I had called this a trap game for the Bears, and I was concerned that they would come out flat on defense against a feisty Lions team. The first half demonstrated my concerns. The defensive line got very little pass rush against third-stringer Drew Stanton, and the sure-tackling most of this year was curiously absent. As much as the Bears talked all week about being focused on the Lions and not taking any games for granted, it is human nature to rest on your laurels after recently accomplishing a significant task (beating the Eagles). I don't really think they took the Lions for granted, but I do think they weren't fired up being on the road against a last place team. It definitely showed early on.
The offense did a good job of staying poised, converting third downs, and scoring touchdowns once they got in the red zone. Cutler was under pretty good pressure all game long, especially on the seven-step drops that Martz called. I was hoping the offensive line would continue to improve, but I think it took a small step back in today's game. The Bears tackles just don't get to the edge fast enough on deep drops to slow down defensive ends. One of the sacks was on Brandon Manumaleuna, but this has been a problem all year long. I don't know if it's a talent issue, an alignment issue, or a reaction-time issue. Regardless, it's going to have to improve. Martz and Cutler have turned the offense into an efficient, balanced unit that can sustain long drives. But, the Bears have the speed on the outside in Knox and Hester to hit some big plays down the field. Unfortunately, Cutler can't get the time necessary to let those plays develop. It's a nice option to have, especially when the defense is off its game like it was for part of Sunday's game.
I thought Martz called an excellent game after the early failed screen passes. After that, though, he took advantage of the aggressive blitzing by the Lions with quick passes and draw plays. Cutler was super accurate, hitting Earl Bennett consistently in tight windows. I also loved the playing calling in the red zone. The misdirection pitch to Forte that resulted in a touchdown is a play I love that should be used more often. It slows down the defense, and it takes advantage of Forte's burst to the edge. The touchdown pass to Manumaleuna was well designed and executed. The big guy doesn't get many balls thrown his way, so they should continue to use him in the red zone and on third and short. Late in the game when the Bears had the ball and the lead, I was really hoping they would just run it to use up the clock. I held my breath the three times Jay dropped back to pass. But, the completions to Olson, Knox, and Manumaleuna proved the offense can move the ball when they needed to. Is there anything better than having the ball with a four-point lead with five minutes to go and not punting it back to the opponent?
As I previously stated, the defense was a little flat in the first half, and Marinelli was calling too many blitzes. They had such success running their base cover-2 last week that they should stick to it. I'm not a huge fan of it, but the Bears are running it well and their secondary just isn't good enough to lock down receivers when they are left in man coverage. But, the defense stepped up huge after Cutler fumbled inside his own 15-yard line. They did what you had to do in that situation--they held the Lions to a field goal. It was a huge point in the game, and the defense rose to the occasion.
The defense can't miss tackles or give up huge gains against the Patriots like they did against the Lions and expect to win. And, the normally sound special teams needs to get back to their dominating ways next week. They, too, had an off game. But, Cutler and the Bears did what they had to do to win a dogfight game on the road against a division opponent. Again, that's what good teams do. They'll have their work cut out for them next week against New England. Their defensive line will need to step up, and their tackling will have to be better because Tom Brady will take those underneath routes and nickel and dime the Bears to death. All of that is for another post, though. For now, let's enjoy being fans of the 9-3 Chicago Bears!