Much of the Bears' early success this season has been tempered by the fact that their first three opponents have a collective 1-8 record.
When the Bears take on the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, they will face their most formidable opponent yet. The Colts boast a 2-1 record with the league's top defense through three games.
The Colts have allowed an average of 225.3 yards and 15 points a game. In Nick Foles' first start for the Bears, he will have to contend with a defense that has held its last three opposing quarterbacks to 173 pass yards or less.
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor broke down what he's seen from the Colts' defense.
"I think they play fast in the front," said Lazor, "meaning they run to the football. The linebackers are fast and play fast. I think when the defensive line stunts, they're very good at it, both how much they go lateral and then still penetrate into the backfield, so for the offensive line, it appears like things are happening really fast."
The Colts defensive line is built around Pro Bowlers Justin Houston and DeForest Buckner. While the Bears offensive line has improved this season in terms of controlling the line of scrimmage and pass protection, Sunday's game will be their biggest test yet.
"My hat's off to them for sure," said Lazor. "The technique that they use, as well as their effort in the front, is fast. I think in the secondary, even at the linebacker level, they contest a lot of throws. Even when they're playing zone, they do a nice job matching up to the routes and contesting the throws, so they don't really give you the simple ones, the easy ones."
Foles ignited the Bears' comeback against the Falcons through a series of high-risk, high-reward throws. Against the Colts, he may need to pick his spots with more caution. Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes, well-known to Bears fans after seven seasons playing for the Minnesota Vikings, has already recorded two interceptions this season.
"It looks like a defense that has everyone on the same page," said Lazor. "It looks like a defense where they know what they're doing, and so there's a small amount of confusion [for the opposing offense]. They're confident, so they go fast. I would guess if you're one of their defensive coaches or players, you would take that as a compliment."
On the other side of the ball, the Bears will need their pass rush against veteran quarterback Philip Rivers. Rivers has been steady, if unspectacular, in his first three games for the Colts. However, Rivers only threw for 201 yards last season against the Bears and still walked away with a win for his former team, the Los Angeles Chargers.
"After all these years, he's still productive," said defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. "There's nothing that he hasn't seen. He hangs in there; he slides, he moves, he keeps his eyes down the field. You'd think at a certain point that they'd start feeling pressure and their eyes would start dropping and looking at the rush and things like that. He just doesn't do that."
Pagano's plan centers around an active attack that he believes can throw the 17-year veteran off his game.
"You've just got to do a tremendous job pre-snap, post-snap of trying to make him work at both ends," said Pagano, "before the snap and after the snap. Then you've got to be attached to guys because he's going to throw those guys open. They've got a bunch of great weapons to throw to. But he's still playing at such a high level, such a savvy veteran."
Pagano is also wary of two players he coached during his time as the Colts' head coach, receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Jack Doyle.
"We know T.Y.'s a game wrecker," said Pagano, "and he can still run. He can still get behind you. He's sneaky good. He's sneaky fast. We nicknamed him 'The Ghost.' He's still holding up that end of the nickname pretty well. And Jack's just ol' reliable. In a tough, critical situation, both those guys, they're going to feed them the ball, and they're going to make plays for that quarterback. So it's a challenge."