The Bears will look to win their fourth straight game and maintain sole possession of first place in the NFC North Monday night when they host the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.
Playing their first game in 15 days, the Bears (4-1) are percentage points ahead of the Vikings (5-2) atop the division. The Packers (4-3) are in third place, followed by the Lions (2-3).
|Julius Peppers sacks Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford during the Bears' 37-13 win last season at Soldier Field.|
Jay Cutler is 9-1 in his last 10 starts and 23-9 since Week 16 of the 2009 season. The veteran quarterback has passed for 1,209 yards with seven touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 78.7 passer rating this season. In his last two games, Cutler has thrown for 567 yards with four TDs, one interception and a 108.4 passer rating in road wins over the Cowboys and Jaguars.
In seven career games against the Lions, Cutler has passed for 1,415 yards with 10 TDs, one interception and a 105.0 rating. Since joining the Bears in 2009, he's 5-1 versus Detroit.
Cutler's favorite target has been receiver Brandon Marshall. Against the Cowboys and Jaguars, Marshall became the first Bears receiver to compile at least 100 yards in back-to-back games since 1999, catching 19 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns.
With 35 receptions for 496 yards in five games, Marshall is on pace to shatter single-season Bears records with 112 catches and 1,587 yards. In two career games against the Lions in 2007 and 2010, the three-time Pro Bowler has 19 receptions for 198 yards.
Running back Matt Forte has also excelled against the Lions. In eight career games, he has rushed for 678 yards and four TDs, his most versus any NFL team. Forte ran for a season-high 107 yards Oct. 7 in Jacksonville, helping the Bears rush for 214 yards, their third highest total since Smith became coach and more than double the 101 yards they averaged in their first four games.
With rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery sidelined due to a hand injury, veterans Devin Hester and Earl Bennett are both expected to help fill the void.
Hester has seven receptions for 114 yards and one TD this season. After not catching a pass in back-to-back games against the Packers and Rams, the seven-year veteran had five receptions for 87 yards versus the Cowboys and Jaguars. Hester produced the Bears' longest receptions in both of those games, making diving catches for a 34-yard TD in Dallas and a 39-yard gain in Jacksonville.
Bennett is expected to return Monday night after missing two games with a hand injury. He caught six passes for 82 yards in the first three contests of the season. Bennett has been especially effective on third down. In his last 22 games dating back to 2010, he has caught 20 passes on third down, converting 19 of them into first downs.
The offensive line has continued to improve with its run blocking and pass protection. After permitting seven sacks in a Week 2 loss in Green Bay, the Bears have allowed only two, two and one sack, respectively, in consecutive wins over the Rams, Cowboys and Jaguars.
The line will be challenged by a relentless Lions defensive line that's comprised of ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch and tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh.
The Bears defense has fueled the team's three-game winning streak, scoring five touchdowns while allowing only two TDs in helping outscore the Rams, Cowboys and Jaguars 98-27.
The Bears have become the first team in NFL history to score five defensive touchdowns in the first five games of a season, while cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs have become the first teammates in league history to return interceptions for TDs in back-to-back games.
With the defense scoring the same number of touchdowns as it has permitted this season, the Bears entered Week 7 ranked first in points allowed per game (14.2) and second in points scored (29.8).
The Lions offense ranks second in the NFL in total yards and passing yards. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown for 1,493 yards with four touchdowns, five interceptions and a 79.2 rating.
Calvin Johnson has 35 receptions for 558 yards and 1 TD. Last season the Pro Bowl receiver caught 96 passes for a NFL-high 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns.
In the Bears' 37-13 win over the Lions last Nov. 13 at Soldier Field, Johnson was targeted 19 times but had just seven receptions for 81 yards. Tillman did an excellent job containing him, breaking up two passes and returning an interception 44 yards for a touchdown.
Hester has yet to score on special teams this season, something he's hoping to change Monday night. Based on past events, it appears that he'll have a chance to get in the end zone.
In losses to the Titans and Vikings earlier this season, Detroit became the first team in NFL history to give up TDs on both a punt and kickoff return in back-to-back games. Plus, Hester's last return TD came against the Lions last Nov. 13 when he brought back a punt 82 yards.
Another trend working in Hester's favor is that six of his NFL-record 17 return TDs have come in prime-time games. Two TDs that don't count in his official total—a 108-yard return of a missed field goal and a 92-yard return on the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI—also came at night.