The Chicago Bears travel to the Motor City to face the Detroit Lions in an NFC North showdown. Here’s an in-depth look at key matchups, Lions’ personnel, and my score prediction for the game:
The Lions’ base defense is a 4-3, and while the focal point on that defense is the defensive line, the secondary — from a talent standpoint — is much improved from last season. Chris Houston is the team’s No. 1 CB, and he had a pretty solid season last year. Houston’s not a physical CB, but he’s a quick, fast and instinctive corner who has a knack for making plays on the football.
He will likely shadow Brandon Marshall around the field all afternoon. The Lions have a nice tandem at safety with Louis Delmas and Glover Quin. Both players are disciplined safeties capable of coming down in the box to stop the run and shutting down deep passing plays. The matchups to keep an eye on, however, are at the complimentary spots at WR and CB for both teams, respectively …
Alshon Jeffery vs. Rashean Mathis
These two battled last year when Mathis was still a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, with the young rookie getting the best of the old veteran. There’s optimism that Jeffery will have the advantage again. In year two he is a much more polished WR, displaying a better understanding of the route tree and reading the defense.
The Bears are still waiting on that big game from Jeffery, and last week looked like an indication that the big game will come very soon. It could happen Sunday, as coverage could move toward Marshall’s side of the field, leaving room for Jeffery and other receivers to make big plays.
If the Bears can control the line of scrimmage in this game, they will not only win but win convincingly. The Lions’ d-line has always been the strength of their defense, and this year is no different. Gone are veterans Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, and in are former Bears veteran DE Israel Idonije, pass rush specialist Willie Young, and rookie Ezekiel Ansah.
These are not particularly household names, but OTs Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills will have their hands full as each rusher brings something different to the table. Here are the two key matchups in the trenches that fans will need to keep an eye on:
Kyle Long vs. Ndamukong Suh
Geno Atkins was considered the biggest test for Bears’ first-round rookie Kyle Long, but in Week-1, Atkins lined up across from Matt Slauson most of the game. This Sunday we will see Suh lined up over him for most of the game. So through three weeks, Long has lived up to the expectations placed on him by G.M. Phil Emery.
This Sunday is exactly why the Bears drafted a big, physical, athletic OG with the No. 20 overall pick — matchups against players (particularly division opponents) like Suh. We should find out even more about Long as fans zero in on this matchup.
Matt Slauson vs. Nick Fairley
Slauson has also been impressive; through three weeks, he has been the unit’s best pass protector. Sunday he will go up against Nick Fairley, a pretty tough matchup even for a veteran like Slauson. Fairley has a great combination of strength and quickness, with an array of moves to disrupt offensive backfields.
He’s a versatile player who can alternate from the NT to the under tackle positions in Detroit’s 4-3 defense. The combination of Suh and Fairley will be both a physically and mentally demanding matchup for the interior line.
The linebackers for the Lions are led by middle LB Stephen Tulloch who is one of the more underrated LBs in the league. After him it is a drop off, as both outside LBs, Andre Levy and Rocky McIntosh, can be exposed both on the ground and through the air.
This could be an opportunity for head coach Marc Trestman to attack the Lions in the middle of the field in their two TE sets with Martellus Bennett and Dante Rosario. If the lineman and TEs can effectively hit blocks in the second level, there will be opportunities for RB Matt Forte to break big plays in both the run game and screen game.
Lion’s offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s offense is an explosive one led by their big arm QB Matthew Stafford. Stafford is still a work-in-progress; despite throwing for 5,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, his mechanics can be sloppy at times. At the same time he can get away with it because, like Jay Cutler, he has a very strong arm. When Stafford drops back to pass, here are two key matchups to keep an eye on:
Charles “Peanut” Tillman/Safeties vs. Calvin “Megatron” Johnson
If there’s one CB in the league who has been a thorn in Calvin Johnson side, it is Bears’ CB Charles Tillman. Tillman has had success coming up and being aggressive with Johnson and throwing the timing off on his routes. Tillman has relied on proper technique and aggressiveness to win at the line of scrimmage against Johnson, but the discipline and instincts of the safeties to get over in their deep halves have also been key to neutralizing Johnson from making the big play on them.
The Bears’ safeties this season so far have given up a big play in each game. There’s little room for error here when you think about the combination of Stafford’s arm and Johnson’s freakish athletic ability.
Chicago Bears’ LBs vs. Reggie Bush
As Johnson sucks away the coverage, specifically the CBs and safeties, that leaves Stafford with a favorable matchup against the Bears’ LBs with RB Reggie Bush. Linehan has used Bush’s versatility to his advantage; lining him up in the slot against LBs and getting him in space whether it’s a screen pass, in the flat, a wheel route, or short hitch route in the middle of the field.
The Bears’ LBs can’t afford to take wrong angles against Bush, because even one bad angle, missed assignment, or just a simple bad tackle can lead to a big play or six points on the scoreboard.
Outside of Johnson and Bush, the weapons for Stafford are bare. TE Brandon Pettigrew has the talent to be a solid starting TE, but inconsistency and injuries have stalled that development. Rookie FB/TE Joseph Fauria is intriguing, but he’s one dimensional. Slot WR Ryan Broyles is still getting adjusted to their offense, as he’s coming off a torn ACL from last season. Nate Burelenson is out for the game after injuring his forearm in a car accident, and Kris Durham has good size, but that’s really all he has going for him.
Although the weapons outside Johnson and Bush haven’t been particularly stellar, the pass protection from the offensive line has been a strength. It has allowed the receivers to have a couple more seconds to get open. Here is a key matchup at the line of scrimmage to watch:
Corey Wootten and Shea McClellin vs. Corey Hillard
For all the talk about what is wrong with Julius Peppers, the attention has been shifted away from the other side of the line at Left DE. Both Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin have been underperforming the first three weeks of the season. All we heard throughout the offseason was how Wootton was primed for a breakout season; how he looked like a monster in practice and damn-near unstoppable.
We have seen no resemblance of that guy so far.
McClellin has put on eight pounds of strength, but he still looks like the same player from his rookie season; a one dimensional DE with very few moves in his arsenal to get to the QB. He still looks raw as a DE as he routinely gets locked up by linemen because he’s not a good hands fighter.
The weakest link on that offensive line for the Lions is at RT with veteran Corey Hillard. With the loss of Henry Melton for the season, everyone has to pick up more slack, and it would be beneficial to the defense if Wootton and McClellin start playing up to their potential.
Even though the Bears are better from a talent and football standpoint, division games are always tough. This one can go either way.
Score Prediction: Lions 20, Bears 17
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