Four Downs: Keys to beating the Lions

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A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.

1. Execute a balanced offense
Jay Cutler can follow his NFC Offensive Player of the Week performance against the Vikings with an encore against the Lions. Detroit has the worst pass defense in the league and Cutler should be able to pick it apart. Of course, when these two teams met in Week 4, Cutler had a modest performance with just 141 yards passing, two touchdowns and no interceptions on 18 of 28 passing. The passing game wasn’t a priority because Matt Forte had one of his best games of the season with 121 rushing yards on just 12 carries. Lions safety Louis Delmas, who had a big impact against the Bears the last time these teams played, has been hampered by an ankle injury and is listed as questionable. If he doesn’t go, that opens up a lot of possibilities. As previously mentioned, Forte had a big game against the Lions because Detroit has the No. 24 run defense. The Bears don’t want to get into a shootout with the Lions, although they’d probably win because they have better players, but that’s when interceptions and other careless mistakes can take the game out of their hands. That’s why a balanced attack with a strong rushing effort makes the most sense, but the entire playbook is open.

2. Give extra attention to Calvin Johnson
In Week 4, Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson torched Zack Bowman in the first half, one of the primary reasons the score was tied at 21 at intermission. The Bears wisely shadowed Johnson with Charles Tillman in the second half, which largely took Johnson out of the game as the Bears pulled away. Johnson finished with 8 catches for 133 yards on the game, but only had 3 receptions for 14 yards after the switch was made. The Bears once again will have to get clever with the big playmaker because Tillman will not play against the Lions. The Lions don’t have a lot of other weapons to fear at receiver, so double covering Johnson for most of the game would make the most sense.

3. Pressure the quarterback
Applying pressure on the quarterback is always a key in any game, but it’s particularly important when your secondary is young and inexperienced. With Tillman out, Kevin Payne and Danieal Manning doubtful, and Al Afalava questionable, the Bears have clear holes in the secondary. Fortunately, the Bears aren’t facing Matthew Stafford and the same Lions offense that shredded them in the first half of the first meeting. Daunte Culpepper or Drew Stanton will take the snaps for the Lions and neither one strikes any fear in the defense. Culpepper has lost a few steps as he’s aged, but still probably has better footwork than Stanton and will be tougher to bring down. Either way, the defense, specifically the line, needs to get after whomever the signal caller is and get him out of his comfort zone to help out the secondary.

4. Protect the football
Let’s be clear, this Lions team is still a bad outfit. Their two wins have come against Washington and Cleveland. They overhauled their roster this past off-season and will continue that process this coming off-season. They still have a ways to go before Bears fans need to fear them. With that said, though, if the Bears lose the turnover battle, as they’ve done for the majority of the season, anything is possible. Losing to the Lions after that thrilling overtime victory over the Vikings Monday night would be just the buzzkill that has hampered Bears fans all season. The Bears can’t be afraid to sling the ball down the field against the league’s worst pass defense, but Cutler needs to make smart decisions and his receivers need to be on the same page with him. Forte and whoever else carries the football needs to protect it and not put it on the ground. And on special teams, with Manning and Johnny Knox not likely to play, there will be a new man returning kickoffs. It could be Devin Hester, who is expected to play after missing the last two weeks, or it might be Rashied Davis. Personally, I’d rather see the once electrifying Hester get a crack at returning kicks again because we’ve seen Davis return a few short kickoffs this season and he looks slow and timid. Then again, Hester has made his fair share of boneheaded plays while returning kicks. Whoever handles that job needs to protect the football.

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