Detroit Lions to leapfrog Chicago Bears for division lead
- Updated: September 27, 2013
After three straight wins to start the season, the Chicago Bears prepare to head to Detroit to take on the Lions (2-1) in their first divisional road game. These two teams have played each other tough in Detroit the last few years, the Bears winning very close games in 2010 (24-20) and 2012 (26-24) and losing 24-13 in 2011 in a contest that was in doubt until the final few minutes.
Clearly this will not be an easy game for the Chicago Bears — road divisional games rarely are — so they will have to be at their absolute best if they want to head home with a win, a tidy 4-0 record, and a two-game lead in the division.
Something’s gotta give
Keeping the quarterback upright is essential but particularly difficult against Detroit’s formidable defensive line.
Led by defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, the Lions have one of the best pass rushes in the game. They have only notched six sacks as a team so far (24th in the NFL), but ProFootballFocus has credited them with an additional 16 quarterback hits and 48 hurries. Meanwhile, Jay Cutler has been sacked only three times and hit only six more times in 113 dropbacks.
One of these trends must come to an end. The winner between Chicago’s offensive line and Detroit’s defensive line will be very important in deciding the outcome of this game.
Detroit has a shaky secondary that can struggle to defend wide receivers, but their fierce pass rush often helps cover that up. If the Chicago Bears can get good blocking from their offensive line and buy quarterback Jay Cutler time in the pocket, he should be able to move the ball on Detroit. If Detroit’s defensive line can routinely get to Cutler and bother him, it will be a long day for the Bears offense.
Establish the run
One way Chicago can slow the pass rush is by running the ball with running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush. The Lions seem to be susceptible to the run, as they have given up over 100 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry (25th) so far this year. Rashard Mendenhall, Adrian Peterson, and Alfred Morris all had good days against Detroit, with Mendenhall and Peterson both having their best games of the year so far against them. Similar success for Forte and Bush will help Chicago’s offense be productive.
Get after Stafford
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has only been sacked twice so far this year, meaning that the Lions’ offensive line has done an excellent job in pass protection.
The Bears, meanwhile, have struggled getting to the quarterback, getting only two sacks from their defensive line. If Stafford has time to sit comfortably in the pocket, he will pick Chicago’s secondary apart — especially with a banged-up Charles Tillman at cornerback.
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker needs to figure out some way to get consistent pressure on Stafford. This could be done via the blitz, which was utilized fairly often against Pittsburgh last week. Bringing extra rushers helped Chicago pressure Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger; but he was often able to avoid being sacked, buy time with his legs, and find an open receiver down the field.
Thankfully for Chicago, Stafford is not nearly as good as Roethlisberger at avoiding pressure; in fact, he has struggled mightily against the blitz in past years. Look for the Bears to blitz fairly often in this game if they continue to be unable to generate sufficient pass rush with their defensive line.
Overcome defensive injuries
Defensive tackle Henry Melton, who was supposed to be one of Chicago’s top pass rushers, is out for the season with a torn ACL. All-Pro cornerback Charles Tillman, who was so good at limiting Detroit All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson last year, is struggling through knee and groin injuries that have rendered him fairly ineffective the past few weeks.
The Chicago Bears need some of their other defenders to help out their injured stars and get back to the high level of performance they’re used to.
Win the turnover battle
Relying on turnovers for defensive success is not a good strategy, but it is probably Chicago’s best bet here.
Led by Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and running back Reggie Bush, Detroit boasts a very good offense that is scoring 27.3 points per game (sixth in the NFL). But Chicago has found repeated success against Detroit in past years by forcing turnovers; they have won five of six against Detroit while forcing 17 turnovers in those five games.
Meanwhile, Chicago has turned the ball over six times in those five games, giving them an average of more than two fewer turnovers per game. A similarly positive turnover differential here would give the Chicago Bears an excellent chance of emerging with a key road win.
Both of these teams have played pretty well so far this year, as their 5-1 cumulative record indicates. When the matchup seems close, look for the healthier team and the home team. In this case, both of those distinctions go to Detroit. Yes, Detroit is without wide receiver Nate Burleson and defensive end Jason Jones, but neither player is as good as Henry Melton and Charles Tillman are.
Ford Field should be rocking, taking full advantage of the dome to make crowd noise a significant obstacle for the Bears. If Tillman were healthy, I would feel better about Chicago’s chances, but without him shutting down Calvin Johnson, I just don’t think the Chicago Bears defense can do enough to help them win the game. I think the Lions win a tough game here.
Final score: Detroit Lions 24, Chicago Bears 20
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That's not quite as obnoxious as blacks trying to make me feel guilty for slavery during a period my own ancestors were slaves in Europe, but it's in the same galaxy.
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@Doctor ϟ Professor ☧ only time will tell about that
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