Bears-Lions preview and game breakdown (10.10.11)

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Matthew Stafford has had trouble finishing games healthy against the Bears, and the Bears could certainly go for having that trend continue.
Matthew Stafford has had trouble finishing games healthy against the Bears, and the Bears could certainly go for having that trend continue.

A breakdown of the matchup between the Bears and Lions on Oct. 10, 2011.

Bears offense vs. Lions defense
The Bears saw an opening last week against the Carolina Panthers and took it. They noticed a team ranked No. 25 against the run missing two starting linebackers and they elected to operate a game plan focused on the run game while racking up 224 rushing yards. I’m not so sure they’ll have such an opening this week against the undefeated Lions. Detroit has the 12th-ranked pass defense and 20th-ranked run defense, so the Bears’ best chance for offensive efficiency is a balanced game plan trending toward the ground. The strength of the Lions defense is up front where tackle Ndamukong Suh leads a solid defensive line. Suh led all defensive tackles with 10 sacks last year and is a destructive force in the middle. He’s known for his aggressive, dirty style of play. For whatever reason, there seems to be a debate among fans, analysts, and even NFL players as to whether Suh plays aggressive or dirty. The answer is he does both. For a player to commit flagrant acts, get penalized and fined for them, and continue to do them, that’s a dirty player. End of story. Suh is joined by tackle Corey Williams, a talented player in his own right but who is only filling in for injured rookie Nick Fairley, and ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril. The four have combined for six of the team’s nine sacks this season and might terrorize Jay Cutler if the offensive line doesn’t dramatically improve in short order. The back seven isn’t as formidable but has improved since last year. Linebacker Justin Durant, whom the Bears had on their radar in free agency this offseason, did not participate in practice this week with post-concussion systems. Free safety Louis Delmas, a talkative yet talented player, had limited participation in practice this week but is expected to play on Monday. Cornerback Chris Houston already has three interceptions this season. The Lions have given up just 19 points per game this year, eighth-fewest in the league. That’s an alarming statistic considering how explosive their offense is and it explains why they have yet to lose a game. For the Bears offense to even have a chance, they have to run the football effectively.
Advantage: Lions

Bears defense vs. Lions offense
This Bears defense might be finally showing its age as it looks tired and sluggish and often appears to be lacking intensity on the field. The defensive line, which seemed like a position of strength at the outset of the season, has been nonexistent in the last three games. The Bears had quite a bit of success defensively last year due to Julius Peppers opening up opportunities for his linemates, but Peppers is struggling to replicate that this year. Henry Melton has all but disappeared and Israel Idonije can’t seem to close the gap and get to the quarterback on a consistent basis. Unless these guys have the games of their seasons this week, the chances of victory seem bleak. For starters, they need to be more disruptive in the run game. Last week’s effort against the Panthers was poor as Carolina rushed for 169 yards on 6.5 yards per carry. Whatever happened between last year’s No. 2 run defense and this year’s No. 23 unit needs to be resolved in a hurry. The other reason the line needs to have a great performance is to slow down the Lions’ prolific passing offense. Detroit is averaging 301 passing yards per game and, more importantly, is averaging 33.8 points per game, second-most in the NFL. Matthew Stafford, when healthy, has shown promise and is capable of being one of the top quarterbacks in the game. His top target, Calvin Johnson, is averaging two touchdowns per game and is probably the best receiver in the league right now. The Bears have done a better job at containing him than most teams, but his combination of size and speed does not bode well for the Bears’ banged-up secondary. Chris Harris is still struggling through a hamstring injury and Charles Tillman is nursing a hip. Brandon Meriweather is still learning the system and keeps freelancing at times while the rest of the secondary is either bad or just not good enough to contain the Lions’ passing attack. To make matters worse, the Lions have additional firepower across the board. Nate Burleson has been a decent No. 2 receiver and the team has a pair of talented pass-catching tight ends in Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. Now is as good a time as any for Lance Briggs to show up and play like the Pro Bowler he’s been the past half-dozen years. He, Peppers, and Brian Urlacher all need to have impact games.
Advantage: Lions

Special Teams
Finally, Devin Hester popped one last week against the Panthers. He nearly scored on two returns, had Chris Conte blocked the right guy ahead of him instead of looking around behind the play. The Bears also got a blocked field goal from Peppers and did a good job of securing advantageous field position for the offense. A three-phase effort will be needed to beat a team of Detroit’s caliber. The Lions have a pretty good kick returner in Stefan Logan, who is averaging 25 yards per kickoff return. Lions kicker Jason Hanson, the most senior member of the team, is still going strong at age 41. He’s second in the league in field goals made and has a long of 51 yards, hardly showing signs of losing leg strength. Robbie Gould is eighth in the league with eight field goals made and a long of 42 yards. Adam Podlesh holds a slight edge over Ryan Donahue in the punting game.
Advantage: Bears

Detroit was the Cinderella pick by, well, most of America prior to this season. I, however, was not ready to jump on board with them until I saw visual proof that they were an improved team. It’s one thing to upgrade on paper, it’s a completely different task to show it on the field. I wanted to see Stafford stay healthy for a full season before I declared them legitimate playoff contenders. I needed to see the Lions learn how to win games by finishing strong. It has only been a quarter of the season, but they’ve made me a believer. It has to be alarming for them to have gotten into deep holes in each of the past two games, but it’s a testament to how good they are to be able to make big comebacks on the road in two historically difficult places to play, Minnesota and Dallas. The Lions had 13 players on the injury report Friday, but nothing too alarming. The Bears, meanwhile, had six players listed and all but Matt Spaeth are integral to the team’s success. The Lions will appear in their first Monday night game in 10 years. It could be their biggest game ever at Ford Field, at least that in which they played — Super Bowl XL in 2006 was hosted by Detroit. The Lions are the better team and they have all the momentum. Add to that the burning desire for revenge from the way last year’s two meetings with the Bears played out and this game spells doom and gloom for Chicago.
Advantage: Lions

Final Score: Detroit 27, Chicago 20

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