Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears – Week 10 Preview

Week 10 – Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears

Part 10 of a 17 part series analyzing each week of the Bears’ season

 

The Chicago Bears return home for their first divisional rematch of the season against the Detroit Lions. Both teams are 5-3 and looking to take the division lead. Coming off of a big win in Green Bay, the Bears are looking to build off their momentum and make a run to the playoffs. This will be Jay Cutler’s first game back from injury, and it will be against a team that he struggled mightily against.

The Lions are fresh off their bye week and heading to Chicago to make a strong start to the second half of their season. Their schedule lightens up, on paper, from here, so a win here could jump-start a playoff run. They were able to come away with a win in the teams’ first battle, and a series sweep would do a lot for both their confidence and their playoff hopes.

 

Key Matchups

Lions RB Reggie Bush versus Bears LBs James Anderson, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene

In the first game between these two teams, the Bears had no answers for Reggie Bush. He had 139 rushing yards on only 18 carries for a massive 7.7 yards per carry. He had six rushes for 10 or more yards, and that should be evidence enough of a complete defensive breakdown. It made the play action deadly for the Lions, and if the Bears want slow-down the Lions’ offense, they have to start with Bush.

Generally speaking, it will be up to the Bears’ linebackers to stop him. Their defensive line has rarely showed the push to stop the runningback in the backfield, so it is up to the linebackers to fill in the gaps and make the tackle. Rookie Khaseem Greene made his first career start last week against the Green Bay Packers for the injured Lance Briggs, and he played fairly well given his inexperience. He and fellow rookie Jon Bostic made their share of mistakes, but they are coming along nicely as they develop. However, neither played against Bush the first time, and they will need to be on top their games to contain Bush.

Bush’s first game against the Bears was one of his best games this season, and he is going to be looking to have another big one. Other teams have found ways to neutralize him, and it is going to be up to the Bears and their linebackers to make the necessary adjustments to keep Bush under control. If they don’t, they are going to struggle once again, and it will be difficult to stop the Lions’ offense.

 

Lions Linebackers and Safeties versus Bears TE Martellus Bennett

The Lions had some trouble stopping Martellus Bennett in these teams’ first matchup. They had eight catches for 90 yards, moving the chains and keeping drives alive. He even left the game momentarily with an injury, but he was quickly back out there making plays. It was one of his best games of the season, and he will definitely be motivated to have another big game.

For the most part, the Lions’ linebackers and safeties will be the ones defending Bennett. They have been mediocre against tight ends this season, allowing Bennett, Jordan Cameron, Jermaine Gresham, Jordan Reed, and Logan Paulsen to all gain 50 or more receiving yards, but none of them reached the endzone. If the Lions want to come away with another win, they need a find a way to keep Bennett under wraps.

 

Lions WR Calvin Johnson versus Bears CB Charles Tillman

Arguably the most talked about matchup in every Lions-Bears game, Calvin Johnson versus Charles Tillman is one of the most exciting one-on-one battles in the NFL today. These players are both among the best in the league at their position, when healthy, and their combined play on the field is masterful. Both players look forward to their games every season and it really is a joy to watch.

In their first matchup, Johnson had four catches for 44 yards and a touchdown. Last year’s week 17 matchup yielded him five catches for 72 yards, and their first matchup of 2012 garnered him only three catches and 34 yards. In their three games since the start of 2012, Johnson has been targeted 35 times and caught 12 of those, or about 34-percent. While that is not entirely Tillman’s doing, it does positively reflect his performances.

In recent games, Tillman seems to be winning the matchup, but when a receiver is as good as Johnson, each game is a new opportunity to dominate. Johnson is just entering his prime, while Tillman is just leaving his. Soon enough Johnson will be the far superior player as Tillman enters his mid-30s, but until then, it will continue to be a premier battle to watch, and its outcome will continue to have a big influence on their teams’ games.

 

Biggest Questions

Can the Bears keep Ndamukong Suh and the Lions’ defensive line under control?

Arguably the strongest position group on the Lions is their defensive line. They have invested heavily in it, and their young talent will keep them strong for years to come. They account for 11 of the Lions’ 13 team sacks, and two of those came in their game against the Bears. In that game, they had five hits on the quarterback and a forced fumble to go with their sacks. They started off slow, but once the Bears were losing in the second quarter, the line was able to get things going, knowing that the Bears had to throw to score quickly to get back into the game.

Up until about the middle of the second quarter, the Bears’ offensive line had a pretty good command of the Lions’ defensive line. Cutler had time to throw, and Matt Forte was breaking off big runs. However, after Cutler’s second interception, things started to turn for the worse as the offense became more predictable, needing to pass to score quickly. With the defensive line getting more pressure, it made the Bears’ offense worse, and it was a big reason they were not able to make a comeback.

Keeping Suh and company under control is going to be crucial for the Bears. With Cutler coming off of a torn groin, his mobility will be limited and he is not going to be able to roll out of the pocket the way he was able to before the injury. The offensive line needs to give him a clean pocket so he can run the offense and avoid re-aggravating the injury. In addition, opening holes for Forte in the run game will in turn make it easier for Cutler as the Lions would be forced to stack the box to stop Forte, opening up the passing lanes and making the play-action more effective. Conversely, if the Lions’ defensive line can dominate, it would almost ensure a Lions victory.

 

How will Jay Cutler perform in his first game back?

On Thursday, November 7th, Cutler was cleared to play, 18 days after tearing a muscle in his groin. The initial prognosis predicted a minimum of four weeks for his recovery, but as amateur doctor Brandon Marshall foretold, he returned much sooner than that, missing only one game. Even though real doctors have given their consent, Cutler is almost certainly 100-percent healthy. Just how healthy he actually is, we will never know. He feels good enough to play, but he is not going to be as limber and elusive as he has been, and it will reflect in his play.

In Cutler’s career, he has only had two games that were his first game back from an injury: week six of 2010 against the Seattle Seahawks and week 11 of 2012 against the Minnesota Vikings. Against the Seahawks, Cutler was 17 of 39, only 44-percent completions, for 290 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He was coming off a concussion, and the Bears would end up losing that game by three after a missed Robbie Gould field goal. He was also coming off a concussion for the game against the Vikings, and he went 23 for 31 (74-percent) for 188 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

He has not been outstanding in his first games back, but he has not been horrible either. It is fair to expect the same in this game. The Lions’ pass defense has struggled at times this season, and despite his interceptions, Cutler had a productive day. The key for him in this game is the offensive line. If they can keep him protected, he won’t have to put stress on his injured groin to avoid sacks. Josh McCown was very well protected last week, and the Bears need their line to play like that once again.

 

Can the Bears’ defensive line build off of their strong performance in Green Bay?

The Bears’ defensive line also played well against the Green Bay Packers. It was a much-needed, bounce-back game for the group that has battled injuries and futility this season. They had four quarterback hits to go with five sacks, including one that fractured Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone. Julius Peppers even came away an interception and two pass deflections. Young Shea McClellin had a breakout game too, earning three of the teams’ five sacks. The pressure they generated was crucial to the Bears’ success.

Where the line still needs to improve is in stopping the run. In the Bears last three games, they have allowed Eddie Lacy, Alfred Morris, and Brandon Jacobs a combined 5.57 yards per carry. They cannot afford to allow Reggie Bush another 7.7 yards per carry, as previously mentioned. Keeping the pass-rush going is a good start, but maintaining their confidence and stepping up against the run will be the most important task for them.

 

Team Comparison

Offense

With Jay Cutler coming off of injury and Matthew Stafford coming off a bye that followed a 488-yard game, it seems like Lions have the better quarterback situation in this game. The Forte-Bush comparison at runningback is a difficult one because both are similar players having excellent seasons. Forte has been the better overall rusher, but Bush is out-receiving him. However, Forte has more overall yards and touchdowns, and his overall importance in the Bears’ offense gives him the nod.

At wide receiver, Calvin Johnson has had an excellent season with over 800 yards in only seven games, but the Lions lack a second receiver who can make plays opposite him. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, though, are both having strong seasons, each with over 600 yards. The Lions’ next leading receiver is actually Bush, but the next leading wide receiver is young Kris Durham, who has only just over 300 yards. The combination of Marshall and Jeffery has been the more unstoppable receiving assembly.

The tight end position yields another difficult comparison, due to the Lions’ vast inconsistency at the spot. Rookie Joseph Fauria has five touchdowns on the season, but only on eight catches for only 81 yards. Starter Brandon Pettigrew has been mediocre, and backup Tony Scheffler has been able to do very little in limited playing time. Martellus Bennett has had inconsistencies for the Bears as well. Some games he has gone for 50-plus yards with touchdowns, and in others he has been held to 10 or fewer yards. Still, he has more yards than Pettigrew, Scheffler, and Fauria combined.

Arguably the most important unit in this game will be the two offensive lines. Keeping their respective quarterbacks protected is gravely important and will directly impact the outcome of the game. Both Cutler and Stafford have been sacked 10 times this season, although Cutler has one less game under his belt. Not including sacks, the Bears have allowed 36 hits to the quarterback, 31 on Cutler, while the Lions have allowed 37 hits on Stafford. Overall, these two offensive lines have been almost even.

 

Defense

The defensive lines are the next most important positions in this game for the same reason as the offensive lines: getting to the quarterback and runningback. The Lions’ line boasts big names like Suh, Ezekiel Ansah, and Nick Fairley all of whom are age 26 or younger. They have been a very strong group all season, while the Bears’ defensive line had struggled up to their last game. The Lions’ dominant youth has definitely been the better group this season.

Injuries at linebacker have forced the Bears into a youth movement, and they are now starting two rookies in Bostic and Greene. Next to them, veteran James Anderson has played very well. The Lions’ three veterans have also been formidable as well, and the inexperience of the Bears’ corps makes this a difficult comparison. However, DeAndre Levy’s strong season, among other things, give the Lions the better group.

The Lions have had some issues at the cornerback position, benching rookie Darius Slay week two in favor of Rashean Mathis. As a group, they have only had one interception, and they have allowed big games to their opponent’s top receivers. The Bears on the other hand have six interceptions between Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, and two of them have gone for touchdowns. They have done a much better job defending opposing receivers, and the Pro Bowl duo gives the Bears the better corners.

The safety position has been much the opposite. The Bears have had major issues with Major Wright and Chris Conte. Neither has been benched, but fans and experts alike agree that a change in personnel at the position is necessary. Their lapses in coverage and poor open-field tackling have really hurt the Bears’ defense. They have been able to come away with three interceptions and three forced fumbles though. The Lions’ safeties have been good but not great, but that’s a heck of a lot better than what the Bears have had lately.

 

Special Teams

In the kicking game, Gould has only missed one field goal for the Bears, while David Akers has connected on 80-percent of his shots. Punting is a different story. Lions’ punter Sam Martin is near the top of the league, averaging 48.5 yards per punt while Bears’ punter Adam Podlesh is near the bottom of the league at only 43.4. Returning both punts and kickoffs, Micheal Spurlock has been decent for the Lions, but he has not performed at the level of the revitalized Devin Hester, who has found a way to make big plays once again. Overall, the Bears have the slightly better special teams unit.

 

Conclusions

In spite of Cutler’s rough performance in the first game these two teams played against each other, it was a rather close contest. These two teams are very evenly matched, making it always a fun game to watch. These teams know each other very well, and neither team can surprise the other. Coming off of a bye, the Lions have had a lot of time to prepare for the Marc Trestman Bears, and the game will come down to whichever team can make the necessary adjustments from their previous game.

The one player that has to make the biggest adjustments is Cutler, who made some very poor decisions in the first game. Coming off of an injury is not going to make it any easier on him, but the Bears are really hoping he was able to learn from his past mistakes. Defensively, the Lions will be looking to capitalize on the same mistakes Cutler has made in the past. They will be looking for his shortcomings and rushed-decisions, and they will be ready for it.

For numerous reasons, Cutler is the biggest key to this game. Both teams have their flaws in various places, but it is everything surrounding Cutler that makes his performance so crucial. If he plays well, the Bears will have a pretty good shot at winning, but if he struggles again, the outcome will be the same as their first game. Once again, the game rests upon Cutler’s shoulders.

 

 

Game Prediction: Detroit Lions 31 – Chicago Bears 34