Four Downs: Keys to beating the Lions (09/12/10)

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

Jay Cutler took a beating in the preseason. 1. Protect Jay Cutler
The single most important key — besides eliminating turnovers — to winning this or any other game this season is keeping Cutler healthy. If he’s not on the field, the Bears’ small window to make the playoffs will shut completely, no matter how promising Todd Collins looked in his one preseason start. Not only is health of concern, but if the Bears can’t protect whichever quarterback is taking snaps for them, they won’t be able to execute the offense. No execution means no points and no points means no wins. All preseason long the Bears have told the public that they haven’t game planned yet and we have yet to see a glimpse of the famed Mike Martz offense. Well, here’s their first chance to show us and keeping defensive linemen off Cutler’s back is sort of a prerequisite.

2. Pressure Matthew Stafford
The Bears’ biggest issue on defense is their secondary and the only way to help alleviate that hole is to apply extra pressure on the quarterback. It’s one of the primary reasons the Bears splurged on Julius Peppers in the off-season and largely neglected the secondary. We caught a glimpse of what Peppers can do as he pressured opposing quarterbacks throughout the preseason and even recorded a strip sack, something at which he’s one of the best in the league. In the third preseason game against the Cardinals, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was allowed to dial up the pressure and stray from vanilla play calling. The Bears certainly got pressure on quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Matt Leinart, with both straight-up pass rushes as well as blitzes, but give those two quarterbacks credit for standing tall in the pocket and delivering passes to open receivers. Give the Bears secondary blame for such loose coverage. Stafford is a young quarterback who can
be prone to making mistakes if he feels the pressure.

3. Get off the field on third down
… and more specifically, on third and longs. There are few things more aggravating when watching a football game than when your defense stops the opposing offense on two straight downs and then gives up a big pass play to move the chains. It’s even more frustrating when it happens multiple times on one drive, something that happened to the Bears all too often last year and showed up again during the preseason. This defense is designed to get the opponent in third and long situations so the defensive line can pin its ears back and pressure the quarterback into turning over the ball. The Bears have been doing a decent job of the former part of that equation but not the latter, proving that the secondary is more a concern than the pass rush. It’s important that the defense conserve its energy by not staying on the field for too long and giving this offense, which is still in a learning process, more opportunities to score.

4. Win the field position battle
Always an important key in any football game, maintaining good field position is especially important in the first game of the season and for a team running a new offense. Winning the field position battle will do a few things: it’ll keep the defense fresh, lessen the burden of the offense by shortening the yardage needed for points, and improve time of possession. Who’s responsible for this key? All three phases, actually. It starts with the special teams who need to cover kickoffs and punts a lot better than they did during the preseason. Robbie Gould needs deep kickoffs and Brad Maynard needs to continue his solid directional punting. The offense needs to sustain long drives and avoid three and outs and having to punt from deep within their own territory. And the defense has to prevent being pushed backward for long drives.

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