Saturday, September 28, 2013
Four keys for Detroit against Chicago
By Michael Rothstein
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The season of streaks continues Sunday. The Chicago Bears have won nine of their past 10 games against the Detroit Lions, and 13 of their past 16.
In other words, there is another long streak going on. Not as long as the 0-for-forever one the Lions stopped last week against Washington, or the decades-long road losing streak at Green Bay that Detroit will face next week, but a streak nonetheless.
The good news for Detroit is it is mostly healthy other than injuries to wide receiver Nate Burleson and defensive end Jason Jones. Reggie Bush is expected to return, and the Lions have options to replace Burleson, be it with receivers (Ryan Broyles), tight ends (Joseph Fauria and Tony Scheffler) or Bush.
That’s just one of the four big keys for Detroit on Sunday against Chicago -- with an early hold of first place in the NFC North at stake.
Pressure Jay Cutler early: Cutler has been magnificent against Detroit in the nine games he has played the Lions. He’s completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 1,822 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception. He’s also only lost to the Lions twice since joining the league. Detroit has done a good job hitting Cutler in previous games -- he’s been sacked 26 times by the Lions in his career -- but this season’s version of the Detroit defense appears to be better at using the pressure to force chaos for opponents. Cutler hasn’t thrown an interception against Detroit since 2010, when Aaron Berry intercepted him. It will be imperative for the Lions to make him toss at least one Sunday.
Use Joique Bell and Bush simultaneously: Detroit is searching for a way to replace Burleson, and one potentially easy way is to take the unique skills of Bush and split him both out wide, in the slot and in the backfield. Turn him into a Swiss Army Reggie -- more so than before -- and create mismatches that way. He immediately becomes a strong No. 2 receiver, and would take pressure off the returning Broyles. Plus, it gives the Lions a way to get Bell, who each week looks better and better as a runner, more opportunities in a game.
Get Calvin Johnson going fast: Johnson said Thursday “it’s easy to have a dislike (of the Bears). It’s not hard at all.” For Johnson, that makes some sort of sense. Chicago has done a good job on him historically, allowing the league’s best receiver to have games of 100-plus yards only twice. Much of that has to do with cornerback Charles Tillman, who seems to have a knack for being able to play well against Johnson. In 11 games against Chicago, Johnson has caught 53 passes for 801 yards -- an average of 72.8 yards a game. Detroit has done a good job of targeting him most years against the Bears, throwing him the ball more than 20 times a game in four of his six seasons.
Punt well: Yes, this seems somewhat small in the scheme of things, but Devin Hester is one of the few returners in the game who can completely shift things in one play. He’s been a dynamic returner for years, and has the ability to turn a poorly placed punt into either great field position for the Bears or perhaps even a score. A lot of pressure is on rookie punter Sam Martin to make sure the hang time and direction on his punts are precise Sunday.