Bears LB James Anderson is PFF's top-graded 4-3 OLB as we enter week 4.


Standings


(Via ESPN.Com)

The Chicago Bears hold sole possession of first place in the NFC North, but Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions will greatly change things, for better or worse.

If the Bears beat the Lions, they'll hold first place by two full games over the Lions, but keep in mind that would essentially be three games for the time being as the Bears would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

If the Lions beat the Bears, the Lions will move into first place at 3-1 via the tiebreaker I talked about. And keep in mind, these two teams play each other again later in the year so that head-to-head tiebreaker could end up being negated later.

But what would especially be huge for the Bears is that a win on Sunday would give them a 2.5 game lead over the Packers, as the Packers are on their bye week.

While the Packers are 1-2, I think most of us are still very, very worried about them (I know I am), especially since the Bears play them twice and have had a very difficult time getting wins over Green Bay in recent years. Having three wins more than the Packers as we head into week five would be a situation I think we'd all be pretty thrilled about, even though the teams won't face off until week nine in Green Bay (and then not again until week 17 in Chicago).

Looking at the NFC as a whole, there are only six teams that are .500 or better, and the Bears are one of only three undefeated teams in the conference (the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints are the other two teams). After the St. Louis Rams were blown out on Thursday night against the San Francisco 49ers, there are already five NFC teams that are two games below .500 or worse, with four of those teams being 0-3 headed into Sunday.

I wrote last week how the NFC is loaded, and that was the assumption we all had coming into the season. But maybe not? The Packers are 1-2 as I said (although those losses were against the 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals on the road), the Atlanta Falcons are 1-2, the 49ers are 2-2, and then the bottom of the conference is filled with teams many thought would be contenders (the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings, etc).

We certainly aren't going to get cocky about the Bears' playoff chances or anything after we witnessed them being left out of the fun despite starting 7-1 last season, and I think at least a couple of these that are .500 or worse will emerge as serious NFC contenders (the Packers, Falcons, and 49ers are the obvious candidates). But going into week four, you couldn't realistically ask for a much better scenario for the Bears.

Remaining Schedule

Week 4- at Detroit Lions (2-1)

Week 5- vs New Orleans Saints (3-0)

Week 6- vs New York Giants (0-3); Thursday Night Football

Week 7- at Washington Redskins (0-3)

Week 8- BYE

Week 9- at Green Bay Packers (1-2); Monday Night Football

Week 10- vs Detroit Lions (2-1)

Week 11- vs Baltimore Ravens (2-1); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 12- at St. Louis Rams (1-3); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 13- at Minnesota Vikings (0-3); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 14- vs Dallas Cowboys (2-1); Monday Night Football

Week 15- at Cleveland Browns (1-2); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night, but... lol

Week 16- at Philadelphia Eagles (1-2); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 17- vs Green Bay Packers (1-2); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

All of a sudden, this schedule doesn't look too rough, right?

The combined record for the Bears' road opponents the rest of the way is 6-16. It's 6-19 if you consider their road opponents overall on the season, as they beat the Steelers, now 0-3, in Pittsburgh in week three. The Lions are actually the only team with a current record of .500 or better that the Bears face on the road this season.

If the Bears were to beat the Lions, it's likely that the only game on the remaining schedule in which the Bears would be underdogs at the moment, would be the week nine game at Green Bay.

Bears' Injury Report

On Friday, we wrote about the Bears-Lions injury report. The most notable player with an injury status worth monitoring on the Bears' report was without question cornerback Charles Tillman, but reports are that he is expected to play in the game. Cornerback Sherrick McManis, whose primary duties are on special teams, is listed as 'doubtful' to suit up for the divisional contest.

Looking long-term, we also wrote about the Bears' defensive tackle situation after they lost 2012 Pro Bowl selection Henry Melton for the season due to a torn ACL that he suffered in the team's victory over the Steelers.

Bears' Statistical Leaders

Note: Overall NFL ranking in parentheses; Pro Football 'Signature Stats' in bold; statistical ranks among NFL players based on prior to Sunday's games.

Passing Stats

Jay Cutler: 68-101, 67.3 Completion % (5th), 693 Yards, 6.86 Yards/Attempt, 231 Yards/Game, 6 TD (Tied for 5th), 3 INT (Tied for 10th-most), 3 Sacks Taken, 94.2 QB Rating (10th), 94.5 PFF QB Rating (5th).

Rushing Stats (Running Backs Only)

Matt Forte: 55 Carries (9th), 225 Yards (Tied for 9th), 4.1 Yards/Carry, 2 TD (Tied for 3rd), 1 Fumble, 1 Fumble Lost, 13 1st Downs (4th), 46.3 PFF Elusive Rating (4th).

Michael Bush: 16 Carries, 24 Yards, 1.5 Yards/Carry, 1 TD, 0 Fumbles, 2 1st Downs.

Receiving Stats (Top 5)

Brandon Marshall: 20 Receptions (Tied for 8th), 28 Targets, 269 Yards, 13.5 Yards/Reception, 2 TD, 89.7 Yards/Game, 39 Yards After Catch, 10 1st Downs, 1 Drop, 114.6 PFF WR Rating.

Matt Forte: 18 Receptions, 20 Targets, 138 Yards, 7.7 Yards/Reception, 0 TD, 46 Yards/Game, 83 Yards After Catch, 6 1st Downs, 2 Drops.

Alshon Jeffery: 13 Receptions, 21 Targets, 104 Yards, 8 Yards/Reception, 0 TD, 34.7 Yards/Game, 17 Yards After Catch, 6 1st Downs, 1 Drop.

Martellus Bennett: 12 Receptions, 21 Targets, 135 Yards, 11.3 Yards/Reception, 3 TD (Tied for 6th), 45 Yards/Game, 75 Yards After Catch, 9 1st Downs, 1 Drop.

Earl Bennett: 5 Receptions, 6 Targets, 47 Yards, 9.4 Yards/Reception, 1 TD, 15.7 Yards/Game, -1 Yards After Catch, 3 1st Downs, 0 Drops.

Tackling Stats (Top 5)

Lance Briggs: 24 Tackles (17 Solo, 7 Ast), 3 Tackles For Loss, 1 Forced Fumble, 10.3 PFF Run Stop Percentage (3rd Among 4-3 Outside Linebackers).

Major Wright: 24 Tackles (17 Solo, 7 Ast), 0 Tackles For Loss, 2 Forced Fumbles (Tied for 2nd).

James Anderson: 19 Tackles (15 Solo, 4 Ast), 2 Tackles For Loss, 8.8 PFF Run Stop Percentage (7th Among 4-3 Outside Linebackers).

Tim Jennings: 14 Tackles (11 Solo, 3 Ast), 0 Tackles For Loss, 2 Forced Fumbles (Tied for 2nd).

Charles Tillman: 14 Tackles (11 Solo, 3 Ast), 1 Tackle For Loss, 0 Forced Fumbles, 5.0 PFF Run Stop Percentage (3rd Among Cornerbacks).

Pass-Rushing Stats

D.J. Williams: 2 Sacks, 0 QB Hits, 0 QB Hurries.

Lance Briggs: 1 Sack, 2 QB Hits, 0 QB Hurries.

Corey Wootton: 1 Sack, 1 QB Hit, 5 QB Hurries.

Shea McClellin: 0.5 Sack, 2 QB Hits, 2 QB Hurries.

Stephen Paea: 0.5 Sack, 1 QB Hit, 7 QB Hurries, 7.1 PFF Pass Rush Productivity (9th Among Defensive Tackles).

Coverage Stats

Charles Tillman: 2 Interceptions (Tied for 2nd), 2 Pass Deflections.

Tim Jennings: 2 Interceptions (Tied for 2nd), 1 INT Returned For TD (Tied for 1st), 3 Pass Deflections.

Chris Conte: 1 Interception, 2 Pass Deflections.

Major Wright: 1 Interception, 1 INT Returned For TD (Tied for 1st), 2 Pass Deflections.

Special Teams Stats

Devin Hester: 8 Kick Returns, 306 Yards (1st), 38.3 AVG (1st);  2 Punt Returns, 1 Yard, 0.5 AVG.

Robbie Gould: 4-4 On Field Goals, Long Field Goal Of 58 Yards (1st), 12 Touchbacks (Tied for 6th).

Adam Podlesh: 14 Punts, 625 Yards, 44.6 AVG, 42 NET, Long Punt Of 59 Yards, 6 Punts Inside The 20.


Bears Grades From Pro Football Focus

Before looking at some grades of individual players on the Bears, let's look at Pro Football Focus' cumulative Bears grades (combining the grades of each player that apply) in specific departments through week three.

Note: Grade ranks based on games before Sunday:

Bears Cumulative PFF Grades

Offense Overall: +8.9 (11th)

Passing Offense: +14.2 (6th)

Rushing Offense: -2.1 (23rd)

Pass Blocking: -6.7 (22nd)

Run Blocking: -1.6 (11th)

Offensive Penalties: +6.7 (7th)


Defense Overall: -13.9 (24th)

Run Defense: -10.6 (25th)

Pass Rush: -10.5 (28th)

Pass Coverage: +1.5 (7th)

Defensive Penalties: +5.7 (4th)


Special Teams: -1.9 (23rd)


And here's some PFF grades of individual players on the Bears...

Bears Individual Player PFF Grades

Top 5 Overall Grades On Offense: 

1. QB Jay Cutler, +6.7 (4th)
T-2. WR Brandon Marshall, +4.7
T-2. G Matt Slauson, + 4.7 (10th)
4. C Roberto Garza, +3.4 (6th)
5. G Kyle Long, +2.7

Bottom 5 Overall Grades On Offense:

1. TE Martellus Bennett, -5.5
2. OT Jordan Mills, -2.6
3. TE Steve Maneri, -2.4
4. RB Michael Bush, -2.0
5. OT Jermon Bushrod, -1.6

Top 5 Overall Grades On Defense:

1. LB James Anderson, +4.5 (1st Among 4-3 Outside Linebackers)
2. DT Stephen Paea, +4.1
3. CB Tim Jennings, +2.5
4. CB Isaiah Frey, +0.9
5. DT Nate Collins, +0.6

Bottom 5 Overall Grades On Defense:

1. DT Henry Melton, -6.4
2. CB Charles Tillman, -5.3
3. DE Shea McClellin, -4.4
4. S Major Wright, -3.7
5. DE Corey Wootton, -2.3

Top 3 Overall Grades On Special Teams:

1. K Robbie Gould, +6.7 (10th Among Kickers)
2. KR Devin Hester, +2.6 (2nd Among Kick Returners)
3. LB Blake Costanzo, +2.5

Bottom 3 Overall Grades On Special Teams:

1. S Anthony Walters, -4.0
2. CB Zack Bowman, -3.0
3. P Adam Podlesh, -2.8

Jay Cutler ranks only behind Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan in quarterbacks graded by PFF so far in 2013.

The Bears' offensive line continues to greatly impress (given what we've seen the last few years, anyway), and as you can see from the grades above, the interior part of the offensive line is doing a tremendous job with left guard Matt Slauson, center Roberto Garza, and rookie right guard Kyle Long being a part of PFF's top five Bears grades on offense through three weeks.

Looking at Martellus Bennett's overall grade would surely generate some groans, but perhaps not as much if everyone knew that he has a +3.7 grade from PFF as a receiver on the season, behind only Jimmy Graham, Jordan Cameron, and Julius Thomas at the tight end position. It's a -7.2 run-blocking grade that has done Bennett in, and a shoulder injury the Black Unicorn has played through has surely made a negative impact on his blocking so far. In 2012, Bennett received a +3.1 run-block grade from PFF, ranking him No. 13 among tight ends. Whatever the case, Bennett's presence as a playmaker at tight end has made a massive impact on the Bears' 3-0 record.

James Anderson continues to look like a fantastic signing by Phil Emery, currently holding PFF's top grade among 4-3 outside linebackers. The main reason for Anderson's overall grade has been his excellence in pass coverage, where he holds a +5.3 grade this season, three full 'points' above the second-best 4-3 outside linebacker in pass coverage.


Our Overall Take

The areas of concern (pass rush, allowing big plays, etc) remain for the Bears, but so does their undefeated record as we enter their week four game.

Given the recent history of the Bears' players on defense, I think it's realistic to say that we should expect to see improvement from that unit as the year goes on. That may not show against high-powered Lions and Saints offenses, though, and keep in mind it may take some time for the defensive tackle situation to settle itself in with Henry Melton going down. Additionally, Peanut Tillman's health is crucial to the defense, and unless his groin miraculously healed completely in the last couple of days, we're looking at the fourth straight game he'll be playing at less than 100% health after being an absolute force in 2012 at cornerback.

Offensively, I think we're going to see Marc Trestman open up the playbook a bit, perhaps as soon as Sunday against the Lions. He's wanted to get players used to the principles of his offense and see who can do what in it, and it's likely he's saving some wrinkles for divisional games against the Lions and Packers, so keep an eye on the playcalling Sunday.

But overall, again, the complaints have to be minimal right now. This is an undefeated Bears team we're talking about, and they have a chance to really put some separation between themselves and the rest of the NFC North with a victory Sunday.