Detroit Lions: Lance Briggs

Four keys for Detroit vs. Chicago

November, 9, 2013
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- This is essentially the situation the Detroit Lions wanted to be in before the season.

They are in contention for their first ever NFC North title and are certainly in a good position for a potential wild-card spot if that works out. But Sunday, against Chicago, is a huge barometer for the rest of the season.

And in some ways, the Lions understand that. A win Sunday puts them in no worse than a tie for first place with Green Bay, and if the Packers lose, first place would be solely Detroit’s for a week.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Harry How/Getty ImagesNdamukong Suh and the Lions' defensive line need to find the form they showed in their first meeting against Chicago this season.
“Any time you play Chicago, it’s a big game,” Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “Obviously you’re playing a division team, so it counts twice. It’s a game on the road for us. Tough environment, they are coming off a win against a division opponent.”

The Bears knocked off Green Bay last week, setting up this situation. So how can Detroit win?

Here are this week’s four keys.

The effectiveness of Jay Cutler: The Chicago quarterback, who has had major success against Detroit in his career, was cleared to play Thursday and could start Sunday against Detroit. Usually, this would be a bad thing for the Lions. However, perhaps this is a benefit for Detroit this time. If Cutler plays, he isn’t going to be at full strength, and the Detroit defensive line, led by Ndamukong Suh, had its best game of the season against the Bears in September.

Suh said this week that he wanted to face Cutler because he wants to go against the best -- a message his teammates echoed throughout the week. Now, they’ll get it. Suh in particular has had success against the Bears in his career, having five sacks in seven games.

Keep the short/long game going: Detroit has been at its most effective when it has had a mostly healthy Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson on the field at the same time. The Johnson/Bush combination becomes a difficult matchup for teams who want to double Johnson or roll a safety his way on most plays. That leaves a softer front for Bush to deal with, either rushing the ball or with screens. With Lance Briggs also out, that could be even more of a problem for Chicago in dealing with Bush.

Find Joseph Fauria: The rookie tight end has been fairly quiet since his three touchdown performance against Cleveland last month, including not receiving a single target against Dallas two weeks ago. With the Bears likely focusing heavily on Johnson, and receiver Kris Durham likely more heavily noted on the scouting report, this could be a game where Fauria can finally have the breakout full-field performance he’s been looking for this season.

Don’t buy the hype: This is, no doubt, a big game for Detroit. If the Lions win on Sunday, it gives them a good position over the Bears in the overall playoff picture (both divisional race and wild card) since they would hold all tiebreakers against their rival. And Detroit has done well with breaking streaks this season, save the epically long losing streak in Green Bay.

Detroit hasn’t won in Chicago since 2007, also the last time the Lions swept the season series against the Bears. This season's Lions have the offensive capability to hang with any team in the league, except, maybe, Denver. But Detroit needs its defense to play more at the level it played against the Bears in the first meeting, instead of at other points this season when it has struggled because of a tendency to allow big pass plays.
DETROIT -- Reggie Bush's big 37-yard touchdown run in the second quarter of Sunday’s 40-32 win over the Chicago Bears almost didn’t happen.

Bush fumbled the play before and the ball was recovered by Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson, extending the Lions drive with 2:52 remaining in the first half.

The Lions went to the line on the next play, calling another handoff to Bush. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was in shotgun with Bush a step behind him and to his right. Center Dominic Raiola saw something in the Chicago defense that told him to make a call with his veteran left guard, Rob Sims.

“I saw a weak dog and I saw a nickel coming off the edge,” Raiola said. “We said all week we wanted to hit one right into the mouth of their blitz and that’s really what it was.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Reggie Bush
AP Photo/Jose JuarezA lot went into Reggie Bush's 37-yard touchdown, including his hurdling of Major Wright.
“It was a call we practiced all week and we hit it.”

Raiola told Sims to engage the defensive end, Julius Peppers. In doing so -- and getting a good push on Peppers out to the left, he almost made it appear as if he and left tackle Riley Reiff were doubling Peppers on the snap.

They weren’t, as Reiff’s man, linebacker James Anderson, blitzed far on his side. This opened up the first part of a massive hole for Bush, who by the time he reached the line of scrimmage had almost the entire width between the hashmarks to run through and make his initial cut.

In the pre-snap, Bears defensive tackle Nate Collins was initially lined up right over Raiola, but on the snap he slid over to engage right guard Larry Warford. Warford sealed Collins away from the hole.

This allowed Raiola a clean path to the second level, where he was able to block linebacker Lance Briggs.

“We were working on that,” Sims said. “We knew they were going to try and slant Julius and we just, Dom made a good call. Dom told me to go out to (Peppers) and I did and we caught them in it.

“That’s the thing with them, they are really good at moving and when you can catch them in it, you can make some hay. And Reggie don’t need much.”

Bush had a wide open lane to run through. He ran almost right at the Raiola-Briggs block before cutting back to the right side and into the second and third levels of the defense.

It appeared as if defensive end Cornelius Washington was the man who was supposed to mark up Bush at the snap, but he was on the edge of the defense and looked like he hesitated on the snap out of the backfield and ended up chasing Bush from behind. He had a chance to tackle him, but missed.

Then Bush made another quick cut right and -- this is really what made the run -- jumped over a diving Major Wright. Had Wright kept his feet, he would have had a better shot at the Detroit running back.

Once Bush made that move, he had one more assist. Wide receiver Ryan Broyles put a good seal block on Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings to give Bush a deep crease in the secondary.

Jennings would end up almost catching up to Bush, but those few extra strides helped turn the play into a touchdown.

“A sweet run,” Stafford said. “It was a play that honestly we had been working on in practice all week knowing they were going to blitz us, which they always do.

“Instead of getting out of it, just running right into it. Dom made a great call up front, (Brandon) Pettigrew had a great block to seal off the back side and let Reggie do the rest.”

Letting Bush do the rest is becoming a common theme for the Lions these days. Detroit’s offensive line had done such a good job against Chicago on Sunday, the 37-yard touchdown was merely one of the big runs Bush was able to find.

The touchdown was the longest run of the day for Bush, who had four rushes of 14 yards or more and 139 yards overall.

“Reggie Bush is special,” Wright told reporters after the game. “He has speed. He can shake you. He can do everything.”