4:15 PM ET, November 13, 2011
Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
The Chicago Bears haven't lost since a Monday night last month against the Detroit Lions. Improved play from the offensive line has keyed the turnaround, and now that unit gets another big test from the Lions.
Although these teams trail undefeated Green Bay in the NFC North, they currently own the conference's two wild-card spots. However, the Lions (6-2) would own a potentially key tiebreaker over Chicago (5-3) if they win this game and sweep the season series for the first time since 2007.
The Bears lost 24-13 in Detroit on Oct. 10 as their offensive line struggled, committing nine false start penalties -- six in the first half. Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and the rest of the Lions defense put Cutler under pressure for much of the day and sacked him three times.
That may have been the low point of the first half of Chicago's season, but the offensive line's improvement is a big reason the Bears haven't lost since that game.
Chicago is coming off a 30-24 victory at Philadelphia on Monday. Cutler wasn't sacked for the second time in 39 games with the Bears as he completed 18 of 32 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.
"They're really coming together," Forte said of the offensive line after rushing for 133 yards. "They're getting used to being in the same positions that they're in. A lot of injuries got healed up, and they're playing real well."
Besides being more effective at keeping Cutler upright -- he's been sacked three times in the last three games compared to 18 in the first five -- the Bears are running the ball more often and more effectively. After averaging 53.7 yards on 17.0 attempts through three games, the Bears have averaged 30.2 carries and 161.2 yards in the last five.
Forte has run for 686 yards in that span while averaging 6.1 per carry, and he leads the NFL with 1,241 all-purpose yards. He has eight carries for more than 10 yards in the past three games.
Cutler said it all comes down to the players up front.
"(The offense) can do anything we want," he said. "It's an array of things we have in this offense, and when that front five is comfortable and they're picking things up and the pocket is clean ... it's going to be hard to stop us."
The Bears will see how much they've improved when they get a rematch against a Lions defense which is tied for fourth in the league with 24 sacks and tied for fifth with 11 interceptions. Additionally, Detroit is holding teams to a 29.1-percent third-down conversion rate -- best in the NFL.
While Chicago is coming off a short week, the Lions have been off since a 45-10 victory over Denver on Oct. 30. Matthew Stafford threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns while the defense sacked Tim Tebow seven times.
After back-to-back losses in which the offense struggled to move the ball, the Lions felt good going into their bye week, although they know there's room for improvement.
"The main thing we talked about was consistency," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We have played very, very well at times. Other times, we haven't played our very best. ... Our challenge is to make sure we don't repeat mistakes and to keep the same thing from biting us the same times."
While the offense has stalled at times, especially with top rusher Jahvid Best missing the last two games due to a concussion, Detroit also has had problems stopping the run. Each of the Lions' last seven opponents have rushed for at least 110 yards, and they're giving up 137.6 per game this season to rank 28th in the league.
Forte ran for 116 last month for his fourth 100-yard rushing game in his last six meetings with Detroit.
The Detroit defense could benefit from the possible return of rookie defensive tackle Nick Fairley. This year's 13th overall pick missed the first month of the season and the Denver game with a foot injury.
However, Best, who ran for 163 yards including an 88-yard touchdown against the Bears, is unlikely to play this weekend.
Detroit has lost its last three visits to Chicago -- all during its league-record 26-game losing streak on the road. Since that slide, however, the Lions have won a franchise-record six straight away from home. This season, they've opened 4-0 on the road for the first time since 1956, when they went on to win the NFL title.
"We've shown we're a good team," defensive end Cliff Avril said. "But we also know that we haven't done anything yet and that there's a lot of work left to do."
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|Avg Points Allowed||20.4||20.8|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||DET|
|Rush Yds Allowed||DET|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Chicago leads 15-7|
|Oct 10, 2011||DET 24, CHI 13|
|Dec 5, 2010||DET 20, CHI 24|
|Sep 12, 2010||DET 14, @CHI 19|
|Jan 3, 2010||DET 23, CHI 37|
|Oct 4, 2009||DET 24, @CHI 48|
|Nov 2, 2008||DET 23, @CHI 27|
|Oct 5, 2008||DET 7, CHI 34|
|Oct 28, 2007||DET 16, @CHI 7|
|Sep 30, 2007||DET 37, CHI 27|
|Dec 24, 2006||DET 21, CHI 26|
|Sep 17, 2006||DET 7, @CHI 34|
|Oct 30, 2005||DET 13, CHI 19|
|Sep 18, 2005||DET 6, @CHI 38|
|Dec 26, 2004||DET 19, CHI 13|
|Sep 12, 2004||DET 20, @CHI 16|
|Nov 9, 2003||DET 12, CHI 10|
|Oct 26, 2003||DET 16, @CHI 24|
|Nov 24, 2002||DET 17, @CHI 20|
|Oct 20, 2002||DET 23, CHI 20|
|Dec 30, 2001||DET 0, CHI 24|
|Dec 2, 2001||DET 10, @CHI 13|