Bears offense vs. Lions defense
All right, let’s throw it out there on the table once and for all. The Bears have perhaps one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. And rather than try to bring in a free agent or high draft pick, they kept intact the same core from a year ago and brought in one of the most respected line coaches in the NFL, Mike Tice, to teach them. That philosophy didn’t work for the defensive line last year when the team brought in Rod Marinelli, but it doesn’t mean it won’t work this time. At worst, a poor offensive line means running the football will be more difficult and Jay Cutler will take a lot more shots. Fortunately, Cutler is neither lead-footed nor brittle. His body will be able to take a pounding and he should be able to move around the pocket and buy enough time to hit his receivers. Mike Martz is a smart man and if something isn’t working, he’s going to adapt. Hence, if Cutler can’t get back into his 7-step drops and deliver the ball, Martz will change up the game plan and allow Cutler to get rid of the ball quicker. The Bears have a lot of good young talent at both receiver and tight end and Cutler should be able to pick apart a Lions pass defense that was dead last in the league in 2009. The Lions improved their defensive line by bringing in rookie tackle Ndamukong Suh, a big nasty guy that wants to eat quarterbacks for Sunday lunch, and also added free agent end Kyle Vanden Bosch and acquired tackle Corey Williams. While their pass rush and run defense should improve, their back seven is still woeful and the Bears should take advantage.
Bears defense vs. Lions offense
The Bears tried to improve their porous secondary this off-season by reacquiring safety Chris Harris, drafting Major Wright in the third round of April’s draft, and flip-flopping Zack Bowman and Charles Tillman so that Bowman, a ball-hawk who led the team with 6 interceptions last year, can have more opportunities to make plays on the ball. From early indications, the secondary has not improved much as it was picked apart in the preseason and failed to get off the field on third downs, one of the defense’s biggest problems from a year ago. The addition of defensive end Julius Peppers already appears to be paying dividends even before the official start of the season. Peppers had a solid preseason and it’s clear he’s going to help the defense tremendously. However, much like Cutler was no savior for the offense last year, expectations for Peppers to save the defense should be tempered. Peppers is extremely athletic, though, and it’s intriguing what the Bears may do with him this year as far as changing up looks and moving him around on the line. Assuming Marinelli can dial up the right defenses and bring enough pressure, the secondary may be able to improve a little as the season goes on. They’ll have their hands full in the opener against an improved Lions offense. Detroit boasts one of the best wide receivers in the game in Calvin Johnson and added Nate Burleson to complement him on the other side of the field. Matthew Stafford showed a lot of promise in his rookie season last year and can only get better. He picked apart the Bears’ defense in the first half of the game at Soldier Field a year ago. The Lions also improved their run game by drafting running back Jahvid Best in the first round and if he weren’t playing for the Lions, he could have been the next big thing. He’s not much of an inside runner and he’s had an injury past, but he’s got good outside ability and he’s able to elude tacklers, something that could be a cause for concern for a defense that doesn’t tackle well. The Lions still have a ways to go before they can be considered a “good” offense, though.
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub has been with the Bears as long as Lovie Smith has. For a team that’s had its ups and downs and has gone through coaching purges on both offense and defense, it speaks volumes that Toub still has a job. He’s a great coordinator and I have every bit of faith that the special teams struggles the team showed in the preseason were just a result of summer rust and moving pieces. Special teams need as much consistency and attention to detail as the offense and defense do. So when players are being tried out at different positions and backups and guys who are bagging groceries right now spend the majority of time on special teams in the preseason, you can’t expect much success. The fact remains that the Bears have three of the best kick returners in the NFL and all three — Devin Hester, Danieal Manning, and Johnny Knox — have returned kicks for touchdowns in Toub’s system. Kick coverage needs to be solid, though, because the Bears’ offense and defense will have enough trouble moving/stopping the ball and don’t need to fight on the losing side of the field position battle. The Lions return kicker Jason Hanson and punter Nick Harris, who have been very consistent the last several years but not nearly as solid as Robbie Gould and Brad Maynard have been.
I’ve already heard from many Bears fans as well as the Chicago media who say that if the Bears lose to the Lions on Sunday, the season is over. While that’s completely untrue — in today’s parity-driven league, the Bears could lose to the Lions Sunday and go out and Beat the Cowboys next week; don’t roll your eyes, it’s possible — I do understand where the pessimism and frustration is coming from. The Lions are no pushover despite winning just two games last year. They have a lot of talent and they’ll compete every Sunday. I know the Bears players and coaches feel that same way so there’s no way the Bears overlook the Lions this week. They’ll come out and treat it like it is the most important game of their lives because for some of them — mainly the coaching staff and the elderly players — their time could be winding down. Having a Week 1 home game for the first time since 2004 — which was also against the Lions — should certainly help. While I don’t expect their performance to be pretty — after all, the Saints and the Vikings, who were the two highest-scoring offenses in the league last year, battled to a 14-9 finish on Thursday night — I think the Bears will play well enough and have the benefit of facing a young offense and an incomplete defense.
Final Score: Chicago 27, Detroit 21