Here's a look at five things to watch for Sunday when the Bears host the Detroit Lions for first place in the NFC North:
Jay Cutler's mobility: When the Bears host the Detroit Lions, 21 days will have passed since Jay Cutler tore a groin muscle in the team's loss to the Washington Redskins. So Cutler's potential mobility against Detroit's formidable pass rush has to be a concern, even though the quarterback and the club say otherwise.
"[The Lions] do a good job," Cutler said. "We've done enough to test where I'm at. I feel good, got a lot of trust in the offensive line and the way they're playing right now. Can't worry about that. Once you get in the game, it's just reactionary stuff. Your brain's not gonna be able to say, 'Hey, alright, I want you to step right.' It just happens. We tried to mimic that as much as possible [in practice]. I thought we did a good job of that. I feel ready."
Look for the Bears to try to help out Cutler by putting him in plenty of shotgun formations so he won't put strain on that groin muscle with constant dropbacks from under center.
Front seven's run fits: Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker attributed the team's inability to hold down Reggie Bush (139 yards and a touchdown) in the last meeting to poor tackling and improper run fits. So Tucker is stressing better tackling out in open space, which is where Bush thrives, not to mention a swarm-the-ball mentality.
"We didn't tackle him. No. 1, we didn't fit the run well, and No. 2, he played exceptionally well," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "He made people miss. We've got to do a better job this time of working this week to try to neutralize him."
The defensive line needs to stay in their gaps, and the linebackers need to make sure to fill accordingly. Rookies Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene have struggled recently with leveraging blocks, which won't help the Bears in their attempt to stop Bush. So they've spent time this week working to improve in that area. But it all starts with the club's injury-depleted front four.
"We have guys who are injured, just like everybody in the league has guys who are injured," Trestman said. "We have no excuses. We have to go out there and try to stop him. It's never easy when you're at full strength, so we have to make it a point of interest this week, and No. 1 is to neutralize Reggie and minimize his ability to get big plays in the run game."
Pass rush: Chicago's front four took a major step in the right direction with its five-sack outing Monday night at Green Bay, but there's a good chance the club's sack leader from that game won't play Sunday against the Lions. Coming off a three-sack game against the Packers, second-year defensive end Shea McClellin suffered a hamstring injury during Thursday's practice and is doubtful for the matchup with the Lions. That means the Bears need potential replacements such as David Bass and Cheta Ozougwu to step in and pick up the slack.
Julius Peppers needs to do the same.
"We have guys that have talent and [have] put a lot of hard work and effort with that, and eventually guys are going to break through. So I think that's what you saw [against the Packers]," Tucker said.
But can the Bears produce that type of performance again this week with sole possession of the division lead on the line?
Rushing attack: The last time these teams met, the Lions jumped out to a 30-10 second-quarter lead and immediately forced the Bears into passing mode, thus eliminating the prospects for Matt Forte getting into a flow. Forte rushed 14 times for 95 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown in the second quarter before the Lions erupted for three TDs in the final 3:26 of the first half. So the Bears could help themselves tremendously by using Forte to dictate the flow of the game early, which will also enable the passing attack to have success with play action.
Surely, the Bears learned the importance of ball security from their first matchup against the Lions, when Cutler contributed to the loss with four turnovers, including a fumble returned for a TD.
"Anytime you see a team for the second time, you have a better feel for how much strength you have against a guy, how much technique you're going to need against someone," Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "Just as you go from the first drive of a game to the second; 'I can do this more than I thought on tape watching him against someone else.' But they're also familiar with us."
Special teams: Punter Adam Podlesh finished with a season-low 28.8-yard net average in the first matchup between these teams, and he hit a line-drive punt in that contest that Micheal Spurlock returned 57 yards to set up a Matthew Stafford touchdown run. The game nearly cost Podlesh his job.
"I think Adam's been consistent really since that time," special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. "He's really picked his game up. He made some slight changes, and it's helped him. I'm glad he's going in the right direction."
That needs to continue against the Lions.
DeCamillis said the Bears played the kind of game Monday night where "we had 11 out there, but 10 guys played a lot of plays," which is unacceptable. The team's punt protection also allowed a blocked punt against the Packers.
"When you look back at the film, it wasn't just that punt," DeCamillis said. "There was kickoff return yardage that was left out there where there is one guy sitting in the hole because somebody gets beat. We've got to get all 11 going at the same time, and that was obviously critical during this past week."
It'll be the same Sunday unless the Bears resolve those issues.