We offer our typical six keys to beating the Lions in one easy-to-digest six-pack of football goodness.
1) Game-plan to Give Jay Cutler Time
The Bears' offensive line has been much better since the Week 2 debacle against Green Bay, and a large part of that was due to an inability or lack of willingness to run the ball. But since then, the Bears have only given up five sacks due to a little extra balance in playcalling and some better blocking from their tight ends. The Lions, though, had a better game against Philadelphia with stopping the run and going after the shaky Michael Vick. Over five games so far, the vaunted defensive line of Detroit has scored twelve sacks, with three of them (two for Cliff Avril) coming against Philadelphia. Is the Lions' line hitting its stride, or just having a good game against a running quarterback? The Bears can't afford to find out.
2) Involve Matt Forte, Frequently
Matt Forte as a runner is pretty damn good, but as a receiver, he's done even more damage. In his eight games against Detroit, he's averaged over twelve yards per reception, over a full yard over his career average of eleven. And his average running the ball against Detroit isn't too shabby either, at almost 85 yards per game. Of the three division opponents, it's who he does his best work against.
3) Return of the Earl
Earl Bennett's only made six receptions for 82 yards on the season, but part of that is due to injury, and the other part is due to Brandon Marshall's 35 receptions of the team's 90 total. Alshon Jeffery filled in that secondary target role fairly well the last three games, but with the team's second-place receptions-getter on the shelf for three weeks, the Bears need someone from the trio of Devin Hester, Earl Bennett and Dane Sanzenbacher to step up. Hester's not been bad in his receiver spots, but that slack needs to be picked up by Bennett.
4) Attack the Secondary
The Lions' secondary has been decimated by injury, although they did get Louis Delmas back. That still doesn't change Jacob Lacey is likely to miss with his concussion, Bill Bentley injured his shoulder, and the team resorted to re-signing Alphonso Smith this week (cutting Keiland Williams in the process). Brandon Marshall will see his share of doubles, but the Lions also need to be aware of Hester's blazing downfield speed.
5) Encourage Calvin Johnson's Continued Red Zone Woes
Johnson has only one touchdown this year, and that wasn't even from Matthew Stafford. But he's still on pace to produce career highs in yards and receptions, which means he's producing just about everywhere else except in the red zone. And the Bears do a better job of working on him than others in the league - in nine games, they've limited him to four touchdowns, 5 receptions and 77 yards per game. Which is pretty ridiculous. (Minnesota allows him 62.9 yards, but he's scored twice more in one extra game.)
The point is, Matthew Stafford isn't getting the ball to Johnson too much in the red zone, and part of that is the way defenses are attacking him with man coverage plus a safety over the top. We'll see how a Bears' defense that's played lights out against some admittedly weaker offenses can hold the trend against Johnson. They'll need to.
6) Special Special Teams
The Lions' special teams units outside of Jason Hanson have struggled, in no more evident fashion than allowing punt and kick returns for touchdowns in back to back weeks against Tennessee and Minnesota. Couple that with Devin Hester having five punt and kick returns for touchdowns on Monday nights in his career, as well as a team that he's scored two return touchdowns against, and eleven total return touchdowns at home. Of course a touchdown on special teams would be huge, as fourteen of his return touchdowns have come in wins (let's face it, generally, touchdowns are good things). But there are two factors into this - one, will Detroit's special teams coverages continue to tighten up, and two, is Hester (who will be 30 in about two weeks) starting to hit his decline?