Four Downs: Keys to beating the Lions (12/05/10)

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

1. Limit mistakes and protect the football
Let’s be honest, the Lions are a better football team than their 2-9 record belies. Yet, they’re a worse team than the Bears and have a lot of holes particularly on offense and shouldn’t be able to put up enough points to win the game. However, the better team doesn’t always win the game on Sunday and in most cases it’s because of mistakes (such as penalties, dropped passes, and broken coverage) and turnovers. Limiting mistakes and protecting the football is the most important key to this game because this is a game the Bears can and should win. Not only is starting quarterback Matthew Stafford out but backup Shaun Hill might be out as well with a broken finger on his throwing hand. That would leave third-string quarterback Drew Stanton to take the snaps, and we know how the Dolphins fared against the Bears two Thursdays ago with their third-string quarterback under center. Another Lions offensive weapon, explosive rookie running back Jahvid Best, has been battling turf toe and barely played the last two weeks. Maurice Morris is expected to start.

2. Beware the beast in the middle
Lions rookie defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh, will soon be (if he isn’t already) considered the Lions’ best player. Arguments can be made for him or wide receiver Calvin Johnson, but that’s just semantics because one is a lineman and one is a skill player and they line up on opposite sides of the ball. Suh is an absolute beast and is 11th in the NFL with eight sacks, leading all defensive tackles. He’s a physically gifted player but it’s his intensity, high motor, and will to win that makes him one of the best defensive linemen in the game at such a young age. This is one of those games that you fear as a Bears fan, not so much that the Bears might lose (although, that is a concern), but you fear that a key offensive player, maybe Jay Cutler, could get hurt and miss some time. When I think of Suh, two plays come to mind. In the preseason, Suh grabbed Cleveland quarterback Jake Delhomme and nearly twisted his head off like a bottle cap as he slammed him to the ground. For those Bears fans who remember the crotch-chop gesture Delhomme gave us after the Panthers beat the Bears in the playoffs in 2005, we didn’t mind seeing Suh nearly decapitate him. But if that were Cutler, that would be a disaster waiting to happen. The second play that comes to mind from Suh is just recently against the Cowboys when Suh grabbed running back Marion Barber’s long dreadlocks and yanked him to the ground. In short, the Bears need to double team him all game and Cutler needs to roll away from him.

3. Shut down the run and execute the Cover 2
As mentioned previously, the Lions could start third-string quarterback Stanton, which means the likelihood of them passing the ball a lot is seemingly lower, at least early on when they’re not trailing by a lot of points. To take pressure off the young quarterback, the Lions will need to try to run the ball, but that could be a futile effort against the Bears’ No. 2 run defense. At some point, they’ll have to put the ball in the air and that’s when the Bears’ execution of the Cover 2 will come into effect. The Bears have been playing great defense this season and a big reason for that is the pressure the front four has put on opposing quarterbacks. After a slow start to the season, the Bears have picked up their sack total recently and are currently ranked No. 13 in the league with 23 on the season. More than half of those sacks (12) were recorded in the four weeks since their bye. If the Bears keep up that pressure on Stanton, interceptions and fumbles are sure to follow. Aside from generating turnovers, the Bears need to prevent the deep play as they face one of the league’s best receivers in Johnson.

4. Finish the game strong
I promised myself not to make a big deal out of it and I won’t, but it’s unavoidable not to at least mention it. Everybody remembers how the Bears won their first game of the season against the Lions. Guarding a 19-14 lead with under a minute to go, the Bears allowed Hill to drive the Lions down the field while playing prevent defense and Johnson hauled in a pass in the end zone with 24 seconds left in the game. Johnson was careless in that he started celebrating too soon and lost control of the football when it touched the ground. Everybody — both fans and media — wants to say the Bears were lucky, but there’s no luck involved. It’s a rule that has been in place for many years and instead of saying the Bears are lucky, how about pointing the finger at Johnson and giving him the blame he deserves? It was his mistake. Regardless, the Bears cannot let the Lions hang around in this game. That’s when odd things tend to happen and the ball takes funny bounces. Step on the gas pedal and don’t stop until they’re sweeping the aisles of hot dog wrappers and empty beer cups at Ford Field.

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