- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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The Bears' schedule is about to get much more difficult, with consecutive games against the 7-1 Houston Texans and the 6-2 San Francisco 49ers. But while we have a moment, we should note how well the Bears have eaten through the softer part of their season. Through nine weeks of the season, during which they've played one less game than some teams because of an early bye, the Bears have the highest point differential (116 points) in the NFL. That means they've outscored their opponents by a larger sum of points than any other team. The Texans are next at 100, followed by the New England Patriots at 92. Margin of victory is a mostly meaningless statistic in the NFL, unless the league needs to use its seventh or eighth tiebreaker to determine playoff inclusion or seeding. But it speaks to the Bears doing what good teams do: Beat up on lesser opponents.
What more can we say about Charles Tillman's season that we haven't already? He forced another four fumbles Sunday, bringing his season total to seven and allowing him to pass Charles Woodson on the NFL's all-time list for forced fumbles by a defensive back. Tillman has 34 in his career, second only to Brian Dawkins' 36. Keep in mind Dawkins played 16 years and Woodson is in his 15th season. Tillman's patented ability to punch the ball out of an opponent's hands has put him in the record books. We've mentioned him in the MVP discussion already. It's an unlikely scenario given the recent history of the award, but Tillman should be in the realistic conversation for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The NFL record for most forced fumbles in a season is 10, according to pro-football-reference.com.
We've spent some time discussing why the Bears have favored Michael Bush over Matt Forte near the goal line. So it's worth noting that when Forte scored on an 8-yard run in the first quarter, it was his first goal-to-go carry of the season. Bush had taken each of the six such plays the Bears had run on this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and scored on three of them. Entering the season, Forte had the fourth-most goal-to-go rushes in his career and the lowest number of touchdowns among qualified runners. He now has 10 touchdowns on 87 goal-to-goal carries over five seasons.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Receiver Brandon Marshall's three touchdown receptions brought his total to seven this season. Five of them have come with the Bears holding at least a 17-point lead. Quarterback Jay Cutler acknowledged that early leads have created more favorable one-high safety looks from opposing defenses, which apparently are assuming the Bears will run the ball with a lead. That's not to diminish anything Marshall has done this season. He has provided a play-making element the Bears haven't had in perhaps their history. But the real test for Marshall and the Bears will be whether he can help them build leads against the likes of the Texans, 49ers and Green Bay Packers. He's done it twice, against the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions. It's much more difficult to operate against an opponent that is close behind than in a game that is a blowout. Can Marshall and Cutler do it? Let's see.