Bears-Lions preview: Chicago's ball

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Bears-Lions preview: Chicago's ball

The Bears have won seven of the last eight games against the Detroit Lions but they have not always ruled with offense.

Chicago special teams and defense accounted for nearly as many return yards (213) in the offense (216) in the Bears 37-13 win in Soldier Field last November. The Bears piled up 463 yards in week one of 2010.

But 117 of that came on two Matt Forte TD catch-and-run plays, and the Bears needed the good fortune of Calvin Johnson failing to complete an apparent winning touchdown catch in the end zone. Game two was won 24-20 in Detroit with a winning TD catch by Brandon Manumaleuna and two fourth-quarter stops in Chicago territory.

The Bears scored 48 and 37 points in the two 2009 victories but Detroit outgained the Bears 747 to 694 in the two.

How good the Chicago offense really is at this point of 2012 will begin to be answered starting Monday night and against a front four that includes first-round picks at tackle (Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley).

This will be one heck of a challenge against this front, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Anybody that plays against this front has a challenge, for the fact that they can take over a game. We have to go out and have answers, as many as we can.

The Bears are No. 2 in the NFL with 29.8 points per game but that includes five defensive touchdowns over the past three games.

Detroit went into the weekend ranked ninth allowing 324 yards per game but 24th in points-against. Like the Bears, however, not all of the points are reflective of a weak defense. The Tennessee Titans scored 44 point on the Lions but got touchdowns on a punt return, kickoff return and fumble return.

Cutler dominance

The Bears traded for and invested in Jay Cutler to be a true franchise quarterback, which GM Phil Emery and coach Lovie Smith believe Cutler has become. He most assuredly has played like one against the Lions.

Cutler has played seven career games, six as a Bear, against the Lions, all but game one last year a win. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes vs. one interception, netted 1,415 yards and posted a passer rating of 105.0.

He registered ratings of 108.3 and 117.0 in the 2010 games but declined to 99.6 and then 68.5 in the games last year as Detroits front of Kyle Vanden Bosch, Suh, Fairley and Cliff Avril sacked him a total of five times in the two games.

They get after the quarterback, Cutler said. I think what they have is not only guys on the outside, but those two inside can get a push. Whenever you feel pressure on the outside and you step up and theyre getting a push in there, theres not a lot of room to operate.

Forte has averaged 5 yards per carry against Detroit, but finished with a modest 64 yards on 18 carries in the game-two win in Soldier Field last year.

The overall is that the Detroit defense has played the Bears progressively better over the past two years.

Secondary plans

Where the Lions have struggled has been in pass defense, with injuries at cornerback. The return from knee surgery of safety Louis Delmas was a major boost for the secondary but the game, like most, will be decided by the play of the lines.

The Bears will be without No. 2 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, out with a broken hand. But they get Earl Bennett back from his hand injury, although Bennett has never scored in six Detroit games and has a total of 18 catches. Brandon Marshall has faced the Lions twice in his career, with a gaudy 19 catches but also none for scores.

The Bears defensive strategy and mindset is to stop the run with the objective of making an opposing offense one-dimensional. That is precisely the plan of the Lions, take Forte away and force Cutler to throw to a weakened receiver group.

We have a lot of talent up front, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. When we play well up front it tends to trickle down to the rest of our defense. I think you saw that last week with Philadelphia. We did a good job of stopping the run and we also put pressure on the passer.

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

No matter the metric or the occasion, the only thing definitive about the Bulls over the last two seasons has been their mystifying dominance over the Cleveland Cavaliers in head-to-head matchups.

That, and their fascinating streak of consecutive wins while playing at home on TNT, a streak that could end at 19 games Thursday night when the two teams with varying objectives clash at the United Center.

The Cavaliers are searching to find themselves, along with a light switch that will perhaps alert them to a lost defense over the past several weeks that has been worst in the league since the All-Star break.

The Bulls are searching for consistency, but since it’s probably a little too late in the season for that, they’ll settle for a playoff spot with eight games left.

They’ll take two straight wins for the first time in a month, if they can get it.

They’ll extend a goofy streak, if that’s what things will come down to.

“The big thing is obviously you have to execute very well against this Cleveland team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to go out there with great urgency, great energy. I anticipate them coming in and playing with a ton of energy tomorrow. We’re going to have to match that. We’re going to have to come out and play physical basketball.”

Having a big break between games this late in the season is a rarity, as the Bulls have been off since Sunday evening, but it’s just another weird detail in this weird Bulls experience.

An experience that the mild-mannered Hoiberg has to experience from his couch some nights, such as watching the Miami Heat furiously steal a game in Detroit at the buzzer with a Hasaan Whiteside tip-in to extend a lead over his team to a game, followed by another win Wednesday to put more distance between the two teams.

“I did, actually,” said Hoiberg with a smirk when asked if he’s scoreboard watching and paying attention to the teams ahead of the Bulls in the playoff race.

After being prompted to give his raw emotions when Whiteside’s tip-in occurred, he slipped right back to Robo-Hoiberg—although one can imagine how animated he must’ve been while looking to catch a break from a previous contender for the eighth spot in the Pistons.

“It is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “You have to go out and worry about yourselves at this time of year. It was a great finish for Miami, obviously, the way that game ended. But there’s nothing you can do about that. You’ve got to worry about yourselves and hopefully go out and execute.”

Going 6-1 against the Cavaliers in his two seasons as Bulls coach is probably the biggest feather in his cap, including three wins in all three meetings this go round.

The rhyme or reason doesn’t seem explainable, but Nikola Mirotic seemed to give a few keys to the Bulls’ success over LeBron James’ Cavaliers: Sharing the ball, controlling the glass and getting back on defense.

“Against big teams, we play much better,” Mirotic said. “I don’t know why is the reason for that. We need to find a way to play against everybody like that. It’s on us. We just have to prove it.”

Usually, those tenets seem to work against most teams, not just the supremely talented champions who’ve just lost a grip on first place in the conference.

But their inconsistencies have left the Bulls here with a handful of games left before the April 12th finale.

A win over Cleveland could mean everything, or nothing at all, or something in between.

“Sure, we understand,” Mirotic said. “We’ve been in a very similar situation last year. We didn’t make the playoffs so this year we want to try to make that push. I think we have a good schedule for the last. Very important game tomorrow, huge one. I think we have played very well against Cleveland until now. We have a chance. We need to get out there and play with energy.” 

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