Game Breakdown: Lions at Bears (10.04.09)
October 4th, 2009 - 8:32 am
Bears offense vs. Lions defense
As the Bears have continued to find clogged running lanes and small creases as thick as a sheet of paper, they’ve had to rely on Jay Cutler to bail them out in the fourth quarter of every game. That could be a problem as the season wears on, but might not be such a bad thing this week against a Lions pass defense that is 30th in the league. Perhaps if the Bears can jump to an early lead, they can use most of the game to develop the run. I’m sure you’ve heard this many times by now, but this is not the same Lions team of yesteryear. The roster — as well as the coaching staff, front office, and the entire franchise attitude — has endured a major overhaul. Even their logo underwent minor changes to help free them from the nightmare that was the NFL’s first 0-16 season. The Bears will now line up opposite two solid linebackers in Larry Foote — a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who is currently tied for 8th in the league in tackles this year — and veteran Julian Peterson. That might not help the Bears’ run game because it’s aided the Lions in having a respectable — but not great — run defense. Lions opponents have been sacked 5 times and have thrown only 2 interceptions, so that should work out to the Bears’ benefit.
Bears defense vs. Lions offense
Imagine a pack of hungry lions — reverse pun intended — having a piece of meat dangled in front of them without much of anything surrounding it for protection. That explains how the Bears’ front seven will feel when rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford is tossed into the cage this week. And I included the linebackers because the Bears, surprisingly, are one of the highest blitzing teams in the league so far. It would not be unfair to expect the defense to put Stafford on his back often this game, even if it doesn’t result in a sack. His white jersey should be green and brown by day’s end. Stafford should be forced into making bad throws that result in interceptions — he’s currently tied with Cutler for second-most interceptions thrown — or the constant pressure should force him out of the pocket and make throws on the run, which rarely result in completions. I actually came across a rather interesting statistic the other day. For as easy as teams have seemed to be able to move the ball on the Bears through the first three weeks of the season, they are currently 9th in the league in fewest total yards given up with 293.3. I’d like to think they could improve on that number as well as their sacks, interceptions, and, most importantly, win total.
Robbie Gould, despite the 53-yard field goal he missed last week against the Seahawks, is still the third-most accurate kicker in NFL history and is money from inside 50 — just ask radio color commentator Tom Thayer. The Bears haven’t asked him to kick too many field goals this year because the offense has been proficient with Cutler at the helm, but it’s nice to know the Bears are almost assured points when they hit the opposing team’s 30-yard line. The Lions counter with long-time veteran kicker Jason Hanson, who is tied for 5th in the league with six field goals made, including a long of 48 yards. In recent history, though, Hanson has struggled at Soldier Field, missing one each in 2007 and 2006. Brad Maynard, despite his shank last week, is still punting solid. He’s 8th in net average and 9th in punts inside the 20. Anyone hoping to see Devin Hester attempt to get back on track with his punt returns might have to wait another week as Lions punter Nick Harris is tied for 1st with 7 fair catches and 5th in the league with 6 punts inside the 20. Johnny Knox, currently 7th in the league in kick return average with 29.2, could find some openings to exploit.
I liken this game to my apprehension with any number of life’s new experiences. I get a little nervous, I don’t know what to expect from the challenge in front of me, I expect the best but sometimes fear the worst, but in the end it all turns out okay and I wonder what the hub bub was. For those expecting the Bears to entertain a team that they can push around for 60 minutes, you could be in for a rude awakening. These Lions have been dramatically altered and are definitely a competitive team under new head coach Jim Schwartz. Sure, they have some key injuries — running back Kevin Smith, linebacker Ernie Sims, and defensive tackle Grady Jackson are all listed as questionable — but they played competitively against two of the best teams in the league so far in the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings, and notched a victory against the Redskins last week. Calvin Johnson is a man to fear, especially with a pass defense that has been beaten a lot this year. I imagine the Lions will get their points, make a few big plays to sustain drives, and keep in the game for most of the afternoon. But we are talking about a much better Bears offense under the leadership of Cutler, who is already well adept at playing from behind if the situation should arise against the Lions. We’re also talking about home field advantage and a rookie quarterback who hasn’t taken care of the ball much this season. We’re talking about a Bears victory and a 3-1 record heading into the bye week.
Final Score: Chicago 24, Detroit 16