If the 4-3 Bears don't put more pressure on the Cardinals' Kurt Warner Sunday than they've put on opposing quarterbacks in their last three games, they'll be looking at a .500 record at the halfway point of the season.
Defensive left end Adewale Ogunleye, the team's leading sacker with 4.5, went so far as to say he doesn't think the Bears can win if they don't disrupt Warner.
"My mindset is, if we don't get to Kurt, pressure him (and) sack him, it's going to be a long day," Ogunleye said. "With that said, there's a lot of pressure on our backs, a lot of pressure on my back, to get to Kurt."
In their first four games this season, the Bears had 14 sacks. But, in the last three games, losses to the Falcons and Bengals and a victory over the Browns, the Bears had a grand total of one sack.
This week they know the best way to slow down one of the NFL's most explosive offenses is to do to Warner what the Panthers did last week, get after him. Warner was sacked twice and pressured into five interceptions and a fumble.
If Warner is allowed time to throw to his talented targets — wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston — the Bears won't be able to contain all of them.
Last season, en route to the Super Bowl, each of Warner's top three targets had over 1,000 receiving yards. Fitzgerald (47 catches, 509 yards, five touchdowns) is well on his way to duplicating that feat this year. But Boldin (35 catches, 404 yards, one touchdown) has been slowed by a sprained ankle, which kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday, although he has vowed to play Sunday. Breaston has picked up the slack with 30 catches, 400 yards and a team-best 13.3 yards per reception.
"They have probably the best receiver in the game," Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said of Fitzgerald. "I love watching both of them play, Anquan and ‘Fitz,' and they have Steve Breaston, and they have good backs and they have Kurt Warner. They have the tools. As long as they can protect and get those balls out, those guys will make plays."
Yet the Cardinals have shown a tendency to give the ball away this season, committing 18 turnovers.
"You watch their tape this year, and the people who have had success vs. them have done a pretty good job of taking the ball away from them," middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said. "They're an offense that's going to make their plays. They've got too many great players out there. Our goal is to take the ball away, have big plays and try to contain their big ones."
Back in 2004, when Warner was playing for the Giants, he was sacked four times in one game by Alex Brown in a 28-21 Bears victory.
"We need the sacks," said Brown, who's second on the Bears with 3.5 sacks. "We need to force the turnovers, we need to get the ball, (get) tipped balls, make him throw the ball sooner than he wants to, stuff like that."
More than ever, this week, it's what's up front that counts for the Bears.
"We've got to create havoc in the passing game," Ogunleye said. "It starts with the defensive line because you can't expect our secondary to cover those guys for long. They're just too good."
The Lions need to get one offensive weapon back. They need to get another one in gear.
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson has missed two games with a right knee injury. He was listed as limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday, and coach Jim Schwartz said he would be a game-time decision Sunday at Seattle.
But Johnson continued to look good in the portion of practice open to reporters, and he sounded somewhat optimistic that he would be able to return against the Seahawks.
"We're going to just be careful, do what I can do," Johnson said. "As long as I don't have any setbacks, I think it'll look brighter for Sunday."
Johnson said he felt no pressure to return because of the Lions' struggles on offense without him. But the Lions need him back not only because of the plays he makes, but because of how he opens up the offense for others.
"He's not just a guy that you can bump and run with because he's so big," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "You've got to put help over the top a lot of times, and teams don't like to single him up. It changes their philosophy."
Running back Kevin Smith could use a safety out of the box. He is likely to play after leaving Sunday's game against St. Louis with a shoulder injury — the second such problem he has had this season — and knows he needs to produce better.
Coach Jim Schwartz has talked about breaking big runs. Smith's longest is 20 yards. He averages 3.1 yards per carry.
"We're all looking to kind of quiet the critics that Detroit doesn't have a running game," Smith said. "Because I get the ball first, I want to be that tempo-setter and that lead dog. I think enough's enough."
The Lions are trying to give Maurice Morris and rookie Aaron Brown a few more carries, while keeping Smith as the No. 1 back.
"We've got to, between the three of them, come up with a productive plan in the run game to win," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "We haven't gotten there yet."
Smith bristled and declined to comment when asked if the coaches were increasing competition. But earlier he talked about feeling heat.
"The coaches have expectations," Smith said. "Of course you want to prove to them that you can do your thing, but the most pressure is coming from myself, because I didn't come in this league to be a bottom-list rusher. ...
"I've got to stick with it. If it's not going my way, there's two things you can do: You can give up, or you can get better. There's only one option for me."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get ready to don their throwback bright orange uniforms for the first time, the Packers also will be turning back the clock in the matchup Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
The moves haven't officially been made, but all indications are Green Bay will have veteran bookend tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher on the field together for the first time in 11 months.
Clifton and Tauscher received plenty of the reps at left tackle and right tackle, respectively, with the starting offense for the second straight day in practice Thursday.
"(They) have put together two good practices," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're going to take the whole week's work (with them). But, we're definitely further ahead than the past two weeks, as far as their availability and the production."
Clifton hasn't played in four of the last five games because of a recurring right ankle sprain. He would regain the starting spot that rookie T.J. Lang filled the past two weeks.
Tauscher is considered game-ready for the first time since he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee Dec. 7 last season. Since re-signing with the Packers on Oct. 12, nine months after he underwent reconstructive surgery, Tauscher's workload in practice gradually increased, and he's expected to unseat first-year starter Allen Barbre at the spot Sunday.
Clifton, 33, and Tauscher, 32, were mainstays in Green Bay's starting lineup since their rookie seasons in 2000.
"It's comforting because those guys have been playing at a high level for a long time," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "It's nice seeing their faces in the huddle. ... It's good having those guys back. Those guys bring a lot of character to our team, and when they're healthy, they're very good players. They've shown that in the past."
The Packers are hoping that this latest change on the line — it would be the fourth different starting quintet this season — can mollify what has been ailing them through seven games. Rodgers has been sacked a league-high 31 times.
"It's a whole unit thing," Tauscher said. "Obviously, the pressure and the emphasis is on the offensive line because the number is so high. As a whole group, no doubt about it, we need to play better up front."