Bears-Lions preview and game breakdown (10.22.12)

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Matthew Stafford and the Lions' passing attack is still dangerous despite Detroit's slow start to the season.
Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ passing attack is still dangerous despite Detroit’s slow start to the season.

A preview and breakdown of the matchup between the Bears and Lions on Oct. 22, 2012.

Bears offense vs. Lions defense
The last time we saw the Bears offense, they put up 501 yards in a rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars. That was a different opponent and a different time. So much changes from week to week in the NFL and I would not expect much momentum to carry over from the last time the Bears set foot on the field. The Bears offensive line will have its hands full with a Lions front four that features a group of tough and nasty players. Defensive ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril come off the edge quickly and tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley pack a punch up the middle. Their goal is not only to get to the quarterback but to rip his head off and bury him in the dirt, too. Suh likes to pull off quarterbacks’ helmets and make contact in the “no hit” zones that the NFL rules committee has designated, while Fairley — and pretty much most of the defense — likes to play through the echo of the whistle. The Lions only have 12 sacks on the season, but that’s not the statistic I’m worried about. It’s the quarterback hits that pile up that should be a cause for concern. Expect the Bears to counter that pressure with a steady dose of the run game and quick passes that don’t leave Jay Cutler standing on the railroad tracks in the backfield for too long. As the season has progressed, the Bears have done a better job of moving Brandon Marshall around and using him on slants and crosses over the short middle of the field. If that continues, he’ll be met by a good group of Lions linebackers. Outside linebacker Justin Durant, one of the Bears’ targets two offseasons ago as a free agent, leads the team with 37 tackles. Fellow outside backer DeAndre Levy and middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch are second and third, respectively, in tackles. They’re an active group that gets involved on every play. Where the Bears can exploit the defense is in the secondary. The Lions have had injuries and poor play that has led their defensive backfield to get shredded. Safety Louis Delmas had limited participation in practice this week and he’s the most talented of the bunch. When healthy, he can make trouble for the defense, as Cutler pointed out this week. Although it should be a physical battle at the line of scrimmage this week, the Bears have a mostly healthy offense and can come at the Lions defense with a variety of different looks.
Advantage: Bears

Bears defense vs. Lions offense
This could be the most interesting matchup of the game. Although I figure the Bears offense versus the Lions defense to be closer, the Bears defense versus the Lions offense has the potential to be more explosive. The Lions rank second in the league in passing with 319.8 yards per game through the air while the Bears defense is just 14th at defending it. Teams are ranked by yardage, so the Bears have never really had a top pass defense because their scheme is designed to take the ball away and limit touchdowns, not hold yardage totals down. I would expect the Lions to be able to move the ball through the air with the talented weapons they have. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has a strong arm and he’s fourth in the league with 298.6 passing yards per game. He has the best receiver in the NFL at his disposal in Calvin Johnson. The Bears have traditionally kept Johnson in check because their scheme prevents the big play and because cornerback Charles Tillman is a physical corner who has managed to hold his own. Last year in Detroit, however, the Bears secondary got burned deep by Johnson on a 73-yard touchdown pass. Since that game, and the Saints and Packers games that proceeded it, the Bears safeties have been lining up deeper to keep everything in front of them. Expect the Lions to work the middle of the field, then, because middle linebacker Brian Urlacher still has not gotten his range back yet while covering that portion of the field. The Bears have traditionally given up big performances to opponents’ tight ends and the Lions have a good one in Brandon Pettigrew, who has a good combination of size, strength and speed. I would guess that he has a big game while the Bears focus on containing Johnson and fellow receiver Nate Burleson, who brashly spoke this week of a “tribute to Chicago” touchdown celebration he has planned. We’ll see if he gets to use it. The Lions will almost certainly be forced to go to the air because of two reasons. First, they haven’t run the ball very well this season. They were without their starting running back, Mikel Leshoure, early in the season, but even since he has returned he hasn’t exactly lit the league on fire. Two weeks ago, he had 13 carries for 26 yards. Secondly, the Bears have the No. 1 ranked run defense in the NFL. It’s been a joint effort between the athleticism of the Bears’ front seven and the fact that the offense has taken commanding leads in most games this season and it has forced opponents to throw the ball more. We’ll probably see the Lions move the ball frequently but I can’t see too many trips to the end zone.
Advantage: Bears

Special Teams
You know that you have a special kick returner in your organization when pressure and restlessness continue to mount with each passing week that he doesn’t score a touchdown. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub was asked this week if it is unrealistic to always expect Devin Hester to score a return touchdown. Toub replied, “With him you do.” Hester has had some success in the past against the Lions and Detroit does not have good coverage teams, so there has been increasing talks of Hester breaking one for a score this week, especially since he always seems to have success in prime time. Hester has been battling a quad injury this week and has missed some practice time, but he is expected to be ready to go on Monday. Lions kickoff and punt returner Stefan Logan is a shifty, nimble returner who is dangerous in his own right. He’s only got one career return touchdown, on a 105-yard kickoff return. He’s averaging a modest 21.4 yards per kickoff return but his 13.1 punt return average is one of the best in the league. Hester still has the advantage, though. Lions kicker Jason Hanson, who at 42 is the oldest player in the league, has had a long successful career due to his incredible accuracy. But he’s lost a bit of distance on his kicks over his 21 years in the league. Robbie Gould is one of the most accurate kickers of all time and he’s quietly having a terrific season. Bears punter Adam Podlesh has been underperforming this season compared with last and you have to wonder if his hip — injured in the preseason — has been a culprit. Both he and Lions punter Nick Harris are in the bottom third of the league in net average.
Advantage: Bears

Amidst a 4-1 start and a three-game win streak, last week was probably not a good time for the bye week. The Bears had some momentum built up and I could envision some rust, particularly from the offense, if the offensive line struggles early. Lovie Smith teams have generally fared well coming off the bye, though, and that extra week of preparation and rest certainly could have helped in what should be a very physical divisional battle Monday night. After the Lions had a comeback win last week in Philadelphia — in which they were trailing by 10 with a little over 3:30 to play in the fourth quarter and came back to win in overtime — they’re surely going to be entering this game with a bit more swagger than they’ve had in the first quarter of the season. Led by their cocky, brash head coach, Jim Schwartz, the Lions have talked about playing more physical and with an attitude. I can’t say that I’ll expect cornerback D.J. Moore to get ejected again for mixing it up with Matthew Stafford, like he did last year. But I certainly do expect there to be some “extracurricular activity,” like penalties for late hits and unnecessary roughness along with some pushing and shoving after the whistle. The Bears have already been caught twice this year for losing their heads. First, it was offensive tackle Gabe Carimi who shoved Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk in Week 2, which killed a drive and momentum. Then, Julius Peppers was flagged the following week for shoving a player after the play which gave the Rams new life and a new set of downs. Lions players will almost certainly instigate trouble in this one and it’s imperative that Bears players play smart and don’t take the bait. The Bears have the better offense, the better defense, the better special teams, the better coaching, and they have the fourth phase on their side in a Monday night home game. This is no gimme, but it’s one the Bears should win if they execute their game plan and leave the neanderthal tactics to the desperate Lions.
Advantage: Bears

Final Score: Chicago 26, Detroit 17

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