COMMENTARY | The Chicago Bears are threatening to enter uncommon territory when they go up against the Detroit Lions in Week 4. Another win would push Chicago's record to 4-0 for the first time in eight years. Since 1993, the Bears have only started the season with four consecutive wins one time (2006), and that was the year they returned to their first Super Bowl since Mike Ditka's mustache led them there in 1985.
With the Lions at 2-1, whichever team emerges victorious after this battle with take early control of the legendary black and blue division. A Chicago win means they will immediately open up a commanding two-game lead over everyone else in the NFC North. In order for the Bears to make that happen, there are five important keys they must consider heading into Week 4.
The Health of Charles Tillman -- The Bears' Pro Bowl corner is battling a groin injury that kept him off the field for large chunks of time in Week 3. This week, Chicago goes up against arguably the best wide receiver in football in the person of 6-5, 230-pound Calvin Johnson. At 6-2, Tillman is the rare type of defensive back with the size to limit the jump-ball ability of the Lions' passing attack -- particularly in the red zone.
Johnson got 25 targets in the two games the Bears played Detroit last season, but Tillman was able to hold "Megatron" to an average of 4 catches for 53 yards per game, and more importantly, Chicago kept Johnson out of the end zone.
While Tillman was banged up last week, the Bears allowed the Steelers' Antonio Brown to go off for 196 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions. The Lions are second only to the Denver Broncos in passing offense this season. If the Bears hope to push their record to 4-0, Tillman must be healthy enough to cover Johnson for 60 minutes on Sunday.
Win the Turnover Battle -- After leading the NFL in takeaways in 2012, the Bears' ball-hawking defense is right back on top of the hill through the first three weeks of the 2013 season. Chicago has ripped 11 total turnovers from opposing offenses and has already taken three of those back to the house for scores. Conversely, the Lions' red-hot offense has committed the fewest number of giveaways in the NFC to start the season, so something has to give.
Both teams have been taking care of the rock this season, but Cutler and Stafford each have a history of being loose with the pigskin. This game could come down to the one QB who is able to avoid the big turnover late in the game.
Replacing Henry Melton -- When analysts talk about a reserve player needing to come in and fill the hole left by an injured veteran, they are always talking metaphorically. But, in the case of the Bears' 300-pound interior lineman, there very literally will be a gaping hole in Chicago's defensive line that will need to be plugged.
When Melton tore his ACL in last Sunday night's nationally televised game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bears lost a special player who will be difficult to replace with the next man on the depth chart. Melton had a Pro Bowl season in 2012 by being one of the most athletically gifted big men in the entire NFL.
This college running back turned NFL defensive tackle not only stuffs the run, he also gets after opposing quarterbacks. With six sacks and 44 tackles a year ago, Melton is very much the Bears' answer to Ndamukong Suh, but Chicago must now turn to three-year veteran Nate Collins to fill the void. In 12 total games for the Bears since 2012, Collins has 18 tackles and zero sacks.
The Good Jay Cutler - In the first year of the Marc Trestman experiment, Cutler has looked like a completely different player. Gone are the off-balanced throws fading away from the line-of-scrimmage into triple coverage. And after creating highlights for lowering his shoulder to deliver a bone-rattling hit on a would-be Pittsburgh tackler last Sunday, Cutler appears to be playing with an entirely new swagger.
With twice as many TD tosses as interceptions, the bad Cutler has not yet made an appearance in the 2013 season. Since joining the Bears in 2009, Cutler is 7-1 against the Lions and has thrown 12 touchdowns to only one interception. If Cutler's trend against Detroit continues, he may not even need to mount his third game-winning drive of the season to move Chicago to 4-0.
Matt Forte vs. Reggie Bush - The Bears and Lions each have their own version of the NFL's new-school dual-threat running back. After rushing for 90 yards and adding 101 more in the passing game in Week 1, Bush was slowed by a knee injury in Week 2 that kept him out of action last Sunday. Although he was limited in practice for Detroit on the Wednesday leading up to the Lions' Week 4 meeting with Chicago, Bush contends that he will be ready to go. When healthy, the threat of Bush's speed out of the backfield has the ability to change the Bears' defensive schemes.
But the Lions will have their hands even fuller with Forte. Trestman has made it a point to feature Forte in the offense, and the result has been a much improved passing game for Chicago. Forte has rushed for 225 yards on the ground while also becoming the second leading pass-catcher on the team -- only two receptions behind Brandon Marshall for the team lead.
Dalton Russell has covered the Chicago Bears in print and online media since 1998. He lives just outside the shadow of the iconic architecture of Soldier Field.
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- Detroit Lions
- Charles Tillman
- Henry Melton