41F Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Chicago's stingy defense is forcing turnovers and coming up with big stops, and the Bears have won four in a row as a result.
San Diego's struggling offense is having trouble protecting the ball, and not surprisingly, the Chargers have lost their last four games.
In a matchup of teams heading in opposite directions, the Bears look to continue their playoff push Sunday when they open a stretch of four straight games against AFC West opponents, beginning with the Chargers at Soldier Field.
Chicago's playoff hopes seemed slim Oct. 10, as a 24-13 loss to Detroit dropped it to 2-3 and three games out of first place in the NFC North. The Bears (6-3) haven't lost since, however, and are in possession of the conference's final wild-card spot.
"We're getting better," linebacker Brian Urlacher said after a 37-13 win over the Lions last Sunday. "No doubt about that. We're not done yet. We've still got a long way to go. But we're going the right direction."
The defense was at its best last weekend, forcing six turnovers - its most since 1995 - and keeping the Lions out of the end zone until five minutes remained in the fourth quarter. Charles Tillman and Major Wright returned interceptions for touchdowns and Julius Peppers and Anthony Adams each sacked Matthew Stafford .
"It's about execution and that's what the guys are buying into," coach Lovie Smith said.
Smith has moved Peppers from his usual end position to tackle at times, creating more havoc inside. The Bears have forced 12 turnovers and the defense has yielded an average of 14.0 points during the winning streak.
That could spell trouble for a banged-up San Diego team that has turned the ball over 11 times during its skid.
Already without guard Kris Dielman , the Chargers saw offensive tackle Marcus McNeill and guard Louis Vasquez get injured in a 24-17 loss to Oakland last Thursday. Dielman has been placed on injured reserve, while McNeill and Vasquez missed practice Monday.
"We're going to need to get every guy healthy we can, and we're going to need to play better than we did (Thursday)," coach Norv Turner said.
The Chargers (4-5) allowed a season-high six sacks Thursday as they fell one game back of the first-place Raiders. This is their longest skid since opening the 2003 season 0-5.
"The bottom line is we've lost four games in a row, and we've got to win a football game," said Philip Rivers , the NFL leader with 15 interceptions and 19 turnovers.
Rivers had another tough game Thursday, going 23 of 47 for 274 yards with two touchdowns, an interception and a fumble. Turner, however, praised Rivers for his performance considering he was constantly under pressure.
Chicago's Jay Cutler , who had some heated arguments with Rivers dating back to his days with Denver, has regularly had to deal with a fierce pass rush. Lately, though, his offensive line has been doing a better job of protecting him, as he's been sacked five times during the winning streak.
The line, however, needs to replace starting left guard Chris Williams , placed on injured reserve Monday with a dislocated left wrist.
Cutler and the offense didn't do much against the Lions, managing a season-low 216 yards, but they didn't need to. The Bears took a 20-0 lead 45 seconds into the second quarter on Devin Hester 's 82-yard punt return.
Matt Forte , the NFC leader with 145.3 scrimmage yards per game, was limited to 67 yards on 18 carries and one reception.
The Bears, winners of six consecutive November games, hope for a better showing against a San Diego defense that allowed the Raiders to rack up 489 yards.
"We've been seeing progress. We're climbing up the standings," Smith said. "It's November and this is when the teams that are really going to compete step up and play their best football. Hopefully that will be us."
The Chargers have lost two straight November contests after entering this season with an eight-game winning streak in the month.
The Chargers could have trouble getting the ground game going against Chicago, which since Week 6 is second in the NFL against the run at 70.5 yards allowed per game.
These teams haven't met since the 2007 opener, with the Chargers handing the Bears a 14-3 loss to snap a four-game skid in the series. Chicago has won three straight home games over San Diego since a 20-7 defeat in 1970, the first matchup in the series.