I took a pass on looking back at last year's match-ups against the Packers, but last season's outings against the Lions are worth digging up the tape for. Not because they were great games for the Bears - or even good ones, for that matter - but because we knew just what type of season it would be for us after our Week 1 game against Detroit. The defense? Amazing. The offense? Inconsistent. Lovie Smith and Mike Martz's coaching? Equal parts genius and idiocy. Follow me below the fold to remember the absurdity that was Detroit at Chicago last season and see the type of plays the Bears used to squeak out a win despite their best efforts to do otherwise.
Since it must be said in any write-up about this game, "process of the catch." Other than not giving up a game-winning touchdown to Calvin Johnson late in the fourth, the Bears were able to shut down the Lions offense after a shaky start to the game. They forced the Lions to go three and out on their first drive, but after Jay decided to get his interception out of the way early in the game, the Bears found themselves defending a short field. With pressure coming on third down, the Bears forced Matthew Stafford to drop the ball off short of the marker, but the pressure kept coming anyways and Julius Peppers was called for the late hit. With the ball now inside the red zone, Stafford took a shot to Calvin Johnson in the corner of the end zone, but as was the theme for the day, he was ruled out of bounds and denied the socre. The Lions, however, would go on to convert another third down and score on a 7-yard Javhid Best run after that, putting Detroit up 7-3. They were able to score again in the second quarter, converting a Matt Forte fumble into a long drive featuring inside-the-tackles running by Best and Maurice Morris. While the Bears had been successful using only their front four to harass Stafford, they sent two extra men off the right edge on first and ten at their own 20. Stafford found an open Nate Burleson for fifteen yards, setting up a walk-in Javhid Best touchdown on the next play. While pass coverage had been good for the Bears, the middle of the defense was looking surprisingly soft.
The touchdown made it 14-3 Lions, but that would be the last time they scored on the day. Julius Peppers did more than anyone to secure that outcome, coming around the right edge at the close of the first half and seperating both football and shoulder from Matthew Stafford. Tommie Harris was able to recover and moved the ball to within field goal position with 25 seconds left, setting up the Bears to add three more to the scoreboard before the half ended. And with Shaun Hill coming in for Stafford to start the second half, the defense's job was that much easier. While Stafford's accurate passing made the Bears play deep zones and open up running room in front, the Bears crowded the line knowing that Hill wasn't going to throw much. The Bears actually earned three yards against the run in the second half, allowing Hill only one first down before his last drive of the game. Charles Tillman made a big play against Calvin Johnson, giving him just enough of a nudge to knock him down and make an easy interception on the Bears 2, saving the team from itself after Cutler was stripped on the Chicago 39 to set up the drive. The Bears fell into a predictable Cover 2 shell from there, giving Hill short yards underneath and nothing over the top. While we saw another classic example of the Lovie Smith two minute defense giving up too many yards at the end of the game on the final Lions drive, amazing linebacker play in coverage and run support along with strong pressure from Julius Peppers and (gasp!) Tommie Harris allowed the Lions zero points in the second half.
Play of the Game
With the Lions setting up a first and ten on their own ten with 11:30 left in the game, everyone on both sides of the ball knew what was coming from Shaun Hill: an inside handoff. Unfortunately for the Lions, however, Lance Briggs was able to throw off their blocking scheme by moving from off the right tackle to inside the right guard just as the ball was snapped. He came completely free through the line and beat Best to the handoff, knocking the ball loose and recovering it on the Lions 1. Perfect execution of a well-designed run blitz.
Player of the Game
Julius Peppers almost wins by default, but since he gave up a big first down in the first quarter with an unnecessary roughness penalty that turned a third-down stop into points on the board, I'll go with the obvious choice. Brian Urlacher put his mark on this game, getting a perfect sack of Hill in that forced Detroit to punt from their own 4, stopping the run game to the point of Detroit earning negative yards in the second half, and even breaking up a third-down pass to Calvin Johnson on a post route to keep the Lions out of scoring position. Good to have him back and healthy, that's for sure.
Same exact game plan. If the Bears can force Detroit to abandon the run game, it's simply a matter of waiting until Stafford gets injured in yet another game against the Bears, right? The Bears are going to need as good of a performance out of their front four in this game as they had last season, because if Chicago is forced to blitz, I think Calvin Johnson will be more careful about holding onto the ball in the end zone. He will probably be matched up by Tillman, who completely blanked him through three quarters. The key match up for me, however, will be how well the linebackers and safeties can stop the Lions' tight ends. The Bears gave up yardage to both Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew last year, and if our safeties play deep to keep Johnson bracketed, there will be easy yards underneath and in the seams unless Urlacher and Briggs can keep them in check. Stuffing the Lions run game won't be too hard, but if Lovie doesn't have a plan for the passing game as well, it could be a long Monday night.
All and all, this wasn't a horrible outing for the first game in the Mike Martz system. Very bad maybe, but not horrible. Turnovers almost killed us, but there were highlights as well. The first drive of the game was a thing of beauty, and while we ended up having to settle for 3, both Devin Aromashodu and Johnny Knox made nice catches to move the ball. Matt Forte did well on this first drive as well, earning hard yards in between the tackles including having to make it pas Ndamukong Suh on multiple runs. Suh got the better of him on the goal line on this first drive (and all game for that matter), but the offensive attack was surprisingly balanced in this game.
Now, for the bad. After scoring on their first possession, the Bears did the following to end their next couple of drives: Jay throwing a pick into triple coverage, Greg Olsen fumbling on the Detroit 6, and Forte coughing up the ball on the Detroit 30. It looked like the last drive of the half would end just as badly, with Chris Williams being called on a hold to move the Bears back to their own 11 on first down. In a way, though, Williams did the Bears a favor: facing first and twenty, Martz made the safe play call, a running back screen. With Matt Forte in space, however, it was anything but safe for the Detroit defense. Forte had all of one hand touch him as he gained the outside edge and tip-toed down the sideline 89 yards to move the Bears from 14-3 to 14-10. After Peppers stripped the ball from Stafford on their next possession, Cutler was able to complete two quick passes to set up Robbie Gould to make it a 1 point game going into half time.
The Bears, however, didn't do much with this big momentum shift in the second half. While they got the turnovers under control, giving up only one more when the Lions came around the edge and stripped Cutler of the ball, there was little to be found again the Detroit defense. Drops were a big problem, with Devin Aromashodu being the main offender. The biggest dissappointment came after the Bears recovered the ball on the Detroit 1. Down by one, they ran straight ahead twice and tried to get a play-action pass in to Kellen Davis, but couldn't capitalize. With less than seven minutes to play in the game, Lovie opted to go for 6 instead of taking an easy three. Forte was stuffed short yet again, and the Bears still trailed with time running down. The defense being what it was, however, the Bears would get one more shot with the clock now at about 3:30. This time, however, they would have to move the ball 60 yards instead of one. The drive moved backwards with yet another holding call, but Chester Taylor got the drive moving the right way with a 19-yard catch-and-run. This was followed quickly by a Greg Olsen first down and a ten yard scamper by Taylor. With the ball now on the edge of field goal range and time ticking, it was time to take a shot. This leads me to the...
Play of the Game
Martz's system uses a variety of tricks to dictate the match-ups it draws from a defense, and this play is a perfect example. The Bears came out with four wides, putting Detroit into a dime coverage. From here, a rested Matt Forte motioned out of the backfield to line up as a WR, drawing a linebacker as coverage. The linebacker didn't have a chance covering Forte one-on-one, and Cutler loaded up a perfect pass that hit Forte just as he got into the end zone. Forte jumped up, tucked the ball and held on to it as he fell to the ground, and the Bears took the lead again with a whole 1:29 left on the clock. Forte, of course, is the obvious choice for player of the game here, as he accounted for 12 of the Bears' 19 points in the game and was able to run both inside and outside of the tackles with ease. While Suh was able to hold the Bears to no gain on some runs, I was surprised to see just how well the Bears moved the ball against the allegedly stout middle of the Lions' line.
After last week's game, you know they are going to get off the bus running. Martz wasn't afraid to run it against their fearsome interior to keep them honest, but our biggest running plays went outside of the tackles to take advantage of the Lions' weak secondary and linebacking group. Considering even Chester Taylor looked good against the Lions last year, moving the ball on the ground shouldn't be too hard. As far as the air attack goes, the Lions showed lots of zone coverage against us last year, meaning Martz might have to content himself with three step drops and dink-and-dunk passes. Still, he called a few long balls - one a beautiful 50+ yard pass by Cutler that hit Aromashodu in the hands and bounced off - and enough passes in the 15-20 yard range to keep the box from getting crowded. The big keys, however, will be in keeping the Lions' defense from being as opportunistic as the Bears' defense will be - ball control and smart play from Cutler will be keys. I wouldn't be surprised to see Forte to have a game as impressive as his last: while I doubt he will get 200 yards on the ground, 200 total yards is not out of the question if the Bears rely on the screen game as much as they did last time. The other big problem - the Bears' inability to pick up that final yard - will hopefully be helped by the addition of Marion Barber, but I'm not at all confident that we could get that yard more than half of the time. Let's just hope that Jay is able to pull off enough big plays that we won't need a small one.
In a game featuring this much defense out of both teams, special teams were a decisive factor. Chicago was able to provide itself with great starting field position - the average drive started just inside the 40 - and keep Detroit pinned deep using the skills of Brad Maynard. Gould was perfect on the day, as usual, and would have had four more points on the day if we had gone for a field goal on the infamous fourth and one and subsequently gone for the extra point instead of two on the next touchdown. The punt coverage was solid, featuring a huge hit by Corey Graham on Stafan Logan that made him wish he called for a fair catch. Penalties were killers for the Bears special teams, however, and turned two good returns by Devin Hester into lost yards. The coverage on the final kickoff to the Lions was also questionable, but holding a determined opponent to inside their own 35 isn't a horrible outcome. All told, though, by keeping the Lions buried deep, special teams set up the defense to do what they do best. I would say they did the same for the offense, but the offense seemed more concerned with beating out Maynard for changes of possession inside the 20.
Player & Play of the Game
Honestly, no play other than the beastly tackle by Graham really stuck out to me. Devin Hester was good, but never got more than a handful of yards on the return. Danieal Manning is the winner by default, as he gave the Bears decent enough field position on the three kickoffs he returned in the game.
In a game I figure will be a close one if only because the Lions have played everybody close this season, special teams will give us a bit of an edge. Gould will be fine inside the dome, and now that Hester has broken the three-season dry spell he was in at the start of last season, he is always a threat to score. While I feel like I've said this every time, our special teams are some of the best in the league and will give us an advantage every time.
Thanks for reading, and see you back here next week.