Chicago Bears: Nuts & Bolts
CHICAGO BEARS at SAN FRANCISCO 49ersWhen: 7:30 p.m. Monday | TV: ESPN
RADIO: 780 AM, WBBM & 105.9 FM; WLEY (107.9 FM)
CHICAGO BEARS (7-2)
Coach: Lovie Smith | Record including playoffs: 81-62
Career record (including playoffs) vs. Jim Harbaugh: 0-0 | Career record vs. 49ers: 3-1
Last week: Lost to Houston Texans 13-6.
CHICAGO BEARS AT DALLAS COWBOYSWhen: 7:30, Monday | TV: ESPN | RADIO: 780 AM, WBBM & 105.9 FM
CHICAGO BEARS (2-1)
Coach: Lovie Smith Record including playoffs: 73-58
Career head-to-head record (including playoffs) vs. Jason Garrett: 0-0 | Career record vs. Cowboys: 3-3
Last week: Defeated St. Louis Rams 23-6
Key stat:The Bears lead the league with 14 sacks and rank sixth in total defense (279 yards per game), fifth in scoring defense (16.7 points per game) and second in takeaways (9). Chicago’s 14 sacks rank as the second most for the franchise through the first three games since 1982, when sacks became an official statistic.
Offense rank in 2011: 27th (290 ypg) | Defense rank: 6th (279 ypg).
Offensive leader: Brandon Marshall leads the Bears with 16 catches for 214 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Jay Cutler has targeted him nearly twice as many times as the club’s second-leading receiver Alshon Jeffery. With three drops on the season, Marshall needs to capitalize on the all the opportunities provided by Cutler. In two games against the Cowboys, Marshall has caught nine passes for 194 yards and 2 TDs.
Defensive leader: CB Tim Jennings has picked off at least one pass in every game so far, and now leads the NFL with 4 picks. Going back to Week 17 of last season, Jennings has picked off a pass in four consecutive contests, making him the first Bear to pick off a pass in four straight outings since Dave Duerson in1986. Interestingly, seven of Jennings’ 11 interceptions have come over the last three seasons with the Bears after he spent his first four years with the Colts.
•A win gives Chicago its second consecutive victory over the Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium.
•Alshon Jeffery has caught a pass in every game thus far, and leads all rookies in receiving yardage with nine catches for 132 yards and a touchdown.
•Brian Urlacher needs one more start to tie Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary for the third-most starts in franchise history (172).
• Kicker Robbie Gould has made all six of his field-goal attempts so far, including a 54 yarder last week in the win over the Rams. Gould has hit on 193 of 224 of his field goal attempts, making him the third-most accurate kicker in NFL history.
DALLAS COWBOYS (2-1)
Coach Jason Garrett: Record: 15-12
Career record vs. Smith: 0-0 | Career record vs. Bears: 0-0
Last week: Defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16-10
Key stat:The Cowboys allow the fewest yards per game (250) in the NFL, which goes down as the club’s lowest total through the first three games in 16 years.
Offense rank in 2011: 20th (342 ypg). | Defense rank: 1st (250 ypg).
Defensive leader: LB DeMarcus Ware ranks third among active players in sacks 103.5, including four this season. Since 2005, Ware has produced an NFL-best eight games in which he generated three or more sacks, and has 25 multi-sack outings on his resume and has led the league in sacks since entering the league. Ware is coming off a seven-tackle, two-sack performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
•Ware has posted a sack in four consecutive games, his seventh such streak since entering the league. He’s also the only player currently in the NFL to post six consecutive seasons with 10 or more sacks.
•A victory would give Dallas consecutive wins on Monday night, and five in its last six outings on Monday night.
•The Cowboys have played in front of sellout crowds in each of their last 179 home games.
CHICAGO BEARS (1-0)
Coach: Lovie Smith Record including playoffs: 72-57
Career head-to-head record (including playoffs) vs. Mike McCarthy: 5-8 | Career record vs. Packers: 8-9
Last week: Defeated Indianapolis Colts 41-21
Key stat: Jay Cutler has thrown 2 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions on throws of at least 15 yards down the field against the Green Bay Packers since joining the Bears, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The 9 INTs are 5 more picks than the next highest opponent.
Offense rank in 2011: 5th (428 ypg) | Defense rank: 15th (356 ypg)
Offensive leader: WR Brandon Marshall made a smashing debut with the Bears, catching 9 passes for 119 yards and a TD against the Colts. Having produced 20 100-yard receiving games over his career, Marshall’s Week 1 performance went down as the most production from a player making his debut with the franchise since Harlon Hill gained 140 yards against Detroit back in Sept. of 1954.
Defensive leader: CB Tim Jennings recorded the first multiple-interception game of his career in Week 1 against the Colts by picking off two Andrew Luck passes. Jennings became the first Bear since Sept. 19, 2010 (D.J. Moore) to intercept two passes in a game, and has already tied his single-season high for INTs, having picked off two in 2008, 2009, and 2011.
" A win gives the Bears their sixth 2-0 start under the current playoff format. The previous five times the Bears started 2-0, they made the playoffs on four occasions.
" The Bears have lost each of their last four games -- including the playoffs -- against the Packers, and haven’t won at Lambeau Field since 2007.
" In the seven games the Bears lined up with Chris Conte and Major Wright as the starting safeties, the club has nabbed 11 interceptions while allowing five touchdown passes and a passer rating of 66.4.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (0-1)
Coach Mike McCarthy: Record including playoffs 102-66
Career record vs. Smith: 8-5 | Career record vs. Bears: 8-5
Last week: Lost to San Francisco 49ers 30-22.
Key stat: During Green Bay’s 19-game winning streak from 2010-11, QB Aaron Rodgers completed 55.5 percent of his throws travelling 15 yards or more downfield, according to ESPN Stats & Info. In his last four games, Rodgers has completed 25.8 percent of those throws.
Offense rank in 2011: 18th (324 ypg) | Defense rank: 18th (377 ypg)
Defensive leader: LB Clay Matthews is the only player in Packers history to score a touchdown on defense in each of his first three seasons in the NFL, and his 17 sacks over his first 20 games ranked as the most by a player to start his career. Matthews is the first player in the NFL since 1982 to rack up double-digit sacks and a defensive touchdown in each of his first two years seasons in the league.
" The Packers have generated 300 yards of total offense or more in a franchise-record 17 consecutive regular-season games, which serves as the longest current streak in the league.
" The Packers are one of two teams (New Orleans is the other) to finish in the top 10 in total offense in each of the last six seasons.
" Green Bay has won seven of 10 games played in Sept. since 2009, which ties Chicago, New Orleans and New England as the third-best record in the NFL in that month over the last four years.
When: Noon Sunday | TV: Fox | Radio: 780-AM WBBM & 105.9 FM
Coach: Lovie Smith | Record including playoffs: 73-59
Career head-to-head record (including playoffs) vs. Leslie Frazier: 2-0
Career record (including playoffs) vs. Vikings: 9-6
Last week: Lost to Packers 35-21
Key stat: In 10 drives against the Packers, quarterback Josh McCown led the team to two touchdowns, and two field goals. The team punted twice and had two drives ended with interceptions. By comparison, in the previous four games with Hanie, the Bears punted 29 times in 55 drives, scoring four TDs, and four field goals in addition to ending drives with nine INTs.
Offense rank: 20th (321.1 ypg) | Defense rank: 18th (353.7 ypg).
Offensive leader: Quarterback Josh McCown made his first start since 2007 against the Packers and showed poise in leading the offense to its best production in terms of yards (441) of the season. McCown needs to show that the performance against Green Bay wasn’t a fluke, because last year, this team was fooled by the play of Caleb Hanie in the NFC title game.
Defensive leader: Cornerback Charles Tillman was recently named to his first Pro Bowl, and is by far the most consistent player in Chicago’s secondary, despite criticism about his age. More players in the Bears’ secondary need to model their play after Tillman, who plays a physical brand of football replete with seemingly endless effort. Tillman ranks fourth in franchise history with 29 INTs.
" A loss would give the Bears their first six-game losing streak since 1998. The Bears haven’t lost their last six games in a row since 1989.
" The Bears are 6-1 this season when they gain 301 to 400 yards and 32-14 under those conditions since 2004.
" The Bears haven’t won a game this season (0-2) in which they gained 401 yards or more.
" The Bears are 0-2 this season in domes after finishing last year 3-0 in indoor stadiums.
Coach: Leslie Frazier | Record: 6-15 | Last week: Defeated Redskins 33-26
Career head-to-head record vs. Smith: 0-2 | Career record vs. Bears: 0-2
Key stat: The Vikings have had three different players -- Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart and quarterback Joe Webb -- rush for more than 100 yards in a game this season, which is the first time that’s happened since 2003 and the third time in franchise history.
Offense rank: 18th (331.6 ypg) | Defense rank: 25th (368.1 ypg)
Offensive leader: Receiver Percy Harvin is just 16 yards away from setting a new career high in receiving yards for a season. Harvin leads the team with 852 yards receiving and is tied for eighth in the NFL in receptions (77). Harvin averages 9.1 yards per touch and is the first Vikings player to score on a run, reception and return multiple times in his career.
Defensive leader: Defensive end Jared Allen is second in Minnesota single-season history with 18.5 sacks, and has also forced four career safeties. Allen is also tied for first in the league with four fumble recoveries, and eight overall as a Minnesota Viking. From 2005-2011, Allen is tied for third with 26 forced fumbles.
" Former Bears receiver Devin Aromashodu needs 42 yards receiving to surpass 2,000 yards receiving for his career.
" Allen needs 2.5 sacks to tie the franchise’s all-time single season sack record of 21 set by Chris Doleman in 1989.
" Tight end Jim Kleinsasser is set to play in his 181st and final career game in the NFL.
| When: 3:05, Sunday | TV: FOX | RADIO: 780 AM, WBBM & 105.9 FM
Coach: Lovie Smith | Record including playoffs: 73-57
Career head-to-head record (including playoffs) vs. John Fox: 2-2
Career record (including playoffs) against Broncos: 1-0
Last week: Lost to Chiefs 10-3
Key stat:Since 2004, the Bears are 6-9 on the road against AFC teams, and 0-1 as the visitor against an AFC team in 2011.
Offense rank: 19th (325.8 ypg) | Defense rank: 20th (359.3 ypg)
Offensive leader: Earl Bennett has caught only one pass in each of the last two games. But over his last 15 outings dating back to Week 9 of last season, Bennett has caught 16 passes in third-down situations, converting every one of them into first downs, making him one of just six players in the NFL to accomplish that feat over that span.
Defensive leader: Cornerback Charles Tillman currently ranks third on the team in tackles (97), but leads the Bears with 11 pass breakups and three forced fumbles. Interestingly, of the 10 players ranked in the top eight in forced fumbles since 2003, Tillman is the only cornerback as the other nine players are either defensive ends or linebackers.
• The Bears have held opponents to just one touchdown in each of the last two games.
• Brian Urlacher needs three tackles to reach 100 for the 11th time, which would put him past Mike Singletary for the franchise record.
• Defensive end Henry Melton has posted sacks in each of his last two outings and has six sacks on the season. The six sacks are the most by a Bears defensive tackle since Tommie Harris tallied eight in 2007.
Coach: John Fox | Record: 85-79 | Last week: Defeated the Vikings 35-32
Career head-to-head record vs. Smith: 2-2 | Career record vs. Bears: 3-2
Key stat: Denver’s five-game winning streak is the club’s longest since 2009, when it started 6-0. The Broncos have completed 10 passes or fewer in each of their last five victories, making them -- according to Elias Sports Bureau -- the first team since 1956 to win five in a row in a season without completing more than 10 passes in any outing.
Offense rank: 25th (314.8 ypg) | Defense rank: 20th 24th (366.4 ypg)
Offensive leader: Quarterback Tim Tebow has led five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter this season, and has the best fourth-quarter passer rating (109.7) in the AFC. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tebow averages 7.4 yards per attempt on option plays, and 4.9 yards on non-option snaps.
• WR Eric Decker has caught eight touchdown passes over the last 11 games.
• LB Elvis Dumervil has posted 6 1/2 sacks in his last five outings.
• CB Andrew Goodman has picked off two passes over the last three games.
Defensive leader:Rookie LB Von Miller is expected to play after sitting last week during the club’s win over the Minnesota Vikings. With 10 1/2 sacks, Miller needs just two more to tie Leslie O’Neal (12 1/2 sacks in 1986) and Simeon Rice (12 1/2 in 1996) for the third-most sacks by a rookie since 1982.
| When: 3:05 p.m., Sunday | TV: FOX | RADIO: 780 AM, WBBM & 105.9 FM
Coach: Lovie Smith | Record including playoffs: 73-55
Career head-to-head record (including playoffs) vs. Hue Jackson: 0-0
Career record (including playoffs) against Raiders: 1-0
Last week: Defeated Chargers 31-20.
Key stat: The Bears have forced 11 interceptions over the past four games, including three multiple INT games. In all, the Bears have forced 23 takeaways this season, which ties the club for second in the NFL. Interestingly, the Bears have gobbled up nine takeaways over the past two weeks.
Offense rank: 17th (332.9 ypg) | Defense rank: 25th (371.9 ypg)
Offensive leader: Running back Matt Forte continues to lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,391) and will be an even more focal point on offense with backup quarterback Caleb Hanie taking over as the starter. Forte has produced 16 plays for gains of 20 yards or more (11 runs and 5 receptions), which ranks as fifth in the NFL.
Defensive leader: Defensive end Julius Peppers leads the Bears in sacks (six), and has produced four of those over the past five games, including at least one in three of those outings. Peppers ranks fourth in the NFL in career sacks (95) since coming into the league in 2002, and has recovered nine fumbles in 148 games.
Coach: Hue Jackson | Record: 6-4 | Last week: Defeated Vikings 27-21
Career head-to-head record vs. Smith: 0-0 | Career record vs. Bears: 0-0.
Key stat: The Raiders have been penalized an NFL-high 103 times for 892 yards, including 17 personal-foul penalties committed by defensive players.
Offense rank: 10th (376.5 ypg) | Defense rank: 24th (371.7 ypg)
Offensive leader: Quarterback Carson Palmer has thrown six touchdown passes over the past three games, including two outings in which he generated a passer rating of 107.9 or better. He’s also thrown four interceptions, while suffering seven sacks (four against the Vikings last week) over that span.
Defensive leader:Raiders linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (six sacks) plays a major role in his team being tied for sixth in the NFL with 28 sacks and possesses enough speed off the edge that the Bears will likely have to provide help for left tackle J’Marcus Webb. Wimbley racked up four sacks against the San Diego Chargers in Week 10.
When: Noon, Sunday | TV: FOX | RADIO:780 AM, WBBM & 105.9 FM
Coach: Lovie Smith | Record including playoffs: 69-55 | Last week: Beat Vikings 39-10
Career head-to-head record (including playoffs) vs. Raheem Morris: 0-0
Career record (including playoffs) vs. Buccaneers: 2-2
Key stat: The Bears remain winless this season when they score fewer than 17 points, and are 10-41 under those circumstances since 2004.
Offense rank: 21st (327.8 ypg) | Defense rank: 29th (397.3 ypg)
Offensive leader: Quarterback Jay Cutler ranks third in franchise history with six 300-yard passing games, including two in 2011. Perhaps more impressive is that it's taken Cutler 37 games to rack up those 300-yard passing days. Bill Wade, the franchise's leader in 300-yard passing games (9) and No. 2 Erik Kramer (7) posted their 300-yard games over the course of 59 and 55 games, respectively.
Career record against Bears: 0-0 | Last week: Defeated the Saints 26-20
Key stat: The NFL's youngest team with an average age of 25, the Buccaneers' expecting starting lineup features 19 players who began their careers with the club. Of the 22 players listed as starters, only three of them made their regular-season debut with a different team (C Jeff Faine, TE Kellen Winslow and S Sean Jones). Of the 19 to first appear with Tampa Bay, 16 were originally drafted or signed by the team, having appeared exclusively on Bucs roster throughout their careers.
Offense rank:15th (350.5 ypg) | Defense rank: 25th (390.5 ypg)
Defensive leader: Rookie LB Mason Foster ranked second in the nation in tackles (162) as a senior at Washington, and currently leads the Buccaneers with 42 stops. A third-round pick, Foster is also tied for the team in lead in sacks, and according to NFL.com, Foster leads all rookies in tackles and is tied with teammate Adrian Clayborn for most sacks by a rookie.
When: 7:20 p.m. Sunday | TV: NBC | RADIO:780 AM, WBBM & 105.9 FM
Coach: Lovie Smith | Record including playoffs: 67-55 | Last week: Lost to Lions 24-13
Career head-to-head record (including playoffs) vs. Leslie Frazier: 1-0
Career record (including playoffs) vs. Vikings: 8-6
Key stat: In this series, the home team has won 15 of the last 18 games. Since 2002, the visiting team has won just three times. The Bears are 7-1 since 2003 against the Vikings at the new Soldier Field.
Offense rank: 23rd (318.0 ypg) | Defense rank: 29th (419.6 ypg)
Defensive leader: Cornerback Charles Tillman appears to be the slumping defense’s most consistent player over the first five games. Since 2003, Tillman leads all NFL defensive backs with 26 forced fumbles over 119 games. Interestingly, with 12 forced fumbles over that time span, safety Chris Harris is tied for ninth among defensive backs.
Career record against Bears: 0-1 | Last week: Defeated the Cardinals 34-10
Key stat: The Vikings have surrendered 4,461 rushing yards over the past four seasons, which ranks as the second-fewest in the NFL over that time span. The Vikings have allowed just six 100-yard rushing performance from 2006-11.
Offense rank:24th (315.8 ypg) | Defense rank:14th (348.2 ypg)
Defensive leader: Defensive end Jared Allen leads the league in sacks (8.5). Since coming into the league in 2004, Allen has racked up 91.5 career sacks, which ranks as the best among all players during that time span. In six career games against the Bears, Allen has posted 8.5 sacks, an interception and forced a fumble.
Leave with no injuries: Bears coach Lovie Smith continues to say the team will play to win, but remaining healthy is ultimately more important than sweeping the NFC North and gaining momentum for the playoffs. Capturing a victory without putting key players in harm’s way is ideal, but probably unrealistic. So the Bears will likely rest some of the frontline contributors in the second half. Walking out of a Lambeau Field with a loss, and a roster full of healthy players is a better situation for the postseason than winning and leaving with injuries. Smith knows that, and will act accordingly.
Progress on defense: The Bears rank third in opponent passer rating (73.2) when they rush four or fewer, and rank in the top five in forcing interceptions with a four-man pass rush. So the Bears won’t show Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers many exotic looks, but the club needs to apply pressure out of their base 4-3. That’s been a hallmark of the defense this season and needs to continue into the postseason. Chicago finished last week without any sacks, and was torched for 393 yards of offense; a direct result of the lack of pressure. Rodgers isn’t Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. Give him time, and he’ll pick a defense apart.
Good decisions from Cutler: The Packers typically trick opponents when they go outside their base defense, and go to looks with five or more defensive backs. It happened last week to Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who threw four interceptions against those looks, according to ESPN Stats and Information. So Cutler needs to diagnose the wrinkles, read the coverage and make the appropriate throws. Cutler has generated passer ratings of 104.2 or better in four of his last five games, and needs to take that efficiency into the postseason.
Three keys for the Packers
Protect Rodgers: The Bears didn’t sack Rodgers in the first game between these teams, but they kept him under constant duress, which resulted in plenty of holding penalties, including one that negated a Packers’ touchdown. The key to keeping Rodgers upright lies in neutralizing Julius Peppers, who dominated in the first meeting. By deploying plenty of double tight end formations, the Jets might have provided the blueprint for slowing down the defensive end last week.
Diagnose disguised coverages: The Bears show the Cover 2 shell look most of the time, but that’s merely a disguise because they’ve played quite a bit of single-high safety lately to stop the run. Rodgers needs to recognize that and make the correct throws. When the Bears go into a single-high look, the quarterback can take shots down the field. But when they’re in Cover 2, Rodgers has to be patient and work the ball down the field with crossing routes, slants and outs, and the rest of the offense can’t commit silly penalties like they did in Week 3 when the club was flagged a franchise-record 18 times.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: WEBB VS. MATTHEWS
J’Marcus Webb has struggled some this season, but his problems have been more a result of mental breakdowns and lapses in fundamentals, which can’t occur against Clay Matthews, who leads the Packers with 12 1/2 sacks.
The Packers will look to get Matthews matched up on Webb as often as possible, and Webb needs to rise to the challenge, which would go a long way in keeping Jay Cutler healthy for the playoff run.
Webb appears to be a better pass protector than run blocker at this point in his career. Given his size and athleticism, Webb can become a dominating player if he continues to develop.
BY THE NUMBERS
5: Consecutive seasons in which Robbie Gould has scored 100 points or more, which ties Kevin Butler for the most points in team history. Gould currently has 107 points.
4,580: Yards from scrimmage for Matt Forte since 2008, which ranks as fifth best in the NFL behind Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Steven Jackson. Forte needs 22 yards rushing against the Packers to reach 1,000 for the second time in his three-year career.
3: Eleven-win seasons for the Bears since 2005, which ties for fifth-best in the NFL in that span.
12,165: Yards passing for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is one of just three players in NFL history to throw for at least 12,000 yards in their first three seasons as a starting quarterback.
Don’t test Darrelle Revis unnecessarily: Cornerbacks typically follow the short-memory mantra, but Bears quarterback Jay Cutler apparently does, too. Cutler said he didn’t plan on avoiding throwing to the side of Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. But the quarterback shouldn’t test Revis unnecessarily (remember what happened when Cutler tested Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall?). Revis has proven to be arguably the top cover corner in the league. The Bears’ receivers aren’t talented enough to gain the necessary separation on Revis.
Limit mistakes up front: : Because of the tendency of the Bears’ offensive line to miss assignments in blitz protection, the matchup against the Jets isn’t ideal. The Jets thrive on bringing overload blitzes designed to confuse the protection, and there’s a good chance they’ll target left guard Chris Williams and rookie right tackle J'Marcus Webb, who have been the most mistake-prone components of Chicago’s offensive line. Veteran center Olin Kreutz and veteran right guard Roberto Garza will play key roles in communicating with Williams and Webb to cut down on their mistakes.
Break the Jets’ resolve to run: : Tied for second in the league in rushing attempts (454), the Jets plan to give the Bears a healthy dose of running backs Shon Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson. But it’s imperative the Bears break the Jets’ resolve to run. With an injury to the throwing shoulder of Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, and receiver Santonio Holmes slowed by turf toe, the Bears have a chance to feast on turnovers if they can take away the running game and force the pass.
Kick away from Hester at all costs: : Because of Devin Hester, the Bears are one of very few teams in the NFL with a distinct game-changing advantage on special teams. So the Jets can’t allow the Bears to take advantage of it. Jets coach Rex Ryan said his team plans to avoid kicking to Hester, which is a smart move because the return man in playing with supreme confidence.
Take the lead early: : Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz has shown a tendency to call upon the passing game quickly when the team falls behind, which opens the door for sacks and Cutler turnovers. Two of the Bears’ losses this season have come when they’ve trailed after the first quarter. When the Bears trail at halftime, they’re 3-3, and when they trail after three quarters, they’re 3-4.
Limit the Bears’ run game: : Limiting the Bears to fewer than 74 yards on the ground this season seems to be one of the keys to beating them. Under Lovie Smith, the Bears are 8-20 when limited to 74 yards or fewer on the ground. Over the last two years, the Bears are 2-9 in that situation. Since Matt Forte contributes the bulk of the yardage, shutting him down is paramount. Forte rushed for 41 yards or fewer in every one of the Bears’ losses this season.
KEY MATCHUP TO WATCH: Peppers vs. Hunter:
Jets starting right tackle Damien Woody (knee) is expected to miss his second consecutive game, which means Wayne Hunter will start for the second week in a row.
A seven-year veteran, Hunter has spent time with three different NFL teams after being suspended twice by the league for violating its personal conduct policy, which has played a role in his lack of playing experience. Hunter will start in just his fourth career game, lining up across from Julius Peppers, who has been a dominating force this season as a pass rusher and against the run.
Peppers will line up all over the field, but pay close attention to his matchups with Hunter. Peppers has a decent opportunity against Hunter to make a couple of potential game-changing plays.
BY THE NUMBERS:
8: Interceptions thrown by Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in five outings against teams that run a 3-4 base defense (the Bills started the season as a 3-4 team, but played 4-3 against the Bears), like the New York Jets. With 13 interceptions on the season, Cutler has a 3-2 record this season against 3-4 defense teams.
10: Games this season in which the Bears scored 18 points or more. The Bears are 9-1 this season when they score 18 points or more and 52-10 in the last seven years under Lovie Smith.
46: Consecutive starts by Bears running back Matt Forte, which ranks as the most in the NFL among active running backs.
13: Road victories for the Jets over the last two years (counting the playoffs) under Rex Ryan, with just five losses.
Make sure tackles: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady isn’t greedy. So he’ll take what the defense gives. Look for him to throw plenty of short passes and checkdowns to the running backs. When Brady does that, Bears need to make quick, sure tackles on those 4- and 5-yard passes to keep them from becoming chain-moving plays. The Patriots’ receivers excel at running after the catch, so the Bears need to keep those gains to a minimum.
Run the ball effectively: Whether they utilize Matt Forte or backup Chester Taylor, the Bears need to run the ball well in this inclement weather. Besides that, by effectively running the ball, the Bears keep the Patriots off balance, which sets up Jay Cutler for play action. Forte and Taylor averaged 4.9 and 3.7 yards per carry, respectively, last week against the Lions. A similar average against the Patriots significantly increases Chicago’s chances for a victory.
Protect Jay Cutler: Footing should be a challenge in snowy conditions and a traditionally sloppy Solider Field. That could make pass protection a nightmare for the Bears, who have already given up four sacks in each of their last two games. The right side of the line is the key, where rookie J’Marcus Webb continues to struggle (mostly mental lapses). Veteran right guard Roberto Garza needs to make communication with the rookie a premium.
THREE KEYS FOR THE PATRIOTS
Kick it away from Devin Hester: The Patriots are already at a disadvantage because of what’s sure to be a raucous crowd at Soldier Field. A gamebreaking return by Hester will only make matters worse. Because Hester is now involved in both the kick- and punt-return game, the Patriots need to utilize directional kicking to keep the ball away from the return man. But that could be difficult given the weather conditions.
Make the Bears one dimensional: By stopping the backfield duo of Forte and Taylor, the Patriots would make the Bears lean heavily on the passing game to keep the chains moving. That would give the Patriots a huge advantage because the Bears have proven they struggle when the run-pass mix tilts more toward putting the ball in the air. In addition, by forcing the Bears to pass more, the likelihood for mistakes by quarterback Jay Cutler increases.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: TOM BRADY vs. COVER 2
Brady has made a living of carving up Cover 2 defenses, but the Bears excel at playing the coverage, which adds more intrigue to this matchup.
Brady is a disciplined passer, who will take the short throws afford him by Chicago’s Cover 2 defense. Brady will have to be patient enough to work the ball down the field for long drives. The Bears, meanwhile, have to be disciplined enough to resist taking chances that will allow Brady to hit the big play.
The Bears are banking on Brady completing plenty of short throws, hoping that over the course of a long drive he’ll make a mistake. Brady leads the league in touchdown passes of 10 yards or fewer, but the Bears are one of the best teams in the league at stopping teams from scoring the red zone.
So something has to give.
BY THE NUMBERS
6: Where the Bears rank in terms of balance on offense. Of 315 total plays, the Bears have run the ball 164 times and passed 151.
52.9: Chicago’s third-down conversion percentage over the past five games, which ranks as No. 2 in the NFL behind NFC North foe Green Bay.
27: Points scored by the Bears’ two-minute offense, which ties with Indianapolis for third in the NFL.
36: Tackles by Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher in three starts against the Patriots.
Keep Cutler clean: Solid protection along the offensive line played a major role in Cutler’s improved performance over the past four weeks. The unit can’t afford a letdown with the stakes seemingly increasing with every game, as the Bears try to secure a division crown and homefield advantage for the postseason. Rookie right tackle J’Marcus Webb needs to work this week to eliminate his penchant for mental lapses, and refine some technical kinks in his game. If the offensive line maintains the level of play it has produced over the past four weeks, Cutler should be in for a big day against Detroit’s struggling secondary.
Harass Drew Stanton: The Bears face their second mobile signal caller in two weeks. But Stanton isn’t as explosive or as experienced as Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. Look for Detroit to call a different game offensively on Sunday than it did when quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Matthew Stafford were starting. The Lions will look to get Stanton out of the pocket with bootlegs and plays that give the quarterback run-pass options (Stanton averages 4.5 yards per rush over his career with Detroit). So the Bears need to corral Stanton in the pocket, force him to make decisions, and go through his progressions. Stanton has shown a tendency to make mistakes. He threw three interceptions in his only start of 2009, and there’s a good chance the Bears could force a repeat performance of that outing with steady pressure from the front four.
THREE KEYS FOR THE LIONS
Make the Bears throw: The Bears aren’t letting opponents take away the rushing attack completely. So by the Bears staying committed to run, they can keep opponents off balance defensively with play action. The only way to take away play action and force the Bears to become a passing team is to snuff out the run. Detroit held Matt Forte to just 50 yards on the ground in the opener, and the Bears ended up passing 34 times in a game that was decided by just five points. The Lions need a similar performance against Chicago’s rushing attack if they expect to keep this game close. Even if Detroit can get the Bears to rely heavily on the pass, it’s pointless if the Lions can’t pressure Cutler and hold up in the secondary.
Keep the offense off the field: The Bears’ Cover-2 scheme allows for minimal gains if a quarterback can stay disciplined enough to take what the defense allows. Quarterbacks typically get into trouble against the Bears when they take unnecessary risks or succumb to pressure from the front four. So if Stanton can avoid Chicago’s pressure long enough to make short completions and keep the chains moving, the Lions have a decent shot at keeping Cutler and the Bears’ explosive offense off the field. That would be a positive, considering the Bears are 1-2 this year when they’ve scored 17 points or fewer. Short slants and crossing routes to a big target such as Calvin Johnson -- who possesses superior run-after-catch ability -- aren't a bad thing.
Get off to fast start and avoid turnovers: With the roll Chicago is on, it would be natural for the Bears to get off to a slow start; especially after last week’s emotionally-taxing victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. So the Lions can best take advantage of any potential letdown by taking it to the Bears quickly. In fact, if Detroit takes possession first, a deep attempt on the first play from scrimmage to Johnson shouldn’t be out of the question. Avoiding turnovers could also help out the Lions tremendously. The Bears are 1-2 this season when they’ve finished a game with an equal turnover margin.
Chicago’s sack leader, defensive end Israel Idonije should get plenty of one-on-one situations against right tackle Gosder Cherilus because of all the manpower the Lions are expected to devote to blocking Julius Peppers.
Cherilus missed practice Thursday because of a knee issue that Idonije may be able to exploit off the edge with speed rushes.
BY THE NUMBERS
201: Total yards from scrimmage by Matt Forte in the season opener against the Lions, in which he caught seven passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
162: Games between the Bears and Lions, which ranks as the second-longest active running rivalry in the NFL. The Bears have won five straight over the Lions and four of five at Ford Field.
3: Career games in which Cutler has thrown four touchdown passes or more, which ties for second in franchise history with Billy Wade behind Sid Luckman, who has put together four such games.
156: Consecutive starts for Lions left tackle Jeff Backus, who will match up with Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.