So now we go from wondering if Cam Newton is the real deal to wondering if the Detroit Lions are the real deal. I love how these segues work, sometimes. Thing is, I think they might be. The Bears go to Ford Field to play the Lions on Monday Night, the first time the teams have played on this stage since 2001. The stakes here are, well, huge. A win for the Lions brings them to 5-0, three games up on the Bears and putting our team in a deep, deep hole while assuring them a share of first place for another week and remaining undefeated. A Bears win puts us above .500 for the first time since week 1, one game behind the Lions and possibly remaining two behind the Packers, still in the hunt for a playoff berth. They need this one, and so do we. Follow me past the jump and let's just get to it...
What'd They Do Last Year: Finished 6-10, 3rd in the NFC North, winning their last four games.
So Far This Year: The Lions come into this one fresh off a victory against Dallas 34-30. They now sit at 4-0 tied for first in the NFC North with the Packers.
When Last We Met: The Bears swept the season series against the Lions last season, winning the first game 19-14 in week 1 and the later matchup 24-20.
The Lions bring an offensive corps that so far rivals the top teams in the NFL, led by quite possibly the league's top receiver in Calvin Johnson. He's pretty good, I hear. He currently sits at 24 receptions for 321 yards and leads the league with 8 TDs. After having a rough couple of injury-riddled seasons, Matthew Stafford looks every bit to be the first round pick the team drafted two years ago, and the Lions think they added their complementary speed-threat in Titus Young. They're a team that like to use all aspects of the passing game - receivers, tight ends, and Jahvid Best out of the backfield - and they like to go down the field. One thing the Lions haven't done well this year is running the ball - Best leads the team with 60 carries and averages 3.2 yards per attempt, while the team has a 3.0 yards per attempt average. But that's largely balanced by the Lions' 12.3 yards per reception and Stafford's 62.1 completion percentage.
The defensive unit seems to have seen more improvement, thanks the the philosophy of "The D-Line Makes Everything Better" and actually getting some slightly better linebackers in Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch. The Lions' 4-3 is built from the trenches out with last year's rookie Pro Bowler Ndamukong Suh, big free-agent acquisition Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, and let's not forget the pick spent on DT talent Nick Fairley (who to my knowledge hasn't seen the field). As far as the secondary, the Lions have Louis Delmas as the cornerstone, Amari Spievey next to him, and playmaker Chris Houston (3 INTs so far on the season).
If the Bears do this...
I'm feeling like a broken record now. The Bears pretty much have two options this game. The first of those involves the offensive line playing out of their bleeping minds in all phases. Since the Lions haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher against them yet and the line has collected 7 of the team's 9 sacks, I'm going to go with unlikely. The second option is to attack with a shorter, more lateral passing game to spread the defense out. Recall that Forte had an excellent day in the screen game in the first matchup last season with an 80+ yard touchdown reception. If the Bears try to unleash the full Martz playbook this week, I don't see many good things unless it's properly set up. The defensive line just gets too much penetration on a consistent basis. I actually somewhat like the matchup of our speed receivers against the Detroit secondary, but what bothers me is if Cutler will have time to let deep routes develop.
If the Lions do this...
One of the images I have in my head of last season is Jahvid Best being trapped behind the line of scrimmage, then for some reason let free to run 40 yards like the Bears' defense forgot he exists. Bottom line, the Bears have to play defense this week. They get a little help in that the Lions' total yardage decreased in every game this season (from 431 in Week 1 to 303 in Week 4). The primary thing this week is penetration, which won't be easy, as Stafford's only been sacked 5 times this season. Best will run with space and Stafford will throw well if given time, and since I hate the matchup of the Lions receivers against our secondary, especially if it's Meriweather and Wright at safeties again, the fewer clean throws and running lanes, the better.
This game scares me. Though the Lions had to make strong second-half comebacks in their last two games, old Lions teams would have folded like cheap lawn chairs. If the Bears get a lead, they can't get complacent - it'll be nothing short of a very good full 60-minute effort that wins the game. As stated in the intro, this one is huge.