Chicago Bears: Drew Stanton

NFC North free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Chicago Bears

Key free agents: Tight end Kellen Davis, running back Matt Forte (franchise), cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Brandon Meriweather and receiver Roy Williams.

Where they stand: The Bears will have the most salary-cap space among NFC North teams, upwards of $30 million, and have plenty of potential uses for it. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs more targets in the downfield passing game, whether it's at the receiver or tight end position. And new general manager Phil Emery must start restocking a defense led by four players more than 30 years old: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman.

What to expect: It's widely believed the Bears will be in the running for free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But Jackson's price tag could be steep and no one knows if Emery will prove to be a big spender. It seems likely he will re-sign Davis, and Emery should also save some of his cap space to extend Forte's contract. Secondary receiver targets could include Marques Colston. Bears fans are hoping the team will pursue defensive end Mario Williams, but it's hard to imagine the Bears budgeting for Williams two years after breaking their bank on Peppers.

Detroit Lions

Key free agents: Defensive end Cliff Avril (franchise), left tackle Jeff Backus, safety Chris Harris, quarterback Shaun Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy (restricted), running back Maurice Morris, running back Kevin Smith, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.

Where they stand: The Lions are tight against the salary cap after franchising Avril and aren't likely to be big spenders on the free-agent market. They could relieve the situation by reaching long-term agreements with Avril and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, who has a $22 million cap figure for 2012. Tulloch made a big impact last season after signing a one-year deal, but so far the Lions' attention has turned elsewhere.

What to expect: The Lions' best-case scenario is to keep their 2011 core together without mortgaging their future relative to the salary cap. That would mean getting Tulloch re-signed to preserve the linebacker group they upgraded last season by signing him and veteran Justin Durant, moves that allowed Levy to play on the outside. Hill seems likely to re-sign as Matthew Stafford's backup, while Stanton might test the free-agent waters to see if he has a chance to do better than third on a team's depth chart.

Green Bay Packers

Key free agents: Cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells.

Where they stand: The Packers took care of a big challenge by signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract last month. They will let Flynn depart for a possible starting job elsewhere and it appears Grant will test the free-agent market. Discussions with Wells haven't led to an agreement, but the Packers often go to the final moments before reaching a deal. There are no obvious internal replacements for Wells, making his return a priority.

What to expect: The Packers will have some flexibility with the salary cap, but general manager Ted Thompson's aversion to veteran free agency is well known. It's been three years since he signed a veteran unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Packers have needs at defensive line, outside linebacker and possibly at center if Wells leaves. But let's put it this way: Thompson's strong preference is to find depth and future replacements in the draft, not on other teams' rosters.

Minnesota Vikings

Key free agents: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive lineman Fred Evans, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, linebacker E.J. Henderson, linebacker Erin Henderson, safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Where they stand: The Vikings seem poised for a major roster overhaul in their first offseason since Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager. Players like Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Camarillo and Johnson all seem poised to move on. There aren't many positions on the team that appear secure.

What to expect: If the Vikings don't plan to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall next month, the first clue will be if they pursue a free-agent left tackle. That seems unlikely. But they'll need to combine their draft with at least a few veteran free agents if they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. Cornerback could be a point of focus, where Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are among those available. Another could be receiver. The Vikings had major interest in Jackson two years ago.

Nuts & Bolts: Bears-Lions

December, 4, 2010

Keep Cutler clean: Solid protection along the offensive line played a major role in Cutler’s improved performance over the past four weeks. The unit can’t afford a letdown with the stakes seemingly increasing with every game, as the Bears try to secure a division crown and homefield advantage for the postseason. Rookie right tackle J’Marcus Webb needs to work this week to eliminate his penchant for mental lapses, and refine some technical kinks in his game. If the offensive line maintains the level of play it has produced over the past four weeks, Cutler should be in for a big day against Detroit’s struggling secondary.

Harass Drew Stanton: The Bears face their second mobile signal caller in two weeks. But Stanton isn’t as explosive or as experienced as Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. Look for Detroit to call a different game offensively on Sunday than it did when quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Matthew Stafford were starting. The Lions will look to get Stanton out of the pocket with bootlegs and plays that give the quarterback run-pass options (Stanton averages 4.5 yards per rush over his career with Detroit). So the Bears need to corral Stanton in the pocket, force him to make decisions, and go through his progressions. Stanton has shown a tendency to make mistakes. He threw three interceptions in his only start of 2009, and there’s a good chance the Bears could force a repeat performance of that outing with steady pressure from the front four.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
Icon SMIIf the Bears can slow playmaker Calvin Johnson, they may shut down the Lions' offense.
Take away Calvin Johnson: Johnson will be looking for redemption for the controversial play in the opener in which he caught what seemed to be a touchdown, only to have it taken away when he failed to complete what should have been the game-winning catch. It’s also a given that Stanton, given his inexperience, will look to feed the ball to the team’s most dynamic playmaker. So by taking away Johnson, the Bears eliminate most of the Lions’ offensive firepower. Covered primarily by Charles Tillman in the first matchup, Johnson caught just four passes for 45 yards.


Make the Bears throw: The Bears aren’t letting opponents take away the rushing attack completely. So by the Bears staying committed to run, they can keep opponents off balance defensively with play action. The only way to take away play action and force the Bears to become a passing team is to snuff out the run. Detroit held Matt Forte to just 50 yards on the ground in the opener, and the Bears ended up passing 34 times in a game that was decided by just five points. The Lions need a similar performance against Chicago’s rushing attack if they expect to keep this game close. Even if Detroit can get the Bears to rely heavily on the pass, it’s pointless if the Lions can’t pressure Cutler and hold up in the secondary.

Keep the offense off the field: The Bears’ Cover-2 scheme allows for minimal gains if a quarterback can stay disciplined enough to take what the defense allows. Quarterbacks typically get into trouble against the Bears when they take unnecessary risks or succumb to pressure from the front four. So if Stanton can avoid Chicago’s pressure long enough to make short completions and keep the chains moving, the Lions have a decent shot at keeping Cutler and the Bears’ explosive offense off the field. That would be a positive, considering the Bears are 1-2 this year when they’ve scored 17 points or fewer. Short slants and crossing routes to a big target such as Calvin Johnson -- who possesses superior run-after-catch ability -- aren't a bad thing.

Get off to fast start and avoid turnovers: With the roll Chicago is on, it would be natural for the Bears to get off to a slow start; especially after last week’s emotionally-taxing victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. So the Lions can best take advantage of any potential letdown by taking it to the Bears quickly. In fact, if Detroit takes possession first, a deep attempt on the first play from scrimmage to Johnson shouldn’t be out of the question. Avoiding turnovers could also help out the Lions tremendously. The Bears are 1-2 this season when they’ve finished a game with an equal turnover margin.

[+] EnlargeIsrael Idonije
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBears sack leader Israel Idonije could have a big game if the Lions doubleteam Julius Peppers too often.

Chicago’s sack leader, defensive end Israel Idonije should get plenty of one-on-one situations against right tackle Gosder Cherilus because of all the manpower the Lions are expected to devote to blocking Julius Peppers.

Cherilus missed practice Thursday because of a knee issue that Idonije may be able to exploit off the edge with speed rushes.


201: Total yards from scrimmage by Matt Forte in the season opener against the Lions, in which he caught seven passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns.

162: Games between the Bears and Lions, which ranks as the second-longest active running rivalry in the NFL. The Bears have won five straight over the Lions and four of five at Ford Field.

3: Career games in which Cutler has thrown four touchdown passes or more, which ties for second in franchise history with Billy Wade behind Sid Luckman, who has put together four such games.

156: Consecutive starts for Lions left tackle Jeff Backus, who will match up with Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.

Loss to Lions would be disaster

December, 30, 2009
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Let's face it: Losing to the Detroit Lions would be a disaster for the Chicago Bears. Any goodwill built up after Monday's surprise victory in Detroit would immediately be thrown out the window by falling to the wretched 2-13 Lions.

"We have to build on how we played last week," defensive tackle Anthony Adams said. "The thing about us is, we haven't been consistent. To win two games in a row is showing progress, and showing that we can be consistent. I think you need to have the same type of effort, if not better, this week."

The Bears beat Detroit 48-24 on Oct. 4, although Lions rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for nearly 300 yards. Stafford won't be an issue this time around -- he was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 20 -- and Detroit's back-up combination of Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton have a combined 11 interceptions to just one touchdown pass. Patrick Ramsey was signed last Saturday. Could he be any worse?