For years, many have wondered if Jay Cutler could ever take off with the Chicago Bears and become elite. Now, thanks to head coach Marc Trestman and his new offensive approach, Cutler is doing just that, finally giving the Bears' passing game some major teeth.
Cutler, long known as a quarterback who might make game breaking mistakes, is taking off and leading the Bears with confidence. He's still made his share of errant throws, but he's confidently finding Chicago's down field threats early this season. Meanwhile, the Bears still have the same turnover hungry defense they've always had. That's helped them to a fast 3-0 start, and a major showdown Sunday with the Detroit Lions.
What else do the Bears do well? Where might they struggle? Here's a closer look at the Monsters of the Midway.
Bears' Offensive Difference Maker: Martellus Bennett. The big tight end has become one of Cutler's favorite targets early in the season, especially in the red zone. He caught the winning score against the Minnesota Vikings, and has looked like a force in Trestman's offense. Adding a tight end like Bennett has given Chicago versatility, considering they haven't possessed a quality one since Greg Olsen. The Lions need to be careful of Bennett over the middle of the field, especially if Matt Forte manages to get the running game going. They cannot let the challenge of defending Brandon Marshall overshadow a capable play maker.
Bears' Defensive Difference Maker: Lance Briggs. Between Charles Tillman, Briggs and Julius Peppers, selection of the one player who makes the difference on Chicago's defense is difficult. Briggs, though, is as fearsome as ever coming off the edge as a roving linebacker, and already has one forced fumble, one sack and five passes defended to his credit early in 2013. Though Detroit's offensive line has played well early in 2013, they will be tested by Briggs, who makes plays all over the field.
Bears' Major Problem: Pass defense. With Tillman fighting groin issues, the Bears' 24th rated pass defense will be put to an even greater test on Sunday. The Lions did lose Nate Burleson, but still possess Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, along with other tall targets like Tony Scheffler and red zone threat Joseph Fauria. This might be the biggest early season test Chicago has faced, given Johnson and Matthew Stafford's rocket arm. Early on, the Bears have allowed five passing scores.
Bears Major Strength: Takeaways. Chicago forced five of them against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, has 10 total on the season and is tied with Seattle for first overall in the NFL with a +6 turnover margin. The Lions' offense has to be careful of the Bears, and play under control to win, because Chicago thrives on takeaways, as they always have.
Intangibles: Detroit's mentality with first place on the line. The Lions typically don't do well when facing Chicago with important implications in the standings. Such was the case in 2005, when both teams entered 3-3 and the Bears used an overtime win in Detroit to take off, while the Lions soon bottomed out. Such was also the case in 2011, when the 5-3 bears met the 6-3 Lions at home and Chicago won in a blowout. This time around, will the Lions be able to rise to the challenge and make a statement of their own?
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