Fresh off a bye week and sitting on top of the NFC North division with a 4-1 record, the Bears go into Monday night's matchup against the Detroit Lions with momentum on their side. The Bears defense has been dominating offenses all season but will be tested by the Lions explosive offense.
Despite a record of 2-3, the Lions have the ability to give teams fits offensively and have one of the best weapons in the NFL with Calvin Johnson. Monday night will give the Bears a chance to open up their lead in the division and keep the Lions in the NFC North's cellar.
Here is my list of five players to watch this Monday night:
Despite the struggles that the Bears offensive line has had in the last two years, Roberto Garza has been a solid contributor since his move from guard to center before last season.
Garza will likely be matched up against the Lions defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh. Suh burst onto the scene his rookie season in 2010, registering 10 sacks and 66 tackles. His sophomore season was a bit of a disappointment given his lofty expectations as he finished with just four sacks and 36 tackles in 14 games.
Suh's numbers this year have improved as he has 2.5 sacks through five games as well as ten tackles. He is most dominate when he is rushing the passer, but also does a good job in slowing down the running game.
Garza's responsibilities will likely include helping to double team Suh along with his guards, and he will at times have to match up one on one. Suh's strength and speed are his greatest attributes and Garza will need to rely on his technique and quick feet to slow him down.
Brandon Marshall has been everything as advertised this season for the Bears. In five games this season, Marshall has 35 catches for 496 yards and three touchdowns.
There is no doubt that quarterback Jay Cutler has leaned on Marshall since his arrival and he has been completely dominant in the Bears last two games. In a Monday night contest against the Dallas Cowboys in early October, Marshall finished the game with seven catches for 138 yards and a touchdown, and a week later against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he snagged 12 catches for 144 yards and touchdown.
Marshall creates mismatches against opposing team's defensive backs because of his great size (6'4" 240 lbs.) and his ability to jump up and catch the football. The Lions Chris Houston will likely get the task of going up against Marshall and will have to rely on his physicality to compete with him. The Lions secondary has given up on average 227 yards per game through the air and if they cannot get pressure on Cutler, Marshall is destined to have yet another big day.
The Bears have been clicking on many phases offensively. Their running game has picked up, they have been protecting the quarterback and the wide receivers have been getting open and making plays, but one area has continued to struggle throughout the season: tight end.
Kellen Davis has all the tools to be one of the leagues top tight ends, great size (6'7" 267 lbs), speed (he ran a 4.59 40-yard dash at his combine) and soft hands, but he has never been able to put all of his skills together. We have seen him struggle this season with catching the ball, seemingly falling every time the ball comes his way.
On the season, Davis has just eight catches for 129 yards and one touchdown and has struggled at times as a blocker. The Bears need to utilize Davis' large frame and deceptive speed in the middle of the field and allow Jay Cutler to find a rhythm with him. He needs to get more physical, and in a game on Monday where he will likely be matched up against smaller linebackers Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch, his size will be his greatest advantage.
Few cornerbacks in the NFL can say they are playing much better than Charles Tillman right now (except Tillman's teammate, Tim Jennings). Two weeks in a row, Tillman returned interceptions for a touchdown and increased his career interception totals up to 32.
Tillman thrives in the Bears Cover-2 defense and is one of the best cornerbacks in zone coverage. Tillman will likely get the tough task of facing off against Calvin Johnson on Monday night. The Bears have always struggled to shutdown Johnson, but with a defensive line that has been able to get to the quarterback consistently this season, Tillman's job becomes easier.
No one can truly shut Johnson out, but with the Bears bend but don't break defense, Tillman's task will ultimately be to keep Johnson out of the endzone.
A few weeks back during a Monday night contest against the Dallas Cowboys, Jay Cutler proved he can get a win under the prime time lights. His 18 of 24 for 275 yards and two touchdown performance may of been one the best of his Bears career and he followed it up with another solid performance against the Jaguars, going 23 for 39 with 292 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Much was made of Cutler's meltdown against the Packers in week two but the much maligned quarterback appears to have turned the page and taken a step forward. The Lions secondary has struggled this season and the Bears have proven that as long as they can product Cutler, they have the ability to move the ball around the field.
The Cutler/Marshall connection is undeniable, but if teams try and focus on shutting Marshall down, then Cutler will need to rely heavily on the returning Earl Bennett and Devin Hester with the injury to rookie Alshon Jeffery. As long as Cutler can get himself into a groove like he was in against Dallas, the Lions secondary may be in for a long day.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work on BleacherReport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.