Four Downs: Keys to beating the Lions (12/30/12)

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With Calvin Johnson approaching 2,000 receiving yards and the Bears' secondary banged up, preventing the big play is of utmost concern.
With Calvin Johnson approaching 2,000 receiving yards and the Bears’ secondary banged up, preventing the big play is of utmost concern.

A look at four keys for the Bears to beat the Detroit Lions.

1. Prevent the big play on defense

The Bears have injury issues all over the field, but starting safety Chris Conte has a pulled hamstring and could miss Sunday’s game. The Bears are perilously thin at safety with Anthony Walters the backup after the Bears lost Craig Steltz for the season. Look for the Lions to test the Bears’ secondary. Receiver Calvin Johnson is 108 yards shy of becoming the first receiver in NFL history with 2,000 yards. You can bet the Lions would like to get him that mark and they will be looking for him often. The Bears need to make the Lions earn every inch on the field and keep everything in front of them.

2. Take away Lions’ flexibility

The Lions are certainly a one-dimensional offense, leading the NFL in passing yards per game but ranked 23rd in rushing yards. This means that they’re likely to get their yards through the air regardless, but the Bears can make things easier on themselves by shutting down the Lions run game entirely and forcing the Lions to pass more often. Part of taking away the Lions’ flexibility on offense is to get on the scoreboard early and play with a lead. It’ll be much easier for the pass rush to get to Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford when they know the pass is coming and they can pin their ears back and come up the field hard.

3. Stay efficient on offense and don’t force anything

It’s the last game of the regular season and everybody knows what the offense is at this point. They have a solid quarterback who can play erratically at times. They have a strong running back who just needs a small seam to break a big run, but one who has had his fair share of troubles this year. And they have one of the best wide receivers in the game who is a matchup nightmare. Teams know that if they try to take away Marshall, the Bears have little else to rely on. But it’s been easier said than done taking Marshall out of a game. The Bears — specifically Cutler — might be tempted to force the ball to Marshall, but if there are other options open, the Bears have to take them. Dink and dunk your way down field. Do whatever it takes. But keep the chains moving, the Lions offense on the sideline, and don’t turn over the ball.

4. Play a full 60 minutes

The Bears absolutely have to finish the game strong on Sunday. The Lions have enough weapons to make any kind of comeback late in a game and the Bears can’t afford a collapse that’ll keep them out of the playoffs. Many are pointing to that late fourth quarter and overtime collapse against the Seahawks as the turning point of the season and it’s hard to argue that point. Had the Bears been able to hold on, who knows where they’d be at this point. The Bears need the Vikings to lose to the Packers to get them into the playoffs, but they first need to take care of business themselves by finishing off the Lions.

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