the attention will go Johnson's way, they defense cannot forget about Pettigrew, who can be a weapon between the hashes.
-Chicago's defense has scored five touchdowns this season. When the Bears score defensive TDs, they almost always win. A pick-six tonight will build momentum and could cause Detroit, a notoriously immature team, to crumble.
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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.