The Chicago Bears are hoping to extend their winning streak to three games Thursday night at Sun Life Stadium. Here are five things to watch in anticipation of their matchup against the Miami Dolphins:
1. One for the record books? A victory would give the Bears their 700th regular-season victory in team history, the first franchise to reach that milestone. (The Green Bay Packers are next on the list with 660 franchise victories.) There would be something karmic about doing it in Miami, the site of their only loss of the 1985 season and also where they lost Super Bowl XLI.
2. Miami's run game. With No. 3 quarterback Tyler Thigpen making his first start in two years, the Dolphins figure to rely heavily on running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. The Bears have been vulnerable to long runs this season, having given up an NFL-high 11 runs of 20 or more yards. But the Dolphins have broken only three runs of 20 or more yards, tied for fifth-worst in the NFL. As good as Brown and Williams are at grinding out tough yards, they might not be equipped to capitalize on the Bears' vulnerability against breakaway threats.
3. Wounded prey. Dolphins left tackle Jake Long is listed as questionable because of a shoulder injury. He's expected to play, but you would think the Bears will put defensive end Julius Peppers in position to test Long's agility at the outset. Thigpen is relatively mobile, but there is nothing worse than starting a game with concerns about whether your left tackle has all of his faculties. Thigpen, by the way, is an aggressive downfield thrower who will have to guard against the trap of the Cover 2 defense. The Bears have given up an NFL-low three passes of 30 or more yards this season. Thigpen will need the patience of a veteran to avoid throwing downfield interceptions.
4. Run-pass ratio. Including quarterback scrambles, the Bears have run the ball more than they have passed in each of their past three victories. It's hard to imagine them winning Thursday night if that ratio is reversed. The Dolphins have the NFL's sixth-ranked pass defense, holding opponents to a 58.4 completion percentage and a bit more than 200 yards per game. They also have 23 sacks. Quarterback Jay Cutler got much better protection last week against the Minnesota Vikings, but the Bears shouldn't push it.
5. Night fright. Strange things happen to Cutler at night. Last season, he threw five interceptions in one night game, four in another and a total of 13 interceptions in five. On a Sunday night earlier this year, he was sacked nine times in the first half by the New York Giants before departing with a concussion. Thursday night, Cutler could be without one of his favorite crutches. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cutler has thrown the second-most screen passes (31) in the NFL this season. But the Dolphins' defense has been especially adept at stopping those plays. Opponents are completing just 55 percent of screen attempts against them, by far the lowest mark in the NFL. The Washington Redskins rank second at 71 percent. We'll see if Cutler can get through a night game without one of his favorite plays.