NFC North: Lions-Bears 100409

A swagger builds in Chicago

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
7:35
PM ET
Jerry Lai/US Presswire
The Bears are going into their bye week at 3-1 and with a growing confidence.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert


CHICAGO -- You had to be on your toes Sunday in Chicago's postgame locker room. In one corner, Charles Tillman was freaking people out with red-tinted contacts that lent a certain devilish appearance. Asked how the Bears turned around a close game at halftime, Tillman bugged his eyes out and said:

“We all came in and drank Red Bull and were jumping off the walls like crazy people. So next time we play, I'm going to buy a bunch of Red Bull and give it to everyone to start off the game.”

Week 4 Coverage
Walker: Mendenhall mends fences in victory
Mosley: Cowboys adjust expectations
Williamson: Putting the 'D' in Denver
Graham: Brady is back
Kuharsky: Garcon, Collie producing
Seifert: Bears build swagger
Sando: Rams looking for answers
Wojciechowski: Bears give Chicago a break
Reiss: Patriots-Ravens game a classic
Watkins: Cowboys offense sputters
Clayton: Colts running away with division
Pasquarelli: Embattled Zorn adjusts
• NFL Nation: Reactions | Wrap-ups | Live

• MNF: Packers, Favre can bury the hatchet
A few reporters chuckled. Tillman was joking, I assume.

Down the line a bit, Tommie Harris was explaining the meaning behind a new Bears sack dance. “We call it ‘Shooting Kreutz,'” Harris said, swiveling his arms and imitating the strut of center Olin Kreutz.

Next door, Alex Brown acted miffed that teammate Adewale Ogunleye had a larger gathering of reporters around him.

Turning serious for a moment, Brown said: “At the end of the day, it's about winning. That's what we did today.”

Indeed, the Bears won Sunday for the third consecutive week, blowing open a close game in the second half to defeat Detroit 48-24. The Bears haven't played a good first half this season, but they enter their bye week with a 3-1 record and a growing swagger that suggests they are the type of team that can figure a way to make things happen.

“As a team, we scored 48 points today and I think we can be a lot better,” offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. “If we score 48 points and say we can be a lot better, that's a good thing to me.”

There are some teams with strong building blocks that somehow have a knack for making a mistake or missing an assignment at a crucial time. I put the Lions in that category, especially after quarterback Matthew Stafford committed two turnovers inside his own 20-yard line Sunday.
Jerry Lai/US Presswire
Adewale Ogunleye notched 2.5 of the Bears' 5 sacks.

(Don't take it from me. Lions coach Jim Schwartz called Sunday's second half “one of the worst halves of football I've ever been associated with.”)

Other teams compensate for a deficiency, temporary or permanent, by calling on other quadrants of the team for help. That's what the Bears did Sunday during the first stop of our Week 4 FourFecta.

The Lions came out throwing and amassed 273 offensive yards in the first half. Stafford found receiver Calvin Johnson five times for 119 yards, and the Bears' offense was struggling to keep up.

Three Bears-forced events turned the game in the second half:
  1. Coach Lovie Smith assigned Tillman to cover Johnson, swapping out fellow cornerback Zack Bowman. With some safety help, Tillman limited Johnson to three catches for 14 yards in the second half.
  2. The Bears' defensive line stepped up in a way that I haven't seen since the Super Bowl season in 2006. Ogunleye exploded for two sacks. Israel Idonije also had a sack, and overall Stafford had little time to find Johnson or anyone else before leaving with a right knee injury.
  3. The Bears' special teams produced their best showing of the year. Rookie Johnny Knox's 102-yard kickoff return immediately changed the momentum in the third quarter, and Robbie Gould's career-long 52-yard field goal gave the Bears a 10-point lead. Both plays came in the first five minutes of the second half.

“We started making plays,” Brown said. “I don't know what the heck is wrong with us. Every game, we've started out like this. Pretty slow. We understand how to finish. We just have to figure out how to start.”

(Red Bull, anyone?)

As they head toward their bye, I view the Bears as a flawed team with enough tools to compensate for imperfection. Most teams perform a self-study at the bye and create a “to-do” list for in-season improvement. So let's give them a head start based on what we saw Sunday:

Middle linebacker Nick Roach, filling in for the injured Hunter Hillenmeyer and Brian Urlacher, might be a good run-stuffer and a nifty blitzer. But it was obvious -- and I mean OBVIOUS -- that the Lions planned to target him in the first half. For the most part, tight ends and receivers were running wild down the deep middle of the field, which is the middle linebacker's territory in the Cover 2 defense.

When a blocking tight end like Will Heller is breaking free for receptions of 14 and 23 yards, I think you get the message. Unofficially, I had the Lions with five big pass plays over the deep middle in the first half, and Stafford misfired when he had open receivers on three other occasions.

Roach was either in shock or denial when I asked him about it afterward.

“I don't really recall them going down the middle too much in the first half,” Roach said. “I don't know.”

The bye week should allow Hillenmeyer sufficient time to recover, giving Smith an interesting lineup decision to make.

Injuries to receivers Devin Hester (shoulder) and Knox (shin) are a reminder of how thin the Bears' receiving corps is. Knox's injury is not considered serious, but the Bears were quiet on Hester's status. I know the receiver issue has been discussed extensively in Chicago, but do you like the prospects of Knox, Bennett and Rashied Davis as your top receivers should Hester miss some time?

You can't take away Matt Forte's 121-yard game, even if 98 of those yards came on two plays. After all, one 61-yard run is just as good as six 10-yard runs. But I still think it will be worth the Bears' time to figure out why they haven't gotten more consistency from their running game in the first part of the season. In the 15 other carries by running backs Sunday, they managed 45 yards.

After watching Sunday's game, I think it's fair to direct some scrutiny toward the left side of the offensive line. Tackle Orlando Pace and guard Frank Omiyale both appear to be a work in progress.

I don't consider any of those issues potentially fatal flaws, however. Nothing a little Red Bull couldn't cure.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


CHICAGO -- Detroit coach Jim Schwartz spoke through clenched teeth after Sunday’s 48-24 loss to Chicago, and it had nothing to do with the injuries to his best two players.

  Schwartz
Schwartz called the second half “one of the worst halves of football I’ve ever been associated with." He continued: “We were poor on special teams. We were poor on offense. We were poor on defense. We were out-coached. We were out-played. Their trainers were probably better than ours in the second half.”

Later he was asked why he was so upset. After all, the Lions had the Bears on the ropes for the entire first half.

“We lost a football game,” Schwartz said. “You saw the second half of the game. You saw the first half. You saw the second half. It’s hard for me to come up here and point to positives in the second half. You can’t say our arrow is [pointing] up or any other happy stuff. We got out-played in the second half. We played poorly. There is a lot to be ticked off about in the second half.”

Indeed, the Lions managed minus-3 total yards in the third quarter as Chicago built a 13-point lead. And that was before quarterback Matthew Stafford (right knee) and receiver Calvin Johnson (lower leg) left with injuries.

Stafford appeared to twist his knee as Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye sacked him with 8 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the game. He said afterwards that “I’m fine” but coach Jim Schwartz said Stafford would be scheduled for “a lot” of tests upon returning to Detroit. Schwartz made clear that the injury was significant enough to prevent Stafford from going back into the game.

“If he was able to go back in,” Schwartz said, “he would’ve gone back in. … I wasn’t conceding the game.”

Johnson said his legs got “tight” during the fourth quarter but said he would be “all right.”

More information should be available on both players Monday.

Rapid Reaction: Bears 48, Lions 24

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
4:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


CHICAGO -- Detroit had Chicago on the ropes for a full half here at Soldier Field before defense and special teams carried the Bears to a 48-24 victory. But the game exposed a few holes the Bears will need to address during their upcoming bye week.

I’ll go into more detail after the game, but chief among the issues was the Bears’ inability to cover the deep middle of the field. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had receivers open downfield all afternoon, and he capitalized on enough of the opportunities to throw for 296 yards before a knee injury ended his afternoon.

It’s easy to point the finger at Nick Roach, who was making his first start at middle linebacker in place of the injured Hunter Hillenmeyer. Roach was definitely chasing receivers on a number of those completions, but I’m sure the breakdown was more thorough than with just one player.

I don’t want to suggest gloom and doom for the Bears, who raised their record to 3-1. I just think it’s worth raising an eyebrow when an opponent gashes you (to the tune of 273 offensive yards) with the same basic play for an entire half.

The Lions faced a steep hurdle in trying to replicate last week’s victory over Washington. Their only chance to win Sunday was to keep up in a shootout, and ultimately the Bears’ pass rush caught up to them. Stafford was sacked four times in the second half.

More to come in a few hours.

Stafford leaves with knee injury

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
3:55
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


CHICAGO -- A right knee injury appears to have ended the day of Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford. Daunte Culpepper has replaced Stafford at Soldier Field with 6 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the game.

Stafford suffered the injury during a third-down sack by Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye. Stafford immediately grabbed the knee, got up slowly and limped to the sideline. Stafford is standing on the Lions’ sideline in no obvious pain, and if he’s seriously injured, no one is acting that way.

Still, with the Bears’ pass rush having a good day -- and a 41-24 deficit -- there’s probably no reason to send Stafford back out.

Bears take charge via special teams

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
3:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


CHICAGO -- The Bears’ special teams have given them a quick boost here in the third quarter.

Rookie Johnny Knox returned the opening kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown, racing untouched through Detroit’s coverage teams. And placekicker Robbie Gould just drilled a 52-yard field goal, the first 50-plus yard conversion of his career, giving the Bears 31-21 lead.

Gould had only attempted two field goals of more than 50 yards in his five-year career. Both came in 2007.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


CHICAGO -- Detroit surely gained some confidence from last week’s victory over Washington, but I don’t know if many people thought the Lions would come into Soldier Field and move up and down the field on Chicago’s defense.

But that’s what has happened here in the first half. The Lions have amassed 273 yards of total offense and 17 first downs, continually exposing the deep middle of the field with receiver Calvin Johnson and tight ends Will Heller and Brandon Pettigrew. I don’t know if I blame new middle linebacker Nick Roach for any or all of that, but it’s certainly a logical place to question in the Tampa 2 scheme.

We’re tied at 21 as the teams head to the locker room. Here are a few more halftime observations:
  • Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford opened the game with a 45-yard pass to Johnson, who was single-covered by Zack Bowman at the time. Stafford is doing a good job of locating Johnson, but I’ve been amazed at how often the Bears have left Bowman in single coverage against him. The Lions don’t have enough offensive threats to allow Johnson to be in one-on-one coverage with anyone.
  • By my count, Stafford has missed three wide-open throws -- two to Johnson and one to Pettigrew – but each time he’s come back and made up for the error by completing his next pass to compensate. In other words, none of the misses have hurt the Lions.
  • Bears receiver Devin Hester left in the second quarter after injuring his shoulder on a pass near the goal line. He didn’t return. I know there has been a lot of celebratory talk about the resurgent Bears receiving corps. But without Hester, the Bears will have their work cut out for them to keep up if this game continues to be a shootout.
  • Other than Jay Cutler's gutsy decision to go airborne on a 5-yard touchdown run, the Bears offense looks uninspired. It’s racked up 153 total yards, of which 61 came on Matt Forte's first carry of the game. Since that play, the Bears have 85 yards on 22 plays.
  • This may matter to no one else but me: At one point, the score was 14-14 with 14:14 remaining in the second quarter.

Smith takes an interesting gamble

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
2:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


CHICAGO -- A wild game continues at Soldier Field. Each team has now taken a field goal off the board because of a penalty, and in each case it’s translated into a touchdown.

Bears coach Lovie Smith took the biggest gamble, wiping out a 20-yard Robbie Gould field goal after a penalty on the Lions. It remained fourth down, however, so the Bears had only one chance to score a touchdown as a result of Smith’s decision.

It all paid off on Jay Cutler’s play-action touchdown pass to Greg Olsen. The Bears now lead 21-14 with 10:47 left in the second quarter.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


CHICAGO -- We've had a wild start here at Soldier Field. Already, it’s pretty clear Detroit believes it can pass on Chicago, while the Bears are hoping they can run on the Lions.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is choosing between multiple open receivers on every play, usually in the middle behind replacement middle linebacker Nick Roach. Stafford has thrown for 122 yards on the Lions’ first two possessions, including a 14-yard touchdown to tight end Will Heller.

The Bears, meanwhile, got a career-long 61-yard scamper from tailback Matt Forte on their first possession and capped off the drive with Jay Cutler’s 5-yard scramble.

We still have 5:03 remaining in the first quarter, and already we’ve had three touchdowns. It’s Detroit 14, Chicago 7.

Kevin Smith will play

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
11:43
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


CHICAGO -- As ESPN.com’s John Clayton reported earlier Sunday morning, Detroit tailback Kevin Smith will be in uniform for the Lions’ game against the Bears at Soldier Field. Smith was not among the eight inactives the Lions just announced.

But, as expected, the Lions will be without defensive lineman Sammie Lee Hill and Dewayne White. Landon Cohen and Jason Hunter will start in their places, respectively. The Lions also have named Ko Simpson their starting safety in place of Marquand Manuel.

NFC North: Final Word

October, 2, 2009
10/02/09
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about this week’s games:

Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMI
Forget Brett Favre, the Packers should really be worried about Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
With so much attention on the Brett Favre drama, it should be pointed out that Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson has punished Green Bay for most of his career. He could be primed for another big night against a Packers defense that has given up 300 rushing yards in its past two games. Peterson has run for at least 100 yards in three of his four career games against the Packers, including 192 last season at the Metrodome. The only exception came in 2007, when cornerback Al Harris’ low but legal tackle knocked him out of the game after 11 carries. Peterson returned the favor by drilling Harris with a forearm in the teams’ next meeting and seems fully engaged in the emotion of this rivalry.

Looking for a technical matchup to track Monday night at the Metrodome? ESPN Stats & Information suggests you follow how well Green Bay’s defense stands up to Minnesota’s two-tight end formation. The Vikings have used the alignment (which includes two receivers and one running back) more than all but four NFL teams this season. It has led to an average of 6.4 yards per play, be it a run or pass. That’s the third-best mark in the NFL. The Packers, on the other hand, have held teams to 4.3 yards per play against two-tight end sets. As much as anything, that’s a tribute to the transition of outside linebacker Aaron Kampman, along with the play of Brady Poppinga and rookie Clay Matthews.

Monday night will be a referendum on the Packers’ decision to stick with left tackle Chad Clifton for one more season. Clifton had surgery on both knees and shoulders this offseason, raising the question of how much he has left at age 33. The Packers didn’t craft much of a contingency plan should Clifton break down, and he’s already missed one game because of an ankle injury. He’s likely to miss this matchup as well, which would again force the Packers to move left guard Daryn Colledge to left tackle -- putting him in a difficult matchup against Vikings pass rush rusher Jared Allen. Clifton has had some success against Allen in the past, but I don’t like his chances on an injured ankle. And I definitely don’t like the Colledge matchup if there isn’t a lot of help involved. Colledge looked serviceable last week against St. Louis but you have to consider the quality of opponent.

Chicago would be smart to use Sunday’s game against Detroit to get its running game in order. The Lions have improved significantly against the run, ranking No. 16 among NFL teams, but it’s likely they will be short-handed on the defensive line. Tackle Sammie Lee Hill (ankle) and end Dewayne White (hamstring) both missed practice this week, while end Cliff Avril (hamstring) isn’t a certainty after missing the past two games. As a result, the Lions signed free agent Chuck Darby for emergency depth this week. We’ve discussed it before: Good running games are about quantity as much as quality. The Bears rank in the bottom third of the league in rushing attempts (76) this season. They need to elevate that number Sunday against the Lions.

Detroit has led at halftime in each of its past two games, but ESPN Stats & Information suggests the Lions will have a tough time holding any lead they might get at Soldier Field. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler already has generated two fourth-quarter comebacks this season, compiling a combined 114.3 passer rating in that span. Meanwhile, opposing quarterbacks have torched the Lions defense in the final stanza this season. The Lions have given up 249 passing yards and three touchdowns during their trio of fourth quarters, good for a 126.6 passer rating. Look at the bright side, though. This analysis alone is a sign of progress for the Lions. By the end of last season, no one was breaking down their chances for holding a fourth-quarter lead.

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