A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.
1. Put the ball in Jay Cutler’s hands
Technically speaking, every play begins with Olin Kreutz placing the ball in Cutler’s hands. But the Bears face Detroit’s 30th-ranked pass defense this week and Cutler should be given the opportunity to spread his wings a little bit. The Lions have given up 278.7 yards per game through the air and a league-high 10 touchdown passes, of course 6 of those came from Drew Brees in a Week 1 loss. As referenced on ChicagoBears.com, the Bears are one of only two NFL teams to have three receivers — Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, and Johnny Knox — each with at least 159 yards receiving. Cutler has the ability to spread the ball around to his different weapons and the receivers are coming up big when most of the football world expected them to be the worst group in the league. While the run game continues to struggle and find its identity, the Bears need to rely on Cutler to continue producing.
2. Get off to a fast start and finish strong
While Cutler is Mr. Fourth Quarter and has led the Bears on come-from-behind, fourth-quarter drives in each of the first three games — two of which the Bears held on to win — the Bears can’t keep putting themselves in that situation. Sure, good teams will find ways to win close games, but better teams will remove all doubt by the start of the fourth quarter. I’d like to see the Bears take the lead in the first quarter on their first drive — whether it be a field goal or a touchdown, preferably — and never relinquish that lead. That may sound like a tall order, but all it means is scoring on more possessions than the Lions do and scoring earlier in the game than they do. If the Bears begin the game on defense, they could really use the help from the home crowd to get the Lions to punt and a good return by Hester to set up Cutler and the offense with good field position. If they start out on offense, here’s hoping Knox can get out past the 35 and then use that momentum to put points on the board.
3. Try to rattle the rookie
Most rookie quarterbacks can’t seem to stand up to heavy pressure. Matthew Stafford looks like he has the tools to be a good quarterback in this league, but his offensive line isn’t very good and he’s already been sacked 5 times and pressured numerous other times. The key is to force him out of the pocket so he has to either get rid of the ball sooner than he wants to or attempt to make plays on the move. Neither choice is a good one and could lead to turnovers. Stafford has already thrown 5 interceptions, which is tied with Cutler for second-most in the league. We’ve seen how the Bears secondary has given up big play after big play when the opposing quarterback has been given time to throw, and don’t expect anything else this Sunday just because Stafford is a rookie. With one of the league’s most gifted and dangerous receivers at his disposal in Calvin Johnson, Stafford is very capable of moving the ball through the air if pressure isn’t put on him.
4. Get the running game in motion
This will continue to be a key to winning week in and week out until the Bears figure out how to do it. And even then, it’ll still probably be a key. The Bears are the fifth-worst running team in the league and yet they are 2-1. Sure, they can continue to win games without a good running attack, but it’ll be so much easier and will put less pressure on Cutler if they can move the chains on the ground. I said it last week and I’ll say it again this week, the Bears just might be able to open some holes this week as Detroit is a middle-of-the-road run defense that gives up 111.3 yards per game on average.