Coming off their bye week, the Bears look for a better defensive effort against the winless Detroit Lions, one of the worst offensive teams in the league, on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Defense carried Chicago (4-3) into the playoffs in 2005 and ’06, but the unit has been inconsistent this season. The Bears have forced a league-high 16 turnovers, are first in third-down efficiency (30.1 percent) and sixth against the run (85.9 yards per game), but have struggled to stop the pass, ranking 29th at 243.1 ypg.
In Chicago’s 48-41 win over Minnesota in its last game Oct. 19, the defense allowed 439 yards.
“Our defense played horrible,” defensive end Alex Brown said.
The Bears have had injuries in the secondary, as starting cornerbacks Nathan Vasher (wrist) and Charles Tillman (shoulder) have missed time, but the defense was shaky before they got hurt, as Pro Bowlers Tommie Harris and Brian Urlacher have struggled. Chicago hopes to get Vasher and Tillman back this week.
“The defense has had to carry the team (in the past), but now it’s not like that, which is obviously a blessing, especially the way that the defense is playing,” safety Mike Brown said.
The Bears hope their defense can duplicate the performance it had in a 34-7 win at Detroit on Oct. 5, when it allowed a season-low 185 yards. The 0-7 Lions are 29th in offense (288.9 ypg) and 28th in scoring (16.3 ppg).
Chicago’s offense also managed to overpower Detroit - but it’s been doing that to a lot of opponents lately.
The Bears, who racked up a season-high 425 yards against the Lions, are tied with San Diego for second in the league with 28.0 points per game. Their point total versus the Vikings was their highest since a 48-14 win over Tampa Bay on Dec. 7, 1986.
The key to Chicago’s newfound offensive success has been a passing game led by Orton, who’s enjoying a breakout season.
The fourth-year quarterback threw for 283 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Vikings, and has passed for 903 yards, five TDs and no interceptors in his last three games.
“You can’t say enough about what he’s done,” Bears tight end Greg Olsen said. “The stats speak for themselves and all the other things: getting us in and out of plays, making adjustments on the fly, running the no-huddle offense. Just a ton of things that he’s doing better.”
Orton’s best performance of the season came against the Lions, as he threw for a career-high 334 yards and two touchdowns, while posting a career-high 121.4 quarterback rating.
Orton isn’t the only quarterback to have a big day against Detroit this year. The Lions are 31st in the league in pass defense at 258.7 yards per game, and six of the seven QBs that have started against them have posted career-best ratings.
Orton has thrown for 714 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in three career games against the Lions, leading the Bears to victory each time.
Chicago is looking to sweep Detroit for the third time in four years after getting swept last season.
The Lions are coming off a 25-17 loss to Washington last Sunday. Detroit took its first opening-quarter lead of the season, but was outscored 22-10 after the first period.
Dan Orlovsky was 21-of-35 for 223 yards and a touchdown pass, and appears to be gaining confidence. He was 13-of-23 for 97 yards and an interception after coming off the bench to replace the injured Jon Kitna against the Bears on Oct. 5.
The Lions have lost their last three games by an average of 5.7 points after dropping their first four by an average of 27.0, but that’s of little consolation to their coach.
“The things that are beating us are the obvious things - the things that you would see,” Rod Marinelli said. “This game is about simple execution - that’s how most games are won or lost. Right now, under pressure, when it gets tight, we aren’t making plays.
“Losing is a disease, and the way you fight it is to stay tough, stay consistent and have a belief in what you are doing.”
The Lions have lost 14 of their last 15 games overall, and 28 of their last 33 on the road.