The last time these two teams met, the Lions got the better of the Bears, beating them 24-13 on the strength of two huge offensive plays (Calvin Johnson’s 73 yard pass reception and Jahvid Best’s 88 yard TD run) and a relentless pass rush. In my review of that game, I wrote that the Lions looked young and hungry and the Bears looked old and tired. At the end of that game, the Lions were 5-0 and the Bears were 2-3. Things looked bleak at the time. However, as we approach Sunday’s game, the Lions have lost two out of three and the Bears have won three in a row (including an impressive win over a potent Eagles team). The Bears are now only one game behind the Lions and looking to avenge themselves from a lackluster performance four weeks ago.
One of the things that made me scratch my head was the fact that the Bears pretty much abandoned the run after the first half even though they were leading 10-7. Matt Forte had 15 carries for 84 yards in the first half, but ended the game with only 22 carries for 116 yards — only 7 carries in the second half? Forte had rushed for a career best 205 yards the week before and was on pace for another monster game, but for some reason the Bears lost their commitment to the run. The Lions are susceptible to the run, let’s hope the Bears don’t forget that tomorrow afternoon.
Another thing that stuck out from the previous game was the woeful performance of the Bears’ OL. The Lions only sacked Jay Cutler 3 times, but he was hit an additional 6 times plus he was hurried practically the whole game. The OL committed 8 false start penalties. All in all, the OL was one of the main reasons the Bears lost that game, and they received my “ugly” award in that game. Coming into this game, the OL has found some continuity. The combination of Webb, Williams, Garza, Spencer and Louis have shown marked improvement the past three games, and that against some strong pass rushing teams in Minnesota and Philadelphia. The difference has been an emphasis on the run and utilizing some max protect schemes with a TE and a FB or two TE’s. This stands to reason; if your OL can’t do the job with only five guys, you throw in two more guys to help out. A chip block by a FB or TE can mean the difference between a completion or your QB on the ground.
Let’s review the upcoming game…
Bears’ Offense vs. Lions’ Defense: The Bears are slowly, but surely creeping up the ranks of NFL offenses. They are currently 17th in overall offense (341.8 YPG), 19th in passing (220.9 YPG) and 11th in rushing (120.9 YPG). The Lions are 9th in overall defense (331.2 YPG), 5th against the pass (193.6 YPG) and 29th against the run (137.6 YPG). Now, if you’re Lovie Smith, you should be salivating at this. The Bears are beginning to establish themselves in the running game and the Lions are pathetic against the run. What’s the game plan? Pound the ball! A very healthy dose of Forte around the end and off tackle and Marion Barber up the gut should soften up the Lions defensively enough to exploit play action passing. Furthermore, as has been said here before, keeping 2nd and 3rd down more manageable is preferred against a team that is stronger against the pass.
Bears’ Defense vs. Lions’ Offense: The Bears are 23rd overall on defense (374.2 YPG), 26th against the pass (264.2 YPG) and 11th against the run (110.0 YPG). The Lions are 13th offensively (355.9 YPG), 10th in passing (260.6 YPG) and 27th in rushing (95.2 YPG). Now, if you’re Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz, you should be salivating at this. The Lions’ strength is the passing attack of Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson and the Bears’ weakness is in defending against the pass. However, things are a little different now than they were five weeks ago. First, RB Jahvid Best is out for the game. Best controlled the game last time gashing the Bears’ defense with huge runs to keep drives going. He only rushed 12 times, but they were 12 BIG runs. Secondly, the Bears aren’t starting Brandon Meriweather and Chris Harris (who has been cut) at safety this game. That safety combination was terribly exploited by Johnson and Stafford last game. This time around the Bears will be starting Christ Conte and Major Wright at safety. I don’t know if that’s necessarily an improvement, but they are faster. Without the threat of Best at RB, the Lions become one dimensional. It happens to be their best dimension, but it’s much easier to beat a one dimensional team than a team with a dangerous RB like Best. Look for a much-improved performance from the Bears defense in this game.
My Prediction: I look for the Bears to win this game and split the season series with the Lions. The Bears will control the game with their rushing attack and seek to keep the Lions’ offense off the field. The Bears will completely shut down the Lions’ non-existent running game and focus all their attention on containing Calvin Johnson. Matthew Stafford has a bad history in Soldier Field having had season-ending injuries both times he’s played here. The Lions will probably still have success through the air, but what broke the Bears’ back last game wasn’t the passing game, it was the running game. It will be a different story this time around. A surging Bears team at home against a team that embarrassed them last time is a recipe for victory in my book. Bears 31, Lions 17.