October, 21, 2012
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com
CHICAGO BEARS (4-1) vs. DETROIT LIONS (2-3)7:30 Monday at Soldier Field on ESPN
|Matthew Stafford ranks among the top five in the NFL in passing yards per game (298.6), completions per game (27.2) and 300-yard passing games (3) and has thrown a franchise-record three game-winning touchdown passes. Stafford owns a 10-2 record when he finishes with a passer rating of 100 or better. But Jay Cutler is 24-0 under those circumstances, not to mention he's the league's hottest fourth-quarter passer (118.4 passer rating). Although he's started slow in recent outings, Cutler has thrown four touchdown passes and only 1 INT in his last two games.|| |
|Matt Forte says the week off helped him to regain full health in his tender ankle, and is coming off his first 100-yard game of the season. With the Bears looking to establish the run early, look for them to lean on Forte early along with Michael Bush, who averaged 6.5 yards per carry last week. If there's a weakness to Detroit's high-powered offense, running back might be the place to look with Mikel Leshoure and Kevin Smith averaging 3.6 and 4 yards, respectively, to lead a ground attack that ranks 19th.|
|Brandon Marshall is on pace for 1,587 receiving yards and 112 catches, and a legitimate argument could be made against Detroit's Calvin Johnson being the best receiver on the field. Johnson and Marshall are similar in their physical dominance over opponents, but Chicago's supporting cast of wideouts might be better than what the Lions have in Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Ryan Broyles. With rookie Alshon Jeffery out with a hand injury, the Bears need Devin Hester and Earl Bennett to make meaningful contributions opposite Marshall.|
|Undoubtedly, Chicago's offensive line continues to make progress. The group has allowed five sacks in the past three games, including only one in the team's last outing, and finally opened holes well enough to allow the rushing attack to churn out 214 yards. The Bears might hold the advantage in run blocking, but the Lions are an experienced group. Detroit possesses the continuity the Bears covet up front with the starters having started a combined 514 games in the regular season. There's a reason Stafford has suffered five fewer sacks (9) than Cutler.
|Reputation certainly gives the impression that Detroit should hold the advantage here, but production dictates that Chicago's group comprised of Henry Melton, Stephen Paea, Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije receives the nod. Chicago has posted 18 sacks, which is tied for fourth in the NFL, with 16 of those coming from the defensive line. The Lions field a dominant group headlined by Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril, Nick Fairley and Kyle Vanden Bosch. The group combined for three sacks and 10 tackles for lost yardage in the win over the Eagles.
|Justin Durant (37 tackles) is an underrated commodity for a Lions linebacking corps that also features talented players such as Stephen Tulloch (24 tackles, 3 pass breakups and a fumble recovery) and DeAndre Levy (31 tackles, one pass breakup, one fumble recovery). But they lack the experience and pedigree of Chicago's group led by potential Hall of Famers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, who has scored on interception returns in each of his past two games. Bears SLB Nick Roach doesn't receive as much recognition as Urlacher and Briggs, but he is an important cog because of the dirty work he's charged with performing.|
|Chicago's pass rush deserves some credit, but the secondary is equally responsible for the fact the Bears rank No. 3 in opponent third-down percentage (28.8 percent). The Bears lead the league in takeaways (17) and scrappy play from the defensive backs is one of the main reasons with Tim Jennings (league-high 4 INTs), Charles Tillman (INT returned for TD in each of last two week), Major Wright (3 INTs) and Chris Conte (1 INT). Detroit is ranked 16th against the pass, and a beat-up secondary could be a problem against the Bears. S Louis Delmas is perhaps the group's best player.|
|Lions K Jason Hanson has put together an impressive 21-year career, having hit 19 game-winning field goals, including nine in overtime. Detroit also features a pair of elite special teamers in John Wendling and Kassim Osood. Return man Stefan Logan has put up respectable numbers this season, but he's nowhere near the same level as Devin Hester, who said he expects to put together a strong performance against the Lions. Bears K Robbie Gould has connected on 12-of-16 attempts from distances of 50 yards or more and ranks as the third-most accurate kicker in NFL history.|
|Lovie Smith's record against the Lions is 11-5, but he's clearly established dominance over Jim Schwartz in head-to-head matchups (5-1 record). Smith's staff also features a pair of former head coaches in offensive coordinator Mike Tice and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Schwartz's staff is equally impressive with one of the league's best motivators in defensive coordinator Guenther Cunningham and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Smith and the Bears get the nod here by virtue of history against the opponent, not to mention the group's collective experience.|
|The Bears spoke plenty about the need to establish the running game against Detroit's dominant front four, and that's not just lip service. Chicago needs to alleviate pressure from the still-developing offensive line, by giving the group confidence with a quickly-established running game. If the Bears can find openings against Detroit's 12th-ranked rush defense, they'll be able to hit some big throws on the Lions' vulnerable secondary off playaction. Detroit will try a similar tactic, but its rushing attack will likely struggle against Chicago's No. 1-ranked run defense. That will likely force the Lions into a passing game, which could open the door for the Bears to feast on turnovers.|
|PREDICTION: Bears 31, Lions 20|