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Lions vs. Bears Preview

The difference a few months make.  Back in September the Lions were brimming with confidence and ready to roll out a souped up offense and much improved defense.  30 minutes into their first game the optimism for the season took a heavy blow when Stafford went down.  30 minutes later the NFL finished off any remaining optimism with a bad call for the ages. 

Now the Bears come to Detroit for the rematch with entirely different circumstances.  The Lions will be starting a 3rd string quarterback, they will be missing a minimum of four starters and they are coming off their worst performance of the season.

As for the Bears, their fortunes can’t get any better as they get to face an injury ravaged team for the third time in four games.

Offense:

The Lions are definitely going to be without Shaun Hill which leaves them with Drew Stanton.  Stanton is a great athlete, but his accuracy is terrible and he has very limited playing experience.  The only potential advantage the Lions have with Stanton is he practiced against Rod Marinelli’s defense for a couple seasons when he was mostly taking scout team snaps.

The running game will have to carry the offense, which will be no minor task without a healthy Jahvid Best.  With Kevin Smith on IR, that leaves Maurice Morris and Aaron Brown as the primary ball carriers.  The two of them did a decent job against the Patriots, but the Bears’ front seven is better than the Pats’.

The offensive line did a better job against the Bears than they got credit for in the first game.  The Stafford injury really stuck in people’s minds, but other than that play the blocking was good.  Jahvid Best didn’t gain a lot of yards in the first game, but he wasn’t very patient and didn’t let the holes develop.

The Lions are clearly at a disadvantage in this game going up against the Bears with a 3rd string QB, 3rd and 4th string running backs and potentially without Tony Scheffler too.  The Lions should be able to attack the Bears up the middle in the running game though, because the middle of the Bears’ defense is overrated.  Tommie Harris is inconsistent and Urlacher has shown an inability to get off of blockers throughout his career.  If the Lions can establish the running game they may have a shot at winning this game because play action passes are incredibly effective against the Tampa 2 Defense.

Defense:

The Lions’ fortunes on defense really depend on which Mike Martz arrives in Detroit.  Will it be the humbled run first Martz that has been dialing back the passes and playing more conservatively the last few weeks?  Or will the “Mad Scientist” show up and try to pass the ball 80% of the time?  If the conservative Martz is calling the plays the Lions will struggle defensively.

The linebackers have really played poorly (except for DeAndre Levy) and the majority of the breakdowns on running plays have been on them.  Julian Peterson’s tackling has been so bad he’d be giving up the same amount of plays in two-hand touch.  Ashlee Palmer and Landon Johnson are good special teams guys, but they are overmatched as every down players.

The Bears’ offensive line is probably the worst unit in the NFL with the exception of the Bills, but when they have a balanced offense it protects their weaknesses.  If they drop back to pass 50 times, the Lions will be able to pin their ears back and attack Cutler.  But if they have a good mix of run and pass, the Lions’ won’t be able to use their stunts and misalligned fronts to take advantage of the huge talent gap.

Kyle Vanden Bosch may be out for the remainder of the season, so the pass rush will be hampered, but his loss will be felt more against the run.  KVB has a legendary motor and he will pursue ball carriers all the way down the field.  That kind of effort is not easily replaced, which is another reason the Bears have the advantage if they run the ball.

Jay Cutler has been taking better care of the football this season, but he’s still prone to collapses.  Cutler is as mentally tough as fine china, so if the Lions can rattle him early he becomes his own worst enemy.  The Giants’ and Redskins’ games are perfect examples of that.

As I said earlier, if Martz gets pass happy, the Lions have a chance in this game.  If Martz sticks with a balanced approach, the Lions will have breakdowns in the running game and they won’t be able to rush the passer as aggressively.

Wild Card:

This game will boil down to third downs for the Lions.  On offense, can they run the ball well enough to stay out of third and long situations?  The Bears do not give up big plays, so the Lions will have to move the ball down the field with sustained drives.  They can’t sustain drives if they are in third and 10’s all day.

By the same token, the Lions need to keep the Bears in as many third and longs as possible.  The Lions’ pass rush is most dangerous when they can stand guys up and move them around to confuse the blocking schemes.  Those types of plays leave huge running lanes open, so they can only call those plays in third and long situations.  In addition, Cutler is is prone to breakdowns in his mechanics when he’s under pressure.  His poor footwork leads to terrible throws and turnovers, which means he is more likely to make mistakes in third and long situations.

Prediction:

I’d like to see the Lions bounce back from a nationally televised meltdown with a strong showing against the Bears, but after seeing the injury report I’m not sure it’s in the cards.  It’s a tall order to overcome the absence of your top two quarterbacks, top running back, defensive leader and Hall of Fame caliber kicker.  The Lions do have the advantage of emotion though, as they had a win stolen from them Week 1 and want to bounce back after the Thanksgiving performance.

When it’s all said and done, I don’t think the Lions have it in them.  The last two games got blown wide open as the lack of depth is becoming an issue late in games.  The injuries are all in position groups that are the key to winning games;  quarterback, running back, defensive end and kicker.  The coaching staff has to find ways to get this team to fight back when adversity hits and whether it’s lack of talent or apathy that hurts more I don’t know.  Either way, this team needs to catch a break late in a game to help propel them to a win and they haven’t gotten a good break since Stafford went down against the Jets.


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