The Bears (0-3) will look for their first win of the season Sunday when they host the Detroit Lions (1-2) at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to watch in the game:
(1) Will a young and injury-depleted defense rebound from its poor performance in Dallas?
The Bears defense is determined to bounce back after allowing three touchdowns and one field goal on four first-half possessions last Sunday night in a 31-17 loss to the Cowboys. Dallas took advantage of a unit that was missing key veterans Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston, Danny Trevathan and Eddie Goldman. But coordinator Vic Fangio refuses to use injuries as an excuse.
"It's a factor, but everybody's got them at this point in the season," Fangio said earlier this week. "I thought the first two games were pretty solid ... But this last game wasn't. Every week's a new week. Hopefully we'll play better this week."
Tight end Zach Miller hauled in eight catches for 78 yards and two TDs in Week 3.
The defense left plenty of room for improvement, permitting 199 yards and three touchdowns on the ground while failing to sack Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. The challenge this week will be in containing Lions veteran Matthew Stafford, who has completed 67.5 percent of his passes this season for 985 yards with seven TDs, two interceptions and a 105.0 passer rating.
(2) Assuming Jay Cutler is unable to play, how will Brian Hoyer fare in his second start?
With Cutler unlikely to play due to a sprained right thumb, Hoyer will look to build on a decent performance against the Cowboys. The veteran backup connected on 30 of 49 passes for 317 yards with two TDs, no interceptions and a 93.7 passer rating, though 256 of his yards came in the second half when the Bears never trailed by fewer than 14 points.
Hoyer has done a good job of avoiding negative plays—he has not been sacked or intercepted while throwing 61 passes in two games this season. But Hoyer and the offense must get off to a better start that they did in Dallas when they went three-and-out on their first two possessions and didn't pick up a first down until the already trailed the Cowboys 17-0.
Hoyer did a good job of spreading the ball around in Dallas, completing passes to seven different receivers, including tight end Zach Miller (eight receptions for 78 yards and two TDs) and receivers Kevin White (6-62) and Alshon Jeffery (5-70).
(3) Will the Bears be able to establish a running game led by rookie Jordan Howard?
The Bears rank last in the NFL in time of possession at 24:05 per game in part because they haven't been able to run the ball effectively on a consistent basis. That needs to change against the Lions despite a depleted backfield that likely will be missing running backs Jeremy Langford (ankle) and Ka'Deem Carey (hamstring), both of whom are listed as doubtful on the injury report.
That leaves rookie Jordan Howard, a fifth-round draft pick from Indiana who figures to get plenty of opportunities against a Lions defense that is allowing an NFL-worst 5.1 yards per rush. Howard has shown flashes of ability in limited playing time in the Bears' last two games, gaining 22 yards on just three carries against the Eagles and breaking off a 36-yard run versus the Cowboys.
"We've had too many negative runs and we need to clean that up because that hurts your confidence in the run game," said coach John Fox. "It's about confidence and execution. We're going to keep plugging away at it. We're not going to stop running the ball."
(4) Will the Bears snap losing streaks at home and against the Lions?
The Bears have lost six straight games to the Lions, matching their worst skid against Detroit in a series that began in 1930, and have dropped 11 of their last 12 home games dating back to 2014, the worst stretch in franchise history. A win Sunday would go a long way in beginning to reverse those disturbing trends while also getting the Bears out of the NFC North basement.
The Bears have been very inconsistent in losing their first three games this season, playing well only in spurts. "If you go back to the first two games, we started very quick and didn't finish very good," Fox said. "The result was the same. The key element is that you've got to start fast and finish faster, and we haven't figured that out yet. So we get another opportunity Sunday."
The Bears begin a stretch of facing three opponents in the Lions (1-2), Colts (1-2) and Jaguars (0-3) that have a combined record of 2-7 before back-to-back games against the Packers (2-1) and Vikings (3-0).