Monday Night Football in Week 7 features a matchup between two bitter NFC North rivals in the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. The Lions are 2-3 and riding some momentum after a 26-23 overtime win in Philadelphia in Week 6, while the Bears sit at 4-1 and had a bye week last week.
In this matchup, both sides have players who need to step it up in this key NFC North clash at Soldier Field.
The Lions made the playoffs last season for the first time since '99, but their performance in the early-going this year on both sides of the ball has been underwhelming at best.
The Bears, on the other hand, have been very impressive on the defensive side of the ball, forcing 17 turnovers and becoming the first team in NFL history to score five defensive touchdowns in the first five games. On the offensive side of the ball, Jay Cutler and his offense have been good enough to get by and usually start rolling once the defense makes a big play.
The Packers and Vikings both won in Week 7, putting the pressure on both teams to keep up and earn a crucial division win.
These four players must step up if their teams are to emerge victorious on MNF.
Earl Bennett, WR, Bears
Bennett has not played since Week 3 against St. Louis due to a hand injury. On the year, the fifth-year wideout has just six catches for 82 yards without a touchdown.
With Alshon Jeffery not playing in this game due to a broken hand he suffered in Week 5, Bennett must rekindle his connection with Jay Cutler (the two were teammates at Vanderbilt).
The Detroit secondary is mediocre and will likely be trying to double cover Brandon Marshall, giving Bennett the opportunity to find openings in coverage.
Many people expect Devin Hester to be the guy to step up in Jeffery's absence. However, it is Bennett, who possesses better receiving skills than Hester, who Cutler must find early and often.
In Bennett's one game against Detroit last year, a 37-13 win, he caught six balls for 81 yards. He must produce at a similar rate and possibly find the end zone.
Titus Young, WR, Lions
The second-year wideout from Boise State was expected to burst onto the scene with a breakout 2012 campaign, but he has not done that up to this point.
In five games, he only has 11 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown, which covered 46 yards and happened to come on a last-second fluky Hail Mary against the Tennessee Titans in Week 3.
Young has been battling through a knee injury and must be commended for that, but he was expected to be the team's No. 2 wideout this year. He has more burst and potential than fellow wide receiver Nate Burleson, but Burleson has outplayed Young, snagging 26 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
Young must step it up in this game, as the Bears will certainly be keying in on Lions' star receiver Calvin Johnson.
In Young's second game against the Bears in 2011, he had seven receptions for 74 yards. Given his recent play, those would be lofty numbers to achieve tonight. If Young can manage four catches for 50 or so yards and a touchdown, it will divert some attention from Johnson and make the Bears worry about covering him.
Gabe Carimi, RT, Bears
The 29th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Carimi appeared in just two games in his rookie season, but has started every game up to this point in 2012 and been somewhat of a disappointment.
Carimi's run blocking has been praised, but he has struggled in pass protection. The Bears just parted ways with former first-round pick and fellow offensive lineman Chris Williams, so the spotlight will be on Carimi to prove that he is worthy of his first-round pick status.
He struggled in Chicago's Week 5 win over Jacksonville, as he was whistled for three penalties and surrendered a sack.
With a very strong Detroit front four, the Lions will surely be looking to get pressure on Jay Cutler and force him into bad decisions.
Carimi will open up big holes in the run game, but he has to withstand the heat from the Lions defensive line and give Jay Cutler time to find his weapons.
Ndamukong Suh, DT, Lions
Suh is a freak of nature on the field, but he isn't playing at quite the same level this year.
He has 2.5 sacks, 10 total tackles and no forced fumbles in five games. In a full rookie season in 2010, Suh had 10 sacks, 66 tackles and a forced fumble on his way to being named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Suh is still on pace for a good number of sacks this season, but he must be more of a force if the Lions want to beat the Bears. Suh and the other members of the defensive line must play excellently to mask a porous Detroit secondary.
The Lions come into the game allowing 27.4 points per game (26th in the league). As good as the offense can be, an excellent Chicago defense will make it difficult for the Lions to win if they surrender 27 points Monday night.
For the Lions, it starts with Suh on defense. He must be disruptive and overpower the Bears linemen if the Detroit defense has any chance of slowing down the Chicago attack.
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