The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions enter this week’s Monday Night Football showdown heading in opposite directions. Whereas the latter squad has been a complete and total disappointment over the past month, the former has gone undefeated over the same span.
In the case of certain outings there might a reasonable argument to be made that the game is equally important to both parties; however, this isn’t one of those cases. This game matters to the Bears and the Bears only.
Detroit’s year, for all intents and purposes, is done. They will not win the division. They will not earn a Wild Card spot. They will not pass Go. They will not collect $200.
Chicago, conversely, is playing for the NFC crown tonight, and in every single outing they participate in from here on out.
The Bears have relatively few challenging showdowns ahead of them between now and Nov. 19’s showdown against the San Francisco 49ers – complacency could become a problem. How this squad comes out against an underwhelming Lions club that could beat them if they don’t bring their A game will say a lot about their psyche.
Here are three things from each team to keep an eye on.
1. Can this defense stay hot?
According to CBS Sports, Chicago has the third best defense in the NFL right now. Over the past three games, this unit has recorded five picks that were returned for touchdowns. (They have 13 picks on the year.) Of course, aside from the Green Bay Packers -- who handed this squad their only loss of the season -- the Bears haven’t exactly been playing the most prolific of offenses, either.
The Lions come into this one putting up 319.8 passing yards per game – 2nd most in the NFL. When you have a defense that’s been getting after passes and an offense reliant on its aerial attack, obviously something has to give.
2. Will Brandon Marshall have another great game?
Jay Cutler’s go-to guy put up 107 yards and 138 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys in back to back weeks. He's on fire right now. If Brandon Marshall can get Cutler some clean open looks early, that will give the Bears’ offense a huge mental advantage for the duration of the outing.
3. Can Charles Tillman slow down Calvin Johnson?
You can never fully stop a guy like Calvin Johnson. For the year, Megatron has 558 yards and only one score. Despite the low touchdown figure, though, he is a constant home run threat. Tillman knows that this game isn’t about padding his interception totals – it’s about getting the ball thrown away from where Johnson is. If the Lions lose their best wide receiver to good coverage, life will suddenly become a lot easier for the rest of the defense.
1. Can this defense stop Matt Forte?
Matt Forte hasn’t been a huge part of Chicago’s offense thus far this season, and Detroit’s defense is going to want to keep it that way. On the year, Forte has racked up just one touchdown and is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He picked up his first 100-yard rushing game last week against a Jacksonville Jaguars rushing defense that currently ranks 30th in the league.
The Lions are 11th in the NFL in opponent rushing yards this year, and they’re going to need to clamp down on Forte early tonight. If Jay Cutler feels like he has to win this one all by himself, he will start making the sort of mistakes that he is all too famous for making.
2. Can Calvin Johnson get it going in the red zone?
Calvin Johnson has been effective this year, just not in the end zone. Last year Johnson had nine scores through Detroit’s first five games; this year, through five games, the league’s most hard-to-defend wide receiver has one score. He’s fourth in the league in receiving yardage (558) so obviously Johnson getting looks somewhere – just not in the only part of the field that nets you six points upon reception.
3. Can this defense put Jay Cutler on his back?
The Bears earned their only loss on the year by being on the wrong end of a dominant defensive effort by the Packers. Since that outing, however, Chicago’s offensive line has given up a mere five sacks. If Detroit can put pressure on Cutler and force him to make some bad decisions, the Bears’ propensity for complete and utter collapse (something that generally starts with their quarterback) could prove to be the deciding factor in this one.