For all of the talk surrounding the Chicago Bears' new and improved offense this year, I cannot help but instinctively focus on their defense when I see them on the Detroit Lions' schedule. The Bears' defense had somewhat of a changing of the guard this year with linebacker Brian Urlacher's retirement, but many familiar faces still remain. One of those is fourth-year safety Major Wright. Aside from having an awesome name, Wright is enjoying a great year anchoring the back of one of the most productive defenses in the league and is currently the belle of the Chicago sports talk ball.
Through three games, Wright is tied for the team lead in tackles (24) with linebacker Lance Briggs and is tied for the most forced turnovers (3) with cornerback Tim Jennings. From his safety position, Wright is extremely versatile and splits his time between coverage, run support and blitzing. In Week 3's matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker sent Wright on blitzes early and often as the Bears dialed up the pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Wright is also solid in coverage, which allows cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Jennings to ballhawk even more than they already do. Wright had 8 pass deflections and 4 interceptions last year and returned an interception for his third career touchdown last week. With Wright and underrated safety Chris Conte, who made a great play on the ball for an "almost interception" in the end zone last week, roaming the deep zone, Peanut Tillman and Jennings are thinking interception on every play.
It is unclear if Peanut is going to suit up against the Lions this week after suffering a groin injury in Week 3 and sitting out of practice all week. In full disclosure, I would have written about Peanut this week if I thought he was sure to play because I think he's a great player and I love his matchups against Calvin Johnson, so I can't help bringing him up. Peanut was technically cleared to finish the game last week, but he has been dealing with knee injuries even before the groin injury, so he is far from healthy.
If Peanut doesn't play, cornerback Zack Bowman, who has been dealing with a few injuries himself, will get the honor of matching up with Johnson. That sounds pretty good to me, but I doubt the Bears see it the same way. The good news for Bowman is that he won't be on an island, as Conte and Wright will be providing help over the top. The Bears use a lot of zone, so Wright will be expected to back up whoever is covering Megatron. As the Lions' faithful know, covering Johnson is at least a two-man job, so Wright will be called upon often even if Peanut does make it on to the field.
Regardless of who lines up on the outside against Calvin, the Lions are a pass-first offense and Wright will see plenty of action on Sunday. The biggest factor determining who will end the day on top of the NFC North will be the turnover differential. Matthew Stafford has taken care of the ball pretty well so far, but he has still put up a few head scratchers. The Bears' defense has given up the ninth most passing yards so far this season, so they are susceptible through the air if their opponent can avoid turning it over. Stafford has contributed his share of turnovers to the Bears' defense in the past, but it is crucial that he plays smart this week so the Lions can win the turnover battle.
Even though the Bears' defense is much better against the run, the Lions would be well advised to establish a ground game early on Sunday. If they can suck Wright into the box early to stop running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, it will be easier to control the clock and avoid turnovers (unless Brandon Pettigrew somehow gets the ball) while setting up the play-action pass later in the game. If Stafford and company can take care of the ball and keep the Bears' defense off the scoreboard, then I think we will have a new divisional leader on Monday morning.