There’s one attribute that isn’t as easily measured: the ability to rebound from early season adversity.
Cutler, settling down and making big plays for Chicago after a tough start, looks to lead the Bears to their first NFC North win Sunday as they host Stafford and a Lions team coming off its first victory in 20 games.
Cutler was acquired by Chicago (2-1) in a trade with Denver on April 2, and Detroit (1-2) drafted Stafford No. 1 overall later that month partly due to a likeness in skill set to the former Broncos Pro Bowler. Even the NFL’s official Web site listed Cutler as the player Stafford most favorably compared to in its pre-draft bio.
Cutler had a rough first game with the Bears, throwing a career-high four interceptions in a 21-15 loss to division rival Green Bay on Sept. 13. Cutler, though, has completed more than 70 percent of his passes in each of his last two games, winning both.
“I pride myself in that. I want the ball in those situations and I think this offense is starting to get a feel for it,” said Cutler, who has five touchdown passes and one interception over the last two games.
Stafford threw five INTs in his first two regular-season games, but he was turnover-free last Sunday as Detroit ended a 19-game losing streak with a 19-14 win over Washington.
“I’m having fun,” said Stafford, who threw a touchdown pass for the second straight week. “It’s a great game we get to play.”
The Lions, who have had one Pro Bowl quarterback since winning the 1957 NFL title, are coming off the NFL’s first 0-16 season and a loss last week would have left them with the second-longest losing streak in league history.
“We can worry about Chicago this week instead of worrying about Chicago and the baggage from the last couple of years,” first-year coach Jim Schwartz said.
With the Bears offensive line struggling, Forte is averaging 2.5 yards per carry and 50.0 per game while failing to score. As part of his 1,238 rushing yards as a rookie, he ran for 126 in Chicago’s 27-23 win over Detroit on Nov. 2, 2008, the last meeting between the teams.
Forte’s health is a concern as well after he was bent back awkwardly at the end of an 11-yard run on the Bears’ winning drive versus the Seahawks. Forte, who had 66 yards on 21 carries, was limping in the locker room and had a wrap on his left leg following postgame treatment.
Hillenmeyer, who became the starting middle linebacker after Brian Urlacher(notes) suffered a season-ending wrist injury in the opener, likely won’t play this week. If he can’t, Roach will likely fill in again.
“Nick has a lot of quickness. He can get off slip blocks and get off of it well. I think he’s a good rusher, and he’s good in pass,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “All things we ask our linebackers to do Nick does a good job of.”
Most of the pressure Chicago has put on opposing quarterbacks has come from its defensive line, which has six of the team’s nine sacks.
Rod Marinelli, the Lions’ head coach last season, is now coaching the Bears defensive line. Smith hired him a few months after he was fired by Detroit.
Marinelli will help try to slow down a Lions running game that may be without Kevin Smith(notes), who appeared ready to set a career high in rushing yards last week before leaving in the third quarter with a right shoulder injury. Smith didn’t return and finished with 101 yards.