I am typically an optimist by nature, particularly when it comes to my glass-is-half-full mentality whenever the Bears enter another week and a new game. Despite cases of extreme frustration and disappointment with the Bears’ performance on any given Sunday, my philosophy is, and will remain, that with each opening kickoff there is fresh hope.
Sure, some weekly matchups look more bleak than others and tonight’s Monday Night Football contest against the undefeated Lions is one such case. Although I’ve predicted in my Bears-Lions preview and game breakdown that Detroit will prevail by a touchdown, I still have hope the Bears can compete and possibly win the game.
Here are seven reasons why the Bears can surprise football nation by handing the Lions their first loss of the season.
1. Lions have been tested by only one playoff-caliber team
In the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Lions recorded 431 yards of offense, 305 of which came through the air. They beat a decent Buccaneers team that surprised everybody last year, but Tampa Bay ran the ball just 16 times, four of which were scrambles by quarterback Josh Freeman. As we’ve seen from the Bears this year, you cannot win games if you run the ball just 12 times. After that matchup, the Lions beat up a bad Kansas City team and had to mount huge second-half comebacks against the Vikings and Cowboys, two teams with a combined 3-6 record at this point and with long odds of making the playoffs. The Bears also face difficult odds of advancing to the postseason but have better pieces to combat what the Lions do than the Vikings or Cowboys have.
2. Bears can close games strong
Throughout Lovie Smith’s tenure as head coach of the Bears, his teams have consistently closed out games. At one point from 2004-06, when the team was considerably better, the Bears won 26 of 27 games in which they were leading heading into the fourth quarter. In short, Smith doesn’t allow his players to give up leads and they generally play stronger in the fourth quarter to hold off late rallies. The reason this is important is because it took a supreme effort for the Lions to come back from 20- and 24-point deficits to the Vikings and Cowboys, respectively. While we must give credit to the Lions for their effort, good teams close out those games and don’t allow Detroit to climb back in, let alone win.
3. Lions cannot stop the run
Detroit has one of the of best defensive lines in football, but that hasn’t helped them stop the run. The Lions had the 20th-ranked run defense entering Week 5 and are allowing 4.8 yards per carry. Given what Matt Forte did to a struggling run defense last week, the Bears should be able to have some success running the ball against the Lions, which will neutralize Detroit’s offensive attack by keeping it on the sideline. The best teams in the league are those that can pass the ball in today’s era, but the Bears don’t have to be the best team in the league Monday night; they simply have to be the better of two for one game.
4. Young Lions team has not experienced limelight
My biggest criticism of the Lions prior to this season, and the one for which I could not project them to have a great season, was that after years of a losing culture, that team did not know how to win games when it mattered. The Lions are a “team with good players.” In order to become a “good team of players,” it’ll require winning big games when the pressure is on. Detroit has not seen a Monday night football game in a decade, so we don’t know whether or not they can handle the exposure of a national audience and all the pressure that comes with it. Not to mention, they’ve never before been the heavy favorites and the darlings of the league. The Bears are a veteran team that has had plenty of prime time appearances and play well in the underdog role.
5. Bears thrive on takeaways and field position generated by special teams
It’s convenient to say that the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game the majority of the time. It is because of this that we can say the worst team in the league has a chance to beat the best team on any given Sunday. Sometimes, this statistic is an aberration that happens on pure chance, simply by the way the ball bounces. However, the Bears preach takeaways perhaps more than any other team in the league and it is a central focus to their game plan. They’ve been among the best in the league at taking the ball away throughout the Smith era, and it’s because of their penchant for doing so that gives them a shot to pull off the upset against the Lions. If Detroit gets lazy and careless and the offense doesn’t have good ball security, the Bears can wrest the game away from the Lions’ grasp. The other factor working in the Bears favor is the success they’ve had gaining good field position through special teams. They started slowly this year, but Hester scored on a punt return last week and had a great kickoff return as well. The Hester “fear factor” is back in effect and will cause the Lions to kick away from him at the possible expense of field position.
6. Matthew Stafford can’t stay healthy against Bears
I once saw a sign at a Lions game that played off of Ford’s slogan, “Built Ford Tough.” The sign read, “Built Stafford Tough.” I must say it’s pretty interesting how a player whose last four letters spell out a word so common to the city of Detroit found his way onto its football team. But in reality, that sign isn’t exactly accurate. While Stafford might be mentally tough — he once finished a game with a separated shoulder, albeit his non-throwing one — the guy is built like a piece of glass. In three seasons, he’s played in only 17 of 36 possible games (47%), and he has been hurt in and unable to finish two games against the Bears. It’d be naive to suggest that he’s going to get knocked out of tonight’s game because there’s a better chance that he will finish it. But the possibility of getting roughed up to the point that it affects his performance is not out of the question.
7. Bears defensive system better suited to contain Calvin Johnson
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the freakish athlete they call “Megatron,” is on a record-setting pace this season. He’s arguably the NFL’s best receiver at this point in his career and is averaging two touchdowns per game — which projects to 32 for the season if that unlikely pace were to continue. With all due respect to Megatron, the Bears have done a better job at containing him in recent seasons than most teams in the league. In two games against the Bears last season, Johnson caught a total of 7 passes for 111 yards and 1 touchdown. Average those numbers out and it’s far worse than his production against other teams. Where Johnson presents the toughest challenge is near the red zone where he can use his size and leaping ability over the Bears’ smaller defensive backs to haul in a touchdown. Charles Tillman will have to be physical with Johnson and the pass rush will need to get to Stafford in a hurry to help neutralize him, but there is a proven track record.