Bears offense vs. Lions defense
We’ve come to expect Mike Martz to call a balanced game plan while mixing in a healthy dose of run plays versus pass plays, at least since the bye week. But last week’s victory over the Eagles allowed us to catch a glimpse of just how dangerous Jay Cutler and the passing game can be while not compromising the balance. Cutler completed just 14 passes against Philadelphia, but he made them count for 247 yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, Matt Forte was still able to find room to run as his 14 rushing attempts went for 117 yards. It’s no wonder the Bears dominated the Eagles all game long. If they can get this kind of production from both the run and the pass, they’re going to be a tough team to beat the remainder of the season. This week against the Lions, the Bears face a defense that is strong up front but weak in the secondary. It’s possible we see Forte and Chester Taylor spinning their tires at the line of scrimmage and getting nowhere, but that commitment to the run could open up plays down the field. The last time the Bears faced the Lions, Forte was a bigger factor in the passing game than on the ground. Forte caught seven passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns while gaining just 50 yards on 17 carries. The biggest threat the Bears offense will face is defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the rookie who is 11th in the league in sacks and leads all players at his position with eight. He’s a one-man wrecking crew who will need constant double teams to be neutralized. The Bears could be fortunate that they don’t have to face defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who was listed as doubtful on the injury report. Vanden Bosch came to the Lions as a free agent this offseason and had four sacks and two forced fumbles this season before being hampered by a neck injury. Suh will be joined up front by tackle Corey Williams and ends Cliff Avril and Turk McBride. Avril and McBride have combined for six sacks and three forced fumbles and form a formidable duo even without Vanden Bosch in the lineup. Williams is a giant run stuffer who, at 6-4 and 320 pounds, will clog the middle with Suh. On the second level of the defense, the Lions feature a linebacking trio of Julian Peterson, DeAndre Levy, and Landon Johnson. Ashlee Palmer is also in the rotation and is third on the team in tackles. In the secondary, the Bears biggest test will be second-year free safety Louis Delmas. Delmas leads the team in tackles, has two sacks and two forced fumbles. The rest of the secondary is very suspect and can be exploited. The duo of Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett can have a big game on Sunday.
Bears defense vs. Lions offense
The Bears will face third-string quarterback Drew Stanton on Sunday, the second time they’ll have faced a third-string quarterback in three weeks. Some skeptics want to call the Bears lucky and that’s fine. Every Super Bowl champion has been the beneficiary of some lucky breaks. I’m not ready to proclaim the Bears a Super Bowl contender, but winning a championship is the ultimate goal and if the Bears are receiving some help along the way, so be it. Lions rookie running back Jahvid Best has been battling turf toe and hasn’t been able to see the field much the past few weeks. Maurice Morris is expected to start for the third straight week and he’s hardly a running back that strikes fear in opposing defenses. The Bears’ No. 2 run defense should shut him down and force Stanton to throw the ball. That’s when the Bears’ ball-hawking defense should take over and create some turnovers. After a slow beginning of the season, at least according to sacks, Julius Peppers has really stepped up and increased the pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He’s got four sacks in the last two weeks and six on the season. Israel Idonije has benefited playing opposite Peppers and he leads the team with seven sacks. I expect the duo to sack Stanton a couple times on Sunday. Tackles Anthony Adams and Matt Toeaina have quietly done a good job of plugging the middle this season and Tommie Harris has made a few plays as the third tackle rotating in. The strength of the unit, of course, is the linebackers where Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher have been playing stout all season long. Pisa Tinoisamoa has been battling knee soreness on the same knee that he injured last year and he has been ruled out of Sunday’s game. Nick Roach should step in and fill his role just fine. I think the Bears’ secondary can have a big game this week. Calvin Johnson is one of the best receivers in the game so he’s likely to get his share of catches and yards, but it’s important to remember that it won’t be Matthew Stafford or Shaun Hill throwing him the football. Wide receiver Nate Burleson guaranteed a victory over the Bears this week, so you can bet he’ll receive some extra physical attention from Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Burleson guaranteed a victory over the Cardinals when he was a member of the Seahawks last year and his team got trounced. If I were him, I’d keep my mouth shut, because there are a couple of hard-hitting safeties in Chris Harris and Danieal Manning just waiting to get their shots in over the middle of the field.
Wide receiver Stefan Logan has been a good kick and punt returner for the Lions this season. His 28.1 kickoff return average ranks third in the NFL among those players who have returned at least 10 kickoffs. He also has a punt return average of 12.1. He’s dangerous, but he’s no Devin Hester. Lions kicker Jason Hanson has been placed on injured reserve and he’ll be replaced by Dave Rayner. Rayner has been on six different teams in six years, which tells you all you need to know about his accuracy. I like Robbie Gould in that matchup. Lions punter Nick Harris, however, has been as steady as they come. Interestingly, Harris ranks No. 8 in punting average with 45.0 yards per punt. But his net average is just 35.9, ranking him No. 28 in the league. What that means is that Harris has had more punts returned for more yardage than any other punter in the league. Could this finally be the week Hester breaks the return touchdown record? The Bears have a better kicker, kick and punt returner, and coverage teams. Big edge for the Bears.
With every new season comes fresh hope and optimism, which is why I believe the first game of the season was close. At this point in the season, the Lions have very little to play for aside from backing up Burleson’s guarantee, and trying to avenge their opening week loss on a Calvin Johnson catch in the end zone that was overturned in the final minute of the game. It would take a collapse of epic proportions for the Bears to lose this game, and I don’t see that in the cards. The Lions are starting a third-string quarterback against the Bears’ No. 4-ranked defense. Detroit is also missing a key piece to their defense in Vanden Bosch and their explosive roookie running back has been hobbled by turf toe. They’ve got some playmakers on both sides of the ball but they’re not talented enough to overcome deficiencies in the secondary and on the offensive line. I expect the Lions to come out of the gates with gusto and try to put the Bears on their heels quickly. But one big punch in the mouth can send this team backpedaling and looking for cover.
Final Score: Chicago 27, Detroit 14