Man, it feels good to be getting ready for Bears football. The bye week is always such an awkward time. I usually enjoy the break as much as anyone, but there’s always something missing in the background. The Bears come off their bye 4-1, heading into a Week-7 matchup against the 2-3 division rival Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football.
This will be Chicago’s second division opponent this season, their first being their only loss thus far to the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field on Thursday Night Football. This week’s game, the Bears’ second Monday Football contest this season, gives both teams an additional day to prepare. The Bears should be ready for their opponent.
As always, division games are the most important a team will play throughout the year, and given the current competition in the NFC North, the Bears can’t afford to drop a divisional game at home, following their bye. This is a game that, ideally, they must win. And win I believe they will. Here’s how, and why, they get it done:
Let’s start with the Bears’ offense
The Bears understand they need to run the football. They need to get Matt Forte going early and often in order to minimize the pressure on Jay Cutler and open up opportunities in the passing game. Establishing the run will help the Bears develop their long-term passing attack through the season, while also controlling the pace of the game. But stopping Forte on first down is exactly what the Lions feel like they can do.
In three of the Lions’ five games, the defense has allowed less than 80 yards rushing, including 77 vs. St. Louis (9/9), 59 at Tennessee (9/23) and 71 at Philadelphia (10/14). The team ranks fourth in rushing first downs allowed (just 98) and third in passing first downs allowed (55). Detroit has allowed just one rushing touchdown this season, which is tied for second best in the NFL.
In addition to stopping the run, the Lions can get to the QB (12 sacks through five games) using a wide-9 alignment on each end, giving their DEs a pure rushing angle to attack the QB on passing downs. But the Bears—and every other team in the NFL—understand how to attack, and protect against, that front, putting pressure on the opposing linebackers.
They need to use Matt Forte early, yes, but potentially in the short passing game in order to quell the rush and convert on first down. If they can establish their attack and throw the Lions off guard, it will blow the offensive playbook wide open. Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Devin Hester should have opportunities to make a suspect Detroit secondary pay if they stay patient.
Switching sides to the Bears’ defense
Sure, Calvin Johnson is scary-good, and TE Brandon Pettigrew can create matchup issues for the Bears. But the last two seasons, it’s really been RB Jahvid Best who’s been the most trouble for the Bears in terms of scoring. Best has three TDs vs. Chicago through the previous two seasons, as many as Johnson and Pettigrew combined.
Best suffered two concussions in the first six weeks of 2011, and after going on IR in the middle of last season, he’s been on the PUP list all this year. On Monday, Lions’ general manager Martin Mayhew released a statement saying Best has not yet been cleared by the team to play.
Mayhew was less than optimistic that Best would be ready to go anytime soon—as in, against the Bears—saying, “Jahvid will continue to work with our medical and training staffs with the hope that he ultimately will be cleared to return to the playing field.”
But that doesn’t leave Rod Marinelli’s crew off the hook by any means. Pettigrew is currently tied for fourth in the NFL among tight ends in receptions with 26, while Calvin Johnson is currently second best in the League in receiving yards per game (111.6). Johnson also has six receptions of 25 yards or more on the year, tied for third best.
But it all starts up front for the Bears. The defensive line has to press the issue with Matt Stafford in front of their home crowd and force him into making quick decisions. Stafford, while immensely talented, has been far from consistent this season. If the Bears front-four can’t get consistent pressure, the linebackers and secondary will be severely tested.
How about some nuggets?
- The Bears’ 53 home victories against the Lions are the most against any individual NFL team.
- The Lions own a 4-1 advantage over the Bears on Monday night. However, this will be the first Monday Night Football game between the Bears and Lions played at Soldier Field. The Bears are 8-2 on MNF and have won six of their last seven at home against Detroit.
- Since Week-16 of 2009, Jay Cutler’s .719 win percentage is the fifth best among starting QBs with at least 10 starts.
- Lovie Smith is 5-3 following the bye week (2-1 at home, 3-2 on the road) with the Bears, including one previous win against Detroit on MNF. His team has gone on three- and five-game winning streaks post-bye in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
- Devin Hester has five career returns for touchdowns on Monday Night Football
- In the Red Zone, Detroit has held opponents to a touchdown percentage of 22.2 (2 TD, 9 possessions), which is atop the NFL. The Lions have allowed just 35 points from possessions in the Red Zone, which is also the lowest in the NFL.
- A lot has been made of the Lions’ “never say die” attitude (excuse me, I think I just vomited in my mouth a little), and their ability to come from behind in the fourth quarter. But the Bears are right there with them: overall, the Lions have scored 73 points (58%) in the fourth quarter, the second-most in the NFL. Ironically, the Bears are ranked third with 65 fourth quarter points (44%).
- Jay Cutler currently leads the NFL in fourth quarter passer rating (118.4). Matthew Stafford is ranked fourth in the NFL in fourth quarter passer rating (112.5).
- Going into last week, the Lions' defense had not forced a single interception. But, against a turnover-prone Philadelphia offense, they came up with three turnovers (one fumble recovery and two interceptions). Bears have excelled taking the ball away.
Here’s the way I see it: the Lions are a fraud. The reality is that they haven’t beaten a team with a current or final winning record since Week-14 of 2010 (the Eagles were 3-2 prior to Week-6 but now stand at 3-3), and they aren’t going to best the Bears in Soldier Field on Monday.
The Lions are riding high after a come-from-behind win against an Eagles defense that handed them a victory. The Bears, on the other hand, are playing some of their best ball of the season and have the benefit of home field, rest, preparation and—most importantly—talent.
Official prediction: Bears 34, Lions 24