The Lions-Bears game on Monday night is going to be a contrast in coaching styles and philosophies. Lovie Smith is practically void of emotion during the course of the game, and his emotional highs and lows almost always happen behind the scenes (such as his halftime tirade against the Jaguars). Jim Schwartz, now in his fourth season with the Lions, has already given us "handshakegate" and has been known to wear his emotions on his sleeve. Both teams take aspects of their coaches' personalities onto the field, both in their schemes and how they play. But also, the teams appear to be preparing for this game in different ways; the Bears have said very little outside of the standard "they're a good team" comments, while the Lions have had multiple players talk about returning to the "bad boy" style of play that helped them make the playoffs last season.
From a schematic standpoint, the Bears and Lions present different methods for success on both sides of the ball. Defensively, Smith prefers the Cover-2 shell (although not as the only defensive look) and rarely blitzes the quarterback, choosing instead to let the four lineman rush the QB and have seven defenders drop back to defend the pass. Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham do utilize the blitz more than the Bears, although they're not on the level of the blitz-crazy Saints under Greg Williams. Against Philadelphia, returning safety Louis Delmas blitzed nine times, although overall Vick was fairly effective against the blitz (9-15, 142 yards, TD) and the Lions committed two pass interference penalties. Offensively, the Bears take their shots with Cutler, but are still a running team with one of the more balanced run-pass offenses in the league, while the Lions are trying to maintain balance in their offense, but a still-struggling running attack leads to a pass-happy offense as the game goes on.
The "Bad Boy" comments by Burleson caused a bit of a stir because, frankly, if you're a Detroit athlete and you say "bad boys," the first image you may think of is this. Burleson talked about the players needing to control themselves better off the field, especially after having four players get arrested seven times this off season, but not lose their mental edge that they had last season. The "Bad Boy" image from the Detroit Pistons was what Burleson was alluding to in his comments, appealing to his teammates to take that mentality onto the field:
But finding that maturity off the field can't compromise who we are on the field. And who we are on the field are the bad guys... We're the ones that nobody wants to see succeed, and we like it that way. We play better that way.
I don't see how the Lions have necessarily lost their aggressive style of play from last season - I think it comes down more to execution - but they have struggled to find their mojo. The passing game has been hit and miss thus far - no where near last year's terrific numbers - and the backbone of their defense, the line, hasn't been as imposing a presence as last season. The defensive line played well against Philadelphia, and Stafford lit up the Eagles in the fourth quarter after struggling through the first three, but is Burleson's emotional ploy going to be enough for the Lions?
The "bad boy" comments harken back to last year's out-of-control Lions: the Suh stomping, the Matt Stafford-D.J. Moore incident, the personal fouls. Whether or not the Lions' aggressive attitude on the field is showing this season, the penalties are still there (sixteen accepted by the Eagles on Sunday). Schwartz mentioned how the Lions needed to come out of their bye week playing with more emotion, but the volatile nature of emotions makes it difficult to predict whether that emotion will be uplifting or destructive.
Almost all teams and coaches have made the emotional appeal at some point: a guaranteed win, protecting home field, advocating for loud fans, and the ever-popular "no one believes in us." Lovie Smith loves playing the underdog "disrespect" card, although Tom Coughlin may have trademarked it before the Giants steamrolled the 49ers last week. Burleson's comments are not necessarily inflammatory "bulletin board" material for the Bears, but it depends on how you interpret them. Is he simply saying the Lions are going to get back to playing like last year's successful Lions, or is it a warning to their opponents that Detroit is "hulking up" to play emotional football regardless of the potential damage inflicted? Are Burleson's comments an act of aggression, or an act of desperation?
The Lions potentially saved their season last week with their come-from-behind win against the Eagles, but facing a 4-1 divisional
rival foe on the road is not the best way to celebrate or the easiest way to keep the good times rolling. Burleson knows the Lions need more going their way to beat the Bears, and if you can't improve your talent, or your scheme, sometimes all you have left is the unknown results of an appeal for greater emotion.