NFL Preview - Chicago (3-0) at Detroit (2-1)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The top two teams in the NFC North will meet at Ford Field on Sunday when the Detroit Lions host the unbeaten Chicago Bears.
Chicago's opportunistic defense forced five turnovers and scored twice in a 40-23 win at Pittsburgh in Week 3. Safety Major Wright had a 38-yard interception-return touchdown and defensive end Julius Peppers returned a fumble 42 yards for a score.
Matt Forte ran for 87 yards and a touchdown, while Jay Cutler completed 20- of-30 passes for 159 yards and a score for Chicago, which last started 3-0 in 2010 when it lost to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
The Bears were outgained by the Steelers 459-258, but the turnovers were more than enough to offset that.
Of the eight new NFL coaches hired during the offseason, only first-year Bears coach Marc Trestman and Andy Reid's Kansas City Chiefs remain unbeaten.
The Lions, on the other hand, finally ended a 21-game streak of misery inside the Beltway, winning for the first time at Washington (27-20) last weekend.
It was Detroit's first road victory over the Redskins since Oct. 13, 1935 when the 'Skins were based in Boston.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 385 yards and two touchdowns, and wide receiver Calvin Johnson had seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Joique Bell, starting in place of an injured Reggie Bush, totaled 132 yards of offense with a touchdown for the Lions (2-1), who bounced back from a loss in Arizona in Week 2.
"I'm proud as can be of our team," said Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz. "That was a tough hard-fought game and was a nice road win for us. We got a lot of contributions from all the guys on our offense and it was nice to see."
Off the field things got a little sour for the Lions earlier in the week when wide receiver Nate Burleson was involved in a single-car accident and suffered a broken arm.
Schwartz said Burleson broke both bones in his forearm but the team has no plans to place him on IR just yet.
"We'll miss him, but we won't miss a beat," Schwartz said.
The 32-year-old Burleson has 19 catches for 239 yards in three games for the Lions this season and hauled in six passes for 116 yards in Detroit's win over Washington.
Chicago suffered a big injury blow of its own when it was confirmed star defensive tackle Henry Melton will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL after being carted off against Pittsburgh.
The Bears and Lions will be meeting for the 167th time overall and Chicago holds a solid 96-65-5 advantage in the series which dates back to 1930 when the Lions franchise was known as the Portsmouth Spartans. The Bears' 96 wins against the Lions are their most against any single opponent.
"NFC North games mean an awful lot," said Schwartz said. "It's a chance for you to win a game and a chance to put a loss on one of your opponents without having somebody else have to help you do it. They're certainly important."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
This game should feature strength versus strength with Detroit's fourth-ranked offense against the Bears incredibly opportunistic defense.
Stafford recorded his 10th career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter against Washington last week while Johnson surpassed 8,000 career receiving yards, becoming the fifth player in NFL history to reach that milestone in fewer than 100 games.
Bush should also be back this week after missing Week 3 with a balky knee, giving the Lions yet another solid option in the backfield along with the ascending Bell.
"He was an undrafted player. I don't know what happened before that. All I know is what he's done here," Schwartz said when discussing Bell. "He has steadily improved. He's played well every time we have given him a chance. I think probably the biggest thing he has also done is secured the football. In the past, that had been an issue with him."
Securing the football is an issue for everybody against the Bears. Since the start of 2012, Chicago has scored 12 touchdowns on defense (10 interceptions, two fumbles), the most in the NFL. Meanwhile, since 2011, Chicago is 13-1 in games in which it's scored a defensive touchdown.
"That's what we do, we take the ball away," Peppers said. "We stress it in practice every day, and it carries over to the game ... we have to continue to do that on a weekly basis to continue to win, and I believe we'll be able to do that."
History shows otherwise.
After leading the NFL with 44 takeaways last season, the Bears are once again No. 1 through three weeks of the regular season with 11. Chicago also leads the NFL with 44 points off takeaways and have scored three defensive touchdowns in three games this season after producing nine last year.
"They have techniques and fundamentals to be able to do it," Trestman said when talking about all the turnovers. "They've done a great job. And when you see those things happen, it's not just one guy. It's really the group, the connective group that's putting it all together and making it happen. One player may be making the punch out, but there's a lot that goes on around him to get that done."
No matter how good you are at taking away the football, though, that kind of thing can't be counted on week in and week out. Remember the Bears began the 2012 campaign 7-1 under Lovie Smith, but averaged just 17.4 points per game over their last eight tilts while never cracking the 30-point barrier, partially due to the drying up of the turnovers.
Chicago has already eclipsed the 30-point mark twice this season and is averaging 31.7 points per tilt, third in the NFL, but the defense and special teams have contributed mightily to that number.
Cutler and the offense have to develop more consistency in order for the Bears to keep up that kind of pace.
The Bears are 3-0 for just the third time in the last 20 years (2006 and 2010) and for the 11th time since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. Chicago has gone on to the playoffs in eight of those previous 10 occasions and won its respective division seven times.
The Lions have contributed mightily toward the Bears' defensive rep in the past few seasons, committing 27 turnovers while losing nine of 10 in the series.
"It's something that's definitely talked about as well as they do it," said Johnson. "That defense has been forcing turnovers for a long time. That's the way they get off the field. It's been part of their DNA for a while."
Detroit almost has to hold serve on its home field if it wants to be taken seriously in the NFC North.
"We are not trying to measure ourselves against anybody else," Schwartz said. "We are not trying to lead the league in any particular stat. We are trying to go do whatever we can to win that game. It sounds boring but that's what we do."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 23, Bears 20
09/26 14:23:34 ET
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