OAKLAND – The Bears will look to extend their winning streak to six games and remain in second place in the NFC North ahead of the Lions Sunday when they visit the Raiders in Oakland.
Caleb Hanie will make his first NFL start Sunday when the Bears battle the Raiders.
Quarterback Caleb Hanie will make his first NFL start, replacing the injured Jay Cutler, who is expected to be sidelined until late in the regular season with a fractured thumb. Cutler underwent surgery Wednesday to repair the injury he sustained last Sunday in a win over the Chargers.
Since joining the Bears in 2008 as an undrafted free agent from Colorado State, Hanie has appeared in four regular-season games, completing 8 of 14 passes for 66 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and a 39.6 passer rating.
His most extended playing time came in last season’s NFC title game against the Packers. After replacing an injured Cutler and ineffective Todd Collins, Hanie engineered two touchdown drives, completing 13 of 20 passes for 153 yards, one TD and two interceptions.
Hanie takes over a red-hot offense. The Bears (7-3) have averaged 32.2 points during their five-game winning streak and have scored at least 30 points in three straight contests for the first time since 1995.
With running back Matt Forte in the midst of a career year, the Bears are expecting the Raiders to stack the line of scrimmage. After rushing for 205, 116, 87, 145 and 133 yards during a five-game stretch, Forte has been limited to 64 and 57 yards the past two weeks against the Lions and Chargers, respectively.
Up front, Edwin Williams will make his second straight start at left guard in place of the injured Chris Williams, who is out for the rest of the season after undergoing wrist surgery. The Bears did not give up a sack last week against the Chargers for the second time in three games.
Defensively, the Bears will face a top-10 offense for the sixth time in 11 games this season. Veteran Carson Palmer quarterbacks a Raiders offense that possesses a rare combination of power and speed with bruising running back Michael Bush and a host of lightning fast receivers.
In Oakland’s last four games, the 6-1, 245-pound Bush has rushed for 99, 96, 157 and 109 yards while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Filling in for the injured Darren McFadden, Bush has had 30 rushing attempts each of the past two weeks in leading the Raiders (6-4) to wins over the Chargers and Vikings.
“He’s a big back. He’s a physical back,” said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. “It’s a downhill offense and it can get outside. They’ve got enough speed to get outside. But it starts with him down the hill. It’s going to be a heck of a challenge for us.”
In winning their last five games, the Bears have permitted an average of 17 points and 56.8 yards rushing while producing 15 takeaways. But the defense generated little if any pressure on quarterback Philip Rivers in last Sunday’s win over the Chargers, failing to record a sack despite facing a depleted San Diego line that was playing without three starters and a top reserve.
“In the passing game we’ve got to get better, and we know that,” Marinelli said. “There’s no doubt about that. It’s been inconsistent; up and down, up and down. But they come out and work every week. They’re giving me a great effort, but we have to get better. No doubt about that, and they know that. Believe me, I brought it to their attention.”
The Bears need to pressure Palmer, a two-time Pro Bowler who has steadily improved since being acquired by the Raiders in an Oct. 18 trade with the Bengals. In his last two games, Palmer has completed 31 of 43 passes for 463 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and a 120.6 passer rating.
The Raiders boast blazing speed at receiver. Starters Darrius Heyward-Bey (4.30 in 2009) and Jacoby Ford (4.28 in 2010) both recorded the fastest 40 times at the Combine, while reserves Louis Murphy, Denarius Moore and Chaz Schilens also can fly.
Ford will miss Sunday's game with a foot injury, however, while Heyward-Bey (neck) and Moore (foot) are both questionable.