Breaking down the Lions' defense, and keys to a Bears' victory

Breaking down the Lions' defense, and keys to a Bears' victory
Chicago Tribune photo

Lions’ Front-4

Detroit’s front-4 has been able to put heavy pressure on opposing offenses this season. The sack numbers (12) are down, but the Lions’ defensive front has been much better than the stats show. The mainstay of their front is the ability to consistently get in the back field and disrupt developing plays. Their tackle-for-loss numbers (25) show their ability to keep opponents, especially in the running game, behind the line of scrimmage.

The line starts with the two talented, experienced defensive ends in Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch. Both players have the ability to be effective pass rushers, but where they've been successful this year is keeping plays inside and not letting runners get to the edge.  

Avril and Vanden Bosch each got off to slow starts but have started to consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The play of the linebackers has also help legitimize the Lions’ run defense; guys like Deandre Levy and Justin Durant have been a major help in stopping the run.

Detroit also has a star at nose tackle in Ndamukong Suh, who has had a serviceable year so far. Suh's athleticism, quickness and sheer power/size will cause problems for any team inside. Suh has accounted for only 2.5 sacks so far and has taken a step back from his ferocious rookie season (10.0 sacks), but he's still more than capable of being a force inside.

The Lions also have second-year nose tackle Nick Fairley, who had arguably his best game as a Lion last Sunday.

Lions’ Secondary

The Lions’ secondary is the weak point of this defense. They lost their number one cornerback in Eric Wright to Tampa Bay and have been reeling ever since. In their last two outings, both Michael Vick and Jake Locker have managed to go over the 300-yard mark passing. Sam Bradford and Alex Smith, who have had average seasons at best, have also found success through the air against the Lions.

Detroit’s number one cornerback is Chris Houston, now in his third year with the team. Houston has the abilities to be a solid defensive back but has been picked on by opposing quarterbacks. His cover last week was DeSean Jackson, who beat him down field for long passing plays, and this has happened consistently throughout the year.

On the other side, Bill Bentley and Jacob Lacey split reps and have been absolutely abused in some match ups this year. Jeremy Maclin had 130 yards receiving, including a 70-yard touchdown pass in last week's game.

The play from the Lions’ safety position has been very weak as well. The lack of overall production from this unit has thrown up warning flags, as this team has found difficulties tackling and covering. The starters right now are Erik Colman and Louis Delmas who have been inconsistent to say the least. The Titans, specifically, were able to rattle off seven passing plays of 15+ yards including 71- and 64-yard passing touchdowns. The Titans had virtually no running game, which had the Lions dropping more into coverage and still failing to hinder the passing attack.

What the Bears need to do?

Take advantage. The Bears finally have a receiver in Brandon Marshall who is a clear matchup problem for the smaller Lions’ defensive backs. The Detroit secondary has also struggled against more speedy receivers, so look for the Bears to try and get Devin Hester involved down the field as he's done the last two weeks.

The Bears have a number of deep threats and a quarterback with an arm capable of making those connections happen. The offense needs to execute and set up those long passing plays with the running game.

The best way to keep your quarterback upright is by running the ball. The Lions have been good upfront vs. the run, but the Bears need to establish a running game regardless. A heavy dose of Matt Forte and Michael Bush should have a general effect on the passing game and can hopefully keep Cutler clean for a majority of the game.

The Bears will have to run the ball effectively between the tackles, specifically through the A-gap. The Lions have a knack for not allowing players to break it outside (watch last week vs. Philadelphia) and have suspect tackling in the middle of the field.

The offensive line should struggle at points against this front, but with the help of some max protect, and twin tight-ends sets, the Bears should have success keeping Cutler clean. Matt Spaeth has played a significant role, along with Kyle Adams, in pass protection through the last two weeks. If those two can be effective, and the Bears avoid false starts (I'm looking at you, Carimi), they have a legitimate chance to have a favorable outcome in this game.

Lastly, unrelated to the offensive side of the ball, is special teams. The Vikings showed us that the Lions can be beat on sound defense and special teams. Luckily for Chicago, Devin Hester shows up big in primetime and has been known to beat the Lions. The absolute best thing he could do for the Bears offense is shorten the field.

The Bears have lived off short fields in the past, and it's been a key part of their success. The Lions are vulnerable to being beat in this area, and the Bears have the right personal to make that happen.

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