- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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Cutler’s poise: Crowd noise should be a factor, along with Detroit’s formidable defensive line, which in the past hasn’t been immune to engaging in extra-curricular activity, whether verbally or through rough play. Quarterback Jay Cutler is also known to be chatty with opposing defensive linemen. But don’t expect him to be drawn into whatever Detroit’s defense tries to instigate. Cutler needs to do what he’s been doing through the first three games: play sound, fundamental football within the confines of the system, and not take unnecessary chances.
“[Detroit’s] front four are good,” Cutler said. “So we have to take care of that. I’ve got to be on time. The receivers have got to get to their spots. Everyone, collectively, we can’t let down this week.”
If Cutler and the offensive line successfully weather Detroit’s initial punch, the Bears could be in for an afternoon of high production on offense. For the most part, Cutler picked apart the Lions in the past with a bad offensive line. Now that he’s got a solid line, Cutler could be deadly in this one.
Rookie O-linemen: Right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills face difficult challenges against Detroit’s front four; especially Long, who will match up with Ndamukong Suh. The Bears will try to help out the rookies on occasion through the play calling and deploying extra help their direction. Long’s matchup appears to be tougher than Mills’, not only because of Suh, but due to Detroit’s wide-nine alignment, which will often put the right guard on somewhat of an island. The rookies won’t win every battle in Sunday’s game, but what’s important is maintaining poise, and coming out on top in the majority of them.
“Sometimes we can slide the line [toward Suh]. Sometimes we can do it with the back. Sometimes, the guards are going to have to handle [Suh] by themselves,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Then you can help with play selection, where you’re running the football, moving things around and making it a little more difficult in terms of where Jay is going to finally be in a passing spot, and throwing the ball quickly.”
CB Charles Tillman: Normally, there wouldn’t be reason for trepidation regarding Tillman’s matchup with Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson. After all, in the past six meetings between these teams, Johnson has produced only one 100-yard outing against the Bears (Oct. 10, 2011), while scoring just two touchdowns. Johnson averages 4.5 receptions per game against the Bears since 2010 for an average of 71.3 yards with Tillman as the primary man in coverage. Tillman, meanwhile, has racked up 37 tackles, broken up eight passes and intercepted two in addition to forcing two fumbles in that span. The problem now, however, is that Tillman is banged up, having missed two days of practice due to an injured right knee and sore groin. It’s likely Tillman will start on Sunday, but how long will he be able to play, and more importantly, how effective will he be?
Pass rush: Chicago generated more pressure from the front four last week at Pittsburgh, but the group needs to be even better against Detroit’s fourth-ranked offense. With defensive tackle Henry Melton out of the picture, that task becomes tougher with Stephen Paea playing the three-technique and Nate Collins moving to nose tackle. But defensive coordinator Mel Tucker showed against the Steelers he can manufacture pressure with blitzes from the linebackers and stunts up front.
“Whether it’ll be more coverage, more pressure, base, blitz or whatever it is, it’s whatever we think we need to do to get the job done to get them stopped. That changes sometimes from game to game or within a game. So we’re equipped to do whatever we need to do to get them stopped.”
Interestingly, the Lions are converting just 32.4 percent of third downs. If Chicago applies sufficient pressure against Detroit, that number is likely to drop even lower, which drastically increases the Bears’ chances for victory.
LB’s versus Bush: Detroit hurt the Minnesota Vikings substantially with the screen pass to Reggie Bush in the season opener. In addition to rushing for 90 yards on 21 attempts, Bush caught four passes for 101 yards and a touchdown in that game.
“Reggie Bush is a talented running back,” Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. “Not only does he run the ball well but he catches the ball well. He runs well in space. He knows how to make defenders miss. He's a tough guy to also bring down. He's good. He can create mismatches, if you split him out and put him against some linebackers. But he's someone that you need to be aware of and know where he is on the field.”
With the additions of James Anderson and D.J. Williams to play next to Briggs, the Bears certainly became a more athletic group of linebackers which might be better equipped than most teams to handle Bush. If Chicago neutralizes Bush it basically shuts down Detroit’s second-most dangerous player behind Johnson.