Chicago Bears: Detroit Lions
When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Soldier Field, Chicago TV: Fox
The Chicago Bears' brass spewed plenty of tough talk after Lovie Smith’s firing about plans to close the gap on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.
But while Chicago was talking grand plans, the rest of the division was actually executing them, which is how we’ve come into Sunday’s matchup at Soldier Field with the last-place Bears hosting the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions.
ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Lions reporter Michael Rothstein break down the matchup:
Wright: Looking at all the playoff scenarios, it’s clear all the Lions need to worry about is winning Sunday against the Bears. That has to be a refreshing feeling considering all this franchise has been through. What is the mood in the locker room, how confident is this team headed into such a crucial stretch, and do you feel the Lions are catching fire at just the right time?
Rothstein: That's all the Lions have been talking about, Michael. You ask a playoff question, you’re pretty much getting an answer about focusing on Chicago or beating Chicago. Personally, I was hoping there would be a Lions player this week who would answer every question with just the word "Chicago." That could have been entertaining. It all starts with coach Jim Caldwell, though. He won’t talk about the playoffs with anybody, not even his family. Considering how much the Lions have really bought into all of his motivational messages this season, it isn’t surprising they have continued doing that. As far as catching fire, Detroit’s defense has been consistent all season. The offense seems to vary depending on the opponent. Facing the Bears could be a good thing for the Lions since Chicago’s defense is one of the worst in the league.
The last time Detroit faced Chicago, the Bears seemed to be in a bit of a downward spiral. How has it gotten worse over the past four weeks?
Wright: Oh, Mike, let me count the ways. Instead of this being a "downward spiral," it’s now just a cliff with essentially everyone -- from team president Ted Phillips to the equipment staff -- trying desperately to prevent the inevitable tumble off the edge. Two nationally televised embarrassments in a row at Soldier Field in losses to Dallas and New Orleans. Do you realize nearly 11,000 fans didn’t show up for the club’s dismal showing against the Saints? Mike, you know it’s bad when you have a nationally televised game on tap, yet all the coverage throughout the week focuses on offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer’s tearful admission that he was the anonymous source for a report by the NFL Network, and the ensuing fallout from that. Right now, do you think the media in Chicago is talking about Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson or Ndamukong Suh? Nope. All the questions and speculation going into this game concern the futures of general manager Phil Emery, the coaching staff and whether ownership can stomach enough of this futility to resist cleaning house before the conclusion of the regular season. Mike, it’s bad. Very bad. It’s worse than anything I’ve ever covered, and the feeling I get is this team has thrown in the towel and is simply anticipating what appears to be the inevitable. I don't think news this week of the team naming quarterback Jimmy Clausen the starter over Jay Cutler eases the drama.
When the Lions first hired Caldwell, there was skepticism about his abilities as a head coach. There is no doubting Caldwell now, in my opinion. How different is the players' belief in Caldwell as this team’s leader compared to how they felt with Jim Schwartz?
Rothstein: I will readily admit I was one of Caldwell's biggest doubters, even at his opening news conference when I asked him about having a losing record in college and being out in Indy after three seasons. But he has really been the perfect coach for this team. His calmness has been the biggest factor in why Detroit has been able to continually come from behind this season and why Detroit is 10-4 with two games to go. The players, as mentioned, really buy into everything he’s saying and also appreciate his coaching style and that of his defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin. Austin often implements in-game adjustments from his players based on what they are seeing on the field, and it’s worked. Last week is a good example, as Minnesota scored 14 points early and didn’t score again the rest of the game. That has been huge for the Lions.
The Bears essentially abandoned the run against Detroit on Thanksgiving, and there are other games this season where they have done that, too. Does Chicago try to run on Detroit a second time, or do you expect more of the same Sunday?
Wright: The last time these teams met, Chicago knew running the ball against the Lions would prove to be an exercise in futility. So the Bears tried to attack Detroit the same way the Patriots did with the short passing attack. They figured short passes to Matt Forte would be an extension of the rushing attack. The game plan seemed to work at first, before Detroit turned a 14-3 deficit into a 24-14 lead at intermission on the strength of a trio of touchdowns on three consecutive possessions. Forte finished with five attempts -- which tied a career low -- for 6 yards. If the Bears attack similarly in this contest, you can count on the Detroit Lions engineering a blowout. As good as Detroit’s run defense is, the Bears would render play-action totally ineffective if they abandon the run. So Chicago likely will start off the game trying to run the ball. But as you predicted, the Bears will abandon the rushing attack at some point. It’s just a matter of time in this game.
Mike, you cover a team with so many interesting storylines. What is the latest with the right tackle situation? Can you give me the lowdown on undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas, since he might be the next man up at that position with LaAdrian Waddle suffering a knee injury against Minnesota?
Rothstein: I don’t quite have the storylines you have, Michael. Caldwell essentially ruled Waddle out of Sunday’s game against Chicago, and Lucas is going to be the guy. He has had some struggles this season, but Lucas considers his best game of the season the only other one he started -- against the Bears on Thanksgiving. He was responsible for no quarterback sacks and no quarterback hurries in that game. Lucas might have been an undrafted free agent, but his size and foot speed make him a player with a lot of potential in the future. There is a reason Detroit coveted him in the UDFA market. It will be interesting to see him go up against Willie Young on Sunday, because Young is having his own breakout season and could really take advantage of Lucas if he isn’t careful. It could be one of the most hidden matchups to watch if Chicago has a chance at an upset.
Typically, it’s been the Lions in the role of spoiler throughout the recent history of this rivalry. Yet that is what the Bears are playing for this week. Is that a big motivation for them, or are the other issues taking over?
Wright: Self-preservation takes precedence over playing the spoiler role in this outing, my man. By and large, a good portion of the coaching staff believes it is on the way out. In fact, multiple coaches on that staff have told me as much. But they have also said it’s important for them to go out and conduct themselves as professionals, because when it’s all said and done, most if not all will be seeking employment elsewhere once ownership finally makes the decision to clean house. The Bears started the season losing three in a row at Soldier Field, and it appears this team is destined to end the season the same way. So I’m sure the Bears want to finish out with a victory in their last game of the season at Soldier Field. But honestly, I think spoiling Detroit’s season is the furthest thing from this team’s thinking at this point.
Chicago’s list of inactives includes cornerback Terrance Mitchell, linebacker Darryl Sharpton, linebacker Lance Briggs, guard Eben Britton, defensive end Trevor Scott, receiver Chris Williams and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff. The club held out Ratliff all week because of a knee injury suffered last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Briggs left that same game with a groin injury.
Bears general manager Phil Emery said Thursday on the WBBM pre-game show that Briggs will be "out for an extended period of time."
Detroit’s inactive list includes quarterback Kellen Moore, running back Reggie Bush, offensive tackle Riley Reiff, guard Larry Warford, defensive end Larry Webster, receiver Ryan Broyles and defensive end Nick Fairley.
Bush missed the past three games with an ankle injury, and said he didn’t participate in the team’s loss to the New England Patriots last week because team doctors didn’t feel the running back was ready to take a full hit on the injured ankle. Bush said Tuesday that he expected to play.
Reiff, meanwhile, injured his ankle on the first play of Detroit’s loss to the Patriots. But he practiced in a limited capacity on Wednesday. The full extent of Reiff's injury is not yet known.
Are the Detroit Lions thinking of moving up in the draft? If not, why did they host Jadeveon Clowney on a recent visit? But what about the possibility of moving up to take Sammy Watkins to pair him up with Calvin Johnson as a dynamic receiving tandem?
That’s one of the questions our NFC North reporters -- Rob Demovsky with the Green Bay Packers, Ben Goessling on the Minnesota Vikings, Michael C. Wright on the Chicago Bears and Kevin Seifert filling in on the Lions -- will tackle in this installment of 4 Downs.
With all of the offseason movement in the NFC North, which move will have the biggest impact? Will Julius Peppers have a bigger impact with the Packers or will Jared Allen make a bigger splash with the Bears?
Will the Bears’ defense, buoyed by offseason acquisitions, enjoy the kind of resurgence in 2014 that their offense did in 2013?
Now that Adrian Peterson has reached 29 years old, will his production decrease, or will Norv Turner’s offense invigorate him?
Find out what our reporters are thinking.
Fact or fiction: The best draft move the Lions could make is moving up for Sammy Watkins.
Rob Demovsky: Fact. There's something to be said for making your strength even stronger. Clearly, with Calvin Johnson, the Lions' passing game is their strength -- they were third in the league in passing yards per game last season -- so why not make it even more difficult to stop? The addition of Watkins would give Matthew Stafford another big-play option.
Kevin Seifert: Fiction. Adding Watkins to a group that includes Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate would be one of the top power moves in recent memory. And, yes, the best way to build a team is to draft the best players and fill in positional gaps via free agency. But mortgaging the next two drafts seems like a steep price for a wide receiver on a team that has already committed the NFL's third-most salary-cap space ($20.3 million) at the position. The Lions' best move would to be clearheaded and take the best player remaining at No. 10.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. By now, the Lions should've already learned their lesson about investing too heavily in receivers. Besides that, Detroit needs help on defense if it wants to win now. The club has several defensive tackles set to become free agents after the 2014 season, it needs a safety and a cornerback, and it could stand to use some help at linebacker, too. The Lions already have several weapons on offense in Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, in addition to free-agent acquisition Golden Tate. They can't neglect a defense that seems to always lack depth once injuries hit. This is also one of the deepest drafts in recent years for receivers, meaning the Lions could address defense first, then come back and add another target for Stafford in a later round. That would be the best course of action for Detroit. But the Lions haven't always done what's best (even though things seem to be improving with Martin Mayhew on board).
@mikecwright False. Megatron&Tate are a good one two punch & corner and safety are bigger needs.WR is deep; the opportunity cost is too high- Ragan (@DupesSA) April 21, 2014
Fact or fiction: Julius Peppers will make a greater impact on the Packers' defense than Jared Allen will make on the Bears' D.
Demovsky: Fact. The Packers didn't have a single defensive lineman record as many sacks as Peppers did for the Bears last year, when he had seven. Even if he's only able to replicate that, it'll be an upgrade for the Packers' defense, which badly needs another pass-rusher to complement Clay Matthews, who faces near-constant double teams.
Seifert: Fiction. Call me boring, but I don't foresee one having a dramatically different impact than the other. Both will provide something their teams didn't have last season. The Packers will get a player athletic and versatile enough to spur defensive coordinator Dom Capers' creativity and legitimately draw attention away from linebacker Clay Matthews. Allen offers a classic outside pass rush that Peppers failed to provide the Bears last season.
Wright: Fiction. The Bears played it very diplomatically publicly while ushering Peppers out of the door, but even if his base salary for 2014 wasn't so astronomical, the club still didn't want him back. That's because some within the organization felt Peppers gave the Bears just five to six solid snaps per game in 2013. That sentiment falls right in line with Peppers' longstanding reputation as a player who doesn't go all-out consistently. So even if Allen's impact with the Bears in 2014 is minimal, I'd venture to guess it would be more than what the Packers will get from Peppers. That's not to say Peppers has lost it. He hasn't. He can still play at a high level when motivated. And he'll definitely be motivated in Green Bay. At the same time, Allen has never been accused of taking plays off, and over several years has earned a reputation as a high-motor player. That's exactly what the Bears need. Besides that, Peppers will be playing in a scheme totally different than anything he's ever done in the NFL, while Allen moves to a scheme similar to what he did in Minnesota. Everything considered, Allen has the best chance to be the more impactful player.
@RobDemovsky true, because the bears will play Allen on every down and wear him out. Making him less effective.- kay oh (@shredmon) April 21, 2014
Fact or fiction: Chicago will achieve a turnaround on defense similar to what the team experienced on offense in 2013.
Demovsky: Fiction. Unless your definition of turnaround is a slight improvement, don't expect this defense to jump into the top 10 after ranking 30th last season. The Bears have added some nice pieces, especially on the defensive line with Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, but this defense was downright bad in 2013. A major turnaround could take several years.
Seifert: Fiction: Some important team-building remains, most notably through the draft. But I'm not convinced the Bears have done enough yet to expect such a dramatic turnaround. (Remember, the Bears' offense ranked second in scoring in 2013 after finishing No. 16 in 2012.) Free agency has promised a different lineup, but will it be better? As many as six projected starters will be at least 30 years old. That's not a profile for massive turnaround.
Wright: Fiction. The Bears will definitely turn things around, but I don't see the improvement being near as dramatic as what the club did in 2013 on offense. And that's OK. If the Bears can reach mediocrity on defense in 2014, that would be a huge win because the club now has a potent offense that can flat out stack points on the board. The Bears set single-season franchise records for net yardage (6,109), net passing yards (4,281), completion percentage (64.4), passing touchdowns (32), passer rating (96.9) and first downs (344) in addition to finishing eighth in total offense (381.8 yards per game), second in scoring (27.8-point average) and fifth in passing yardage (267.6). I don't see the Bears rewriting the franchise record books on defense next season, which would be incredibly difficult anyway given all the great defenses fielded in the past by this franchise.
@mikecwright False.There will be turnaround but nothing that great.Secondary still needs work and the chemistry might not be there for team- Matt Varney (@HeadCoachVarney) April 21, 2014
Fact or fiction: At age 29, Adrian Peterson will be invigorated by a new offensive scheme and buck the trend of running backs declining in their late 20s.
Demovsky: Fact. If we've learned anything about Peterson, it's that we should never doubt him. Not after what he did following his ACL tear. That said, 2,000 yards might not be realistic. If his 1,266 yards from last season was a disappointment, then so be it, but there aren't many teams in the league who wouldn't be happy with that right now.
Seifert: Fact. I'll say this: Peterson doesn't need to be invigorated as much as he needs a transition path for continued elite production. After all, he rushed for 1,266 yards in 14 games last season. But he has undergone significant surgery in each of the past three winters, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner wants to involve him more in the passing game. More receptions and fewer carries sounds like a good plan for preservation.
Wright: Fact. But I'm not even so sure it will be as much about a new offensive scheme. Peterson just isn't human. Just kidding; sort of. Peterson is coming off his worst season since 2009 in terms of yards per attempt (4.5). But think about that for a second. Most running backs would be downright giddy averaging 4.5 yards per carry. I know Peterson has taken a pounding over the years and he's coming off yet another surgery. But doesn't that always seem to be the case for Peterson, dating all the way back to college? At Oklahoma, Peterson dislocated a shoulder in 2004, suffered a right high-ankle sprain in 2005 and a broken clavicle in 2006, which led to scrutiny going into the 2007 draft about his durability and longevity. Seven seasons and 10,115 yards later, Peterson's still here, giving defenses fits. Minnesota needs to get Peterson some help (like a quarterback) for sure. But I honestly think Peterson is such an extraordinary physical specimen, hard worker and determined player, he'll buck the trend for a while the way Fred Taylor did it. Taylor rushed for 1,202 yards in 2007, completing that season just weeks before his 32nd birthday. The year prior, Taylor rushed for 1,146 yards.
@GoesslingESPN false. Wear and tear catching up....he'll still be a good RB, but his glory days are behind him.- Vikings Fan Page (@Kevin_VFP) April 21, 2014
Here is a ranking of top NFC North free agents, with information provided by ESPN.com reporters Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears).
We will update this periodically throughout the next several weeks.
1.Sam Shields, Packers CB: Emerged as the Packers' top cover cornerback last season while playing for the restricted free-agent tender of $2.023 million and was re-signed to a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period Saturday. His 2014 total pay of $15 million makes him the NFL's second-highest-paid cornerback for next season.
2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: The No. 20 pick in the 2009 draft out of Oklahoma State, Pettigrew spent the past five seasons as one of Detroit's primary tight ends, specifically known for the ability to both block and run routes effectively.
3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Had surgery to fuse the C3 and C4 vertebra in his neck but expects to be cleared by his doctor. Gambled two years ago in free agency, signing just a two-year, $14 million deal in the hope that he would blossom into a star and command an even bigger contract the next time around.
4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: The NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year, Tillman started eight games last season before finishing on the injured reserve with a torn triceps. The Bears hope to bring back Tillman but might not be able to come up with a suitable offer.
5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Reportedly turned down an $8 million per year offer from the Packers last season, which might have been a sign that he preferred to play in a system that gave defensive linemen more freedom. After a disappointing season, his value has gone down, and as of last week, he was close to signing a one-year deal to return.
7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3. Young turned into one of the more disruptive players up front, making 47 tackles, recovering two fumbles and recording three sacks.
8. James Jones, Packers WR: Ranked second on the Packers last season in receptions (59) and yards (817), the latter of which was a career high despite missing nearly three full games because of a knee injury. Three years ago, coming off the NFL lockout, Jones did not draw strong interest on the free-agent market and re-signed with the Packers for three years and $9.6 million.
9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen’s time in Minnesota is likely over. He could come back as a situational pass-rusher on a reduced salary, but after making $14 million last season, Allen might head elsewhere for a bigger role and bigger paycheck.
11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Melton's representatives fully expect him to test the market in free agency because the Bears haven’t shown a ton of interest. Coming off a torn ACL, Melton probably won't command top dollar in the first wave of free agency.
12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Became strictly a return specialist for the Bears last season and is still one of the league's best at his position. Probably expects a payday similar to what he's gotten in the past.
13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Mathis signed with Detroit during the 2013 preseason and became one of the team's starting cornerbacks by the third week of the season. He played in 15 games, making 47 tackles and often drawing the opponent's top wide receiver.
14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: The 26-year-old cashed in on Sunday by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota. He should flourish in new coach Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme.
15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: The 26-year-old was released by Detroit with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014. Has played in 65 games for Detroit over five seasons, with 328 tackles, six interceptions and two forced fumbles. He also had five sacks and four fumble recoveries.
“We just got back to the fundamentals,” Bears safety Chris Conte said. “We knew we didn’t play well the last time we came out and played against them. We just wanted to improve on that today, and I thought we had a good game plan and good energy on defense today.
“It always hurts to lose, but I think there are things we can take out of this game that are encouraging, and we can see that we can be a really good team. We have a lot of young guys and they are improving and getting better each week. I think you can tell we are starting to come together a little bit on defense.”
Conte, in particular, enjoyed more success versus the Lions than he had in recent weeks. Although Conte did commit at least one obvious mistake in the third quarterback when he took a poor angle and whiffed on Lions running back Reggie Bush in the open field on a play that gained 39 yards, the safety bounced back with a key interception in the fourth quarter.
With the Bears trailing 14-10, Conte picked off an errant Matthew Stafford pass and returned it 35 yards to the Lions' 9-yard line. The Bears eventually settled for a field goal to cut the Detroit lead to one point.
“We were just playing Cover-2 and I was just reading the quarterback,” Conte said. “He put the ball up and I just went up and got it. But I needed to score on that. So I need to help out the offense and score there.”
In addition to the interception, Conte finished the game with three tackles and three passes defensed.
“(Conte) has been in the tank for a little bit,” Bears safety Major Wright said. “With me, I’m trying to motivate him and help him get back together. For me, he came out and had a great game for us, and that is what he needed.”
However, the game ended on a low note for the defense when Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson caught what turned out to be a game-winning 14 yard touchdown pass with 2:22 left on the clock. Johnson beat veteran cornerback Charles Tillman, who appeared to be in man coverage, in the back corner of the endzone for the score. Johnson did end the game with a pair of touchdowns, but he caught just six passes for 83 yards on 17 targets.
“It’s pretty tough (to defend Johnson one-on-one) when you look at his size, look at his speed,” Wright said. “He’s pretty good at catching the ball. You really can’t ask for much more with how this defense played him, not just one guy but all of us.”
Jay Cutler tossed three interceptions the last time these teams met, and the Lions scored on six consecutive possessions to seize a 30-10 lead in the second quarter en route to a 40-32 win. With sole possession of first place in the NFC North on the line, obviously the Bears hope for a different result this time around. But the Lions are hungry as they hold a share of the division lead for the first time in more than 10 years.
ESPN.com Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Lions reporter Michael Rothstein break down the matchup.
Michael C. Wright: It's been more than 10 years since the Lions were at the top of the division standings after the first half of the season. How is Detroit handling the success?
Michael Rothstein: They seem to be handling it fine thus far, but that could be because a lot of these guys haven't been around for a lot of the losing seasons. Plus, a lot of the guys who have been around in the past were on Detroit's playoff team in 2011. So they have seen some Lions success and not the consistent failure of the early to mid-2000s. There is also a confidence level about this team, something you saw two weeks ago in the final seven minutes against Dallas, which seems to be different than in prior years. This team believes it can win close games, and that in itself is a big difference.
Wright: The Lions incorporate tons of speed on offense, but what happens when they're on a slower track such as what they might encounter with the conditions at Soldier Field? Is there anything the Lions would try to do to counteract what might be a sloppy field?
Rothstein: It's slower for everyone, though, right? In all seriousness, I don't know how much they would do differently. Perhaps Detroit will use Joique Bell a little bit more out of the backfield instead of Reggie Bush, but that could be due to Bush potentially playing more in the slot Sunday depending on Nate Burleson's health. Detroit's offense won't change much. It'll still rely heavily on Matthew Stafford's ability to find open receivers, Calvin Johnson's ability to make big plays and Bush's capability to make plays in small spaces.
Wright: Nate Burleson recently returned to practice. But what's his status for Sunday? If he's available, what does he bring to the offense?
Rothstein: His status is completely questionable and likely will be until Friday. Burleson wants to play. He's been focused a lot on this week as a potential return date and he is practicing. But Detroit is going to be cautious with its No. 2 receiver because it doesn't want him to reinjure the arm by coming back too fast and taking a bad hit. Burleson's big thing now isn't conditioning -- he says he's in pretty good football form -- but learning how to fall and not use his arm to brace said falls. He could play Sunday, but Detroit is going to need him for the stretch run.
The Jay Cutler situation is obviously pretty fluid. How, if at all, does the Bears' offense change if he does not play?
Wright: It doesn't change much at all. In fact, the only difference in the offense would come down to a matter of personal preferences for McCown. The coaching staff includes the quarterbacks when putting together a game plan, and it always asks them which plays they think they could be more successful with. Obviously McCown and Cutler are different people with different preferences. So that would be the only change, schematically. In terms of overall play, McCown's arm isn't as strong as Cutler's. So he incorporates more anticipation in his game than the starter. McCown is decisive with the ball, makes smart decisions and won't take unnecessary risks, which is a little different than Cutler, who sometimes gambles and forces throws into coverage in part because of his confidence in his arm.
Rothstein: The last time Detroit saw Chicago, Lance Briggs was in the middle. How much has his absence shifted the defense from the last time the Lions saw the Bears?
Wright: Well, they've played only one game since Briggs fractured his shoulder Oct. 20 at Washington, and the defense on Monday night suffered through many of the same struggles they've gone through all season with the veteran in the lineup. The Bears now have two rookies in the starting lineup at middle linebacker in Jonathan Bostic (middle) and Khaseem Greene, who has taken over on the weak side for Briggs. Against the Packers the club struggled with gap fits against Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 150 yards. The pass rush improved a great deal, and the team finished with five sacks. But stopping the run has been a challenge. Surprisingly, the Bears are 3-1 this season when they allow a running back to gain 100 yards or more with the only loss under those circumstances coming to the Lions.
Rothstein: This has probably been somewhat forgotten, but Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. called the Bears the "same bunch of thugs" earlier this season. Has that been mentioned at all? Does it matter?
Wright: It was mentioned by cornerback Tim Jennings in the aftermath of the last matchup, but it hasn't been since.
Asked about Ford's comments, Jennings said: "So he wants to call us thugs. We can take that as a compliment, I guess. We like to think we're playing nasty. But we play within the rules, you know? I don't know whether he's just meaning we're dirty or we're just a nasty defense. We weren't too nasty when we played them. So I don't know what he's trying to get out of it."
It's quite obvious these teams don't like one another, and surely the Bears want to atone for the 40-32 beatdown the Lions put on them in the first matchup. But my sense is with a short week of preparation, the Bears are focused and want to downplay any type of bulletin board material.
A medical source with first-hand experience treating NFL players, but who does not have direct access to Cutler’s medical records, does believe it is possible for the quarterback to return to the field exactly three weeks after suffering a torn muscle in the groin region versus the Washington Redskins on Oct. 20, but not without certain limitations.
Per the source, Cutler’s injured groin muscle could compromise the quarterback’s ability to drop back in the pocket with the customary scissor step after taking a snap from center, perhaps forcing the Bears to run the majority of their offense out of the shotgun, which is a formation they use quite a bit normally.
The Lions have one of the most feared defensive lines in the NFL, led by tackle Ndamukong Suh, who leads the club with 3.5 sacks. There is a very strong likelihood that Cutler will be forced to move outside of the pocket if he plays on Sunday based on the Lions’ track record of aggressive play from their defensive front.
But the very nature of the quarterback position does leave open the possibility that Cutler is back on the field well before the original four-to-six-week time frame initially laid out by the club, the source explains. While other position groups such as wide receivers, defensive backs or defensive lineman would likely need more time to recover from a tear in the groin region, the odds are greater that a determined stationary quarterback could push up the return date.
Plus, Cutler, with the help of the Bears’ medical staff, says he has aggressively attacked his rehabilitation in the last two and a half weeks, telling ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy Show” that he is having platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections and using an ARP machine to speed up the recovery process.
Also, Cutler’s throwing motion and delivery shouldn’t be affected all that much if he takes the field on Sunday, the source noted, especially considering the strength of Cutler’s arm.
However, there is an increased risk that if Cutler plays on Sunday, he could reinjure the groin and be out indefinitely. That is one of the risks the Bears are expected to weigh this week as they inch closer to making their final determination.
The other variable is that veteran backup Josh McCown is coming off an excellent game versus the Green Bay Packers. He completed 22 of 41 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns. Since replacing Cutler in Washington, McCown has gone 36-of-61 for 476 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 100.2 quarterback rating.
The Bears face some interesting questions this week:
- Is a healthy and confident McCown a better option to run the offense on Sunday than Cutler if Cutler is in a limited state?
- How will Cutler respond if the Bears refuse to clear him for Sunday?
- How will the team respond if Cutler starts and struggles with a red-hot McCown standing on the sidelines?
- The most relevant question: Who gives the Bears the best shot to win on Sunday, even if Cutler is medically cleared?
The next 24 hours should tell us where this is headed.
Cutler is expected to test out his injured groin muscle on the practice field on Thursday to give the Bears an idea of where he is at physically in regards to potentially starting at quarterback Sunday versus the Detroit Lions.
In other injury news, linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (groin) and long snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) would not have participated on Wednesday.
Mannelly is considered week-to-week and is not expected to be active this weekend, while Ratliff told ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy Show” on Monday that he is still “a couple of weeks” away from returning from his injury.
Linebacker Blake Costanzo (back), tight end Dante Rosario (ankle) and cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) were also listed as being limited.
“Kris Durham made a couple big plays at the end, probably no bigger than recovering the last onside kick,” Schwartz said. “He took a big shot for it, too. We talk a lot about player safety and he’s lying prone on the ground and is getting himself up and takes a helmet right to the back and we don’t get any call there. It’s a little hypocritical to talk about player safety when we allow that to not get called. Kris toughed it out, and he had to hold onto that ball and he did. He did a nice job today”
The league did fine Bostic $21,000 in the preseason for lowering his head and making forcible contact with a defenseless player. Bostic appealed the fine.
“We’ll see how well he is prepared to block me when we play on Sunday,” Suh said. “That’s their opinion. That’s their choice. That’s their draft.
“It’s not anything of my concern. I just look forward to digest whoever I have in front of me.”
Suh has three career sacks and 13 tackles against Chicago, but as it is with a lot of his opponents, what he does is more about disruptions and pressure on opposing quarterbacks and offensive lines.
He is a strong enough player that teams have to pay attention to him even if the numbers he puts up aren’t gaudy.
“It’s always nice to be noticed, but to me it’s not necessarily a compliment,” Suh said. “It’s just, it is something that they felt they needed to do and they did it, and I look forward to the challenge.”
There is little question, though, that Chicago will keep an eye on Suh.
"I've been doing some early preparations," Long said on "Football Night in Chicago" on ESPN 1000. "I've been trying to sharpen my mental sword I guess you could say. I've been just trying to pick up some tendencies that I can use against their defense, hopefully.
"Suh is just relentless. He is a relentless football player. He is somebody that is just going to always keep coming and give you his best. He's got that kind of presence where you're like, ‘I can't take a play off.' If you do, he will expose you. What people can't see through all the time with all the media scrutiny is truly how great of a player Suh is and how great of a player (Nick) Fairley is and the devastation those two guys can impose on an offense."
Bears coach Marc Trestman also respects the Lions' tandem.
“(Suh is) one of the best in the business at what he does,” Trestman said. “Both tackles, Fairley too, they’re both powerful guys and they penetrate and they do all the things you’re looking for in defensive linemen.”
In the NFL, teams are required to move on from a victory or a defeat at lightning speed, and for Long and the rest of the Bears’ offense linemen, that means getting a jump start on their next opponent: the Detroit Lions.
Long said Tuesday night on ESPN 1000’s “Football Night in Chicago” he began the process of breaking down film on Detroit’s talent defensive tackle duo of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley since early in the week to get a jump start on the process.
“I’ve been doing some early preparations,” Long said. “I’ve been trying to sharpen my mental sword I guess you could say. I’ve been just trying to pick up some tendencies that I can use against their defense, hopefully.
"Suh is just relentless. He is a relentless football player. He is somebody that is just going to always keep coming and give you his best. He’s got that kind of presence where you’re like, ‘I can’t take a play off.’ If you do, he will expose you.”
The upcoming battle between Long and Suh could be especially physical on Sunday since both players are known for their strength and nasty on-the-field demeanor. Although Long has yet to cross the line after the whistle the way Suh has throughout his three-plus years in the league. Suh is without a sack through the first three games of 2013, but his 8.0 sacks last year was the second-highest total of any defensive tackle. Fairley is second on the Lions defense with 1.5 sacks, behind rookie defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (2.5).
“What people can’t see through all the time with all the media scrutiny is truly how great of a player Suh is and how great of a player Fairley is and the devastation those two guys can impose on an offense,” Long said.
Schefter reports Ellis will also meet with the Detroit Lions after he visited the New England Patriots at the end of last week.
Selected No. 7 overall in the 2008 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints, Ellis played five years for New Orleans, recording just 12.5 sacks.
Ellis had 36 tackles in 16 games for the Saints last season, but zero sacks. Ellis is considered more of a three-technique pass-rushing defensive end as opposed to a run-stopper.
The Bears have already made a handful of moves at tackle in the offseason; the club brought back defensive tackle Nate Collins and also signed DT Corvey Irvin, the 2009 third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers. The Bears briefly had veteran tackle Andre Fluellen on the roster, but he was released. There are also several undrafted rookie defensive tackles under contract with the Bears.
Former Bears defensive tackle Amobi Okoye remains unsigned.
Week 17 Report Card: Chicago Bears 26, Detroit Lions 24
With Michael Bush out of the lineup, it was nice to see the Bears show some faith in Kahlil Bell, who spelled Matt Forte some. The Bears fed Forte the ball a season-high 24 times, and he finished with his third 100-yard rushing performance of the season. In all, the Bears ran the ball 35 times for 144 yards and a touchdown. That efficiency with the rushing attack made a difference in Chicago winning the time-of-possession battle (34:09-25:51).
The Bears finally leaned on the other receivers such as Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett, and the duo delivered. The grade would be an "A" had Brandon Marshall been able to make a more significant contribution. Marshall's block did allow Bennett to break free on his 60-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter, but he the No.1 receiver finished with five catches for 42 yards and failed to come up big for the team when it needed him in the red zone. The offensive line gave up only one sack, and Cutler finished with a passer rating of 95.8, in addition breaking 19 yards on a scramble with the game on the line.
Mikel Leshoure seemed to have a few moments, but for the most part the Bears stuffed him. Leshoure led the Lions with 57 yards on 15 carries, and Joie Bell added six yards on two attempts. Because of their inability to run the ball consistently, and the fact they were playing from behind all game, the Lions were forced to throw 42 times. That's too many chances to take against a defense that thrives off turnovers. So by stopping the run, the Bears basically forced the Lions into the mistake-filled day they experienced.
Calvin Johnson needed 108 yards to reach 2,000 and with little for Detroit to play for, it was almost a given it would focus on helping the receiver the milestone. Matthew Stafford threw 14 balls in Johnson's direction, and the receiver came up with just five of them for 72 yards and no touchdowns. Although the Bears registered only one sack, the front four generated sufficient pressure and forced Stafford to throw some errant passes. The Bears also stripped one ball away from Stafford that the offense turned into points. Tim Jennings picked off his ninth pass of the season, and Charles Tillman pretty much locked down Johnson.
Devin Hester averaged 2 yards on three punt returns, and on kickoffs he was outdone by Detroit's Bell. Hester also made a crucial mistake on the kickoff to start the second half by deciding to bring out a ball that traveled 5 yards deep into the end zone. That led the Bears starting their first drive of the second half from their own 5. Special teams coach Dave Toub has spoken a lot recently about Hester's decision-making issues. This game was a prime example. Olindo Mare made four of his five field goals, and Eric Weems recovered a fumble.
The Bears captured a victory to keep alive their hopes for the postseason, and the staff prepared the players during difficult circumstances with all the speculation swirling regarding Lovie Smith's job security. On the offensive side, it appears the Bears prepared thoroughly for Detroit taking away Marshall, and that showed by the types of performances put together by Bennett and Jeffery. On defense, the Bears put together a strong game plan to stop Johnson and the players executed.
Forte, who rushed for 103 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown, also went over 1,000 rushing yards for the season (1,094) for the third time in his five-year NFL career. He reached 997 yards on the ground last season before being forced to miss the final four games with a knee sprain. In 2009, Forte rushed for 929 yards despite playing through a variety of injuries.
DETROIT -- Despite a fast start, the Chicago Bears wound up escaping Ford Field with a 26-24 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday to keep alive their hopes for salvaging the club's second consecutive late-season collapse.
The Bears scored 16 points off four turnovers, but the performance on offense didn't inspire much confidence about the club's prospects in the postseason, should it advance.
Let's look closer.
What it means: The Bears finish the season 10-6, but it's still unknown whether they did enough to advance to the playoffs. Chicago certainly took care of its part, but now it needs the Green Bay Packers to defeat the Minnesota Vikings. If the Packers defeat the Vikings later on Sunday, the Bears advance to the postseason as the sixth seed, and will face the San Francisco 49ers on the road to open the playoffs.
Diversity pays off: Jay Cutler completed passes to six receivers in the first half, which is the most he's hit in a game since the club's 21-14 loss on Dec. 9 to the Vikings. With the Lions geared up to shut down Brandon Marshall, Cutler fired a 55-yard strike to Alshon Jeffery on Chicago's first play from scrimmage before hitting Evan Rodriguez on the next play. By spreading the ball around early, Cutler opened up things for the entire team.
It's almost a given that on most passes, Cutler looks solely for Marshall. But against the Lions, Cutler gave his other receivers opportunities to make plays and they delivered. Earl Bennett caught a 60-yard touchdown from Cutler with 4:33 left in the first quarter to give the Bears a 7-3 lead after Olindo Mare's extra-point kick.
With 13:37 left to play, Bennett and Jeffery had already combined for 185 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions. The Bears certainly needed the contributions. With 6:50 left to play, Marshall caught a 19-yard pass, his fifth of the game. The Lions for the most part neutralized Marshall, holding him to just 42 yards receiving.
Turnover tally: The Bears scored 13 points off turnovers, but blew an opportunity to turn those giveaways into more; 28 points, potentially. Julius Peppers, Major Wright, and Eric Weems each scooped up fumbles, while Tim Jennings increased his league-leading interception total to nine with his pick in the second quarter.
Peppers' fumble recovery off a Israel Idonije sack and strip of Stafford marked the only takeaway the Bears turned into a touchdown (a 1-yard run by Matt Forte). Chicago settled for field goals on the rest. The Bears came into the game with a record of 50-12 in games in which they finished with a positive turnover margin.
Decision-making costly: During the week of preparation for Sunday's game, special teams coordinator Dave Toub talked extensively about the need for Devin Hester to make better decisions when fielding punts. Toub should've discussed decision-making on kickoffs with Hester as well. Hester fielded a kickoff 5 yards deep in his end zone and attempted to bring it out. Lions special teams ace Kassim Osgood dropped Hester on the Chicago 5, forcing the Bears to start in bad field position on their first drive of the second half.
The offense managed to move the ball 41 yards before punting after eight plays. But Hester would have given the offense a better chance to succeed by downing the kickoff for a touchback that would've given the group possession at the 20 instead of its own 5.
What's next: The waiting game as the Bears fly on a charter home that isn't even equipped with Wi-Fi to keep them connected to what's going on in some of the other games. With the Green Bay-Minnesota matchup kicking off at 4:25 p.m. ET, the Bears won't immediately know their postseason fate. But if the Packers win, the Bears will face the 49ers in the opening round of the NFC playoffs. If the Vikings win, Chicago's season ends and an offseason of uncertainty begins.