Looking through a lot of the posts, articles, and previews about some game between the undefeated Lions and the 2-2 Bears on Monday Night Football, what I came away with were two teams that, in their current makeup, have a lot of similarities between them in terms of personnel, scheme, and execution. Other than their respective records, there are a laundry list of differences as well between them, but two which will play a key role in this week's game. Jump in memory of a technological innovator and humanitarian.
The Bears and Lions arrive on MNF in two mindsets: the Bears are looking for a big upset win (yes, it would be an upset as the Lions are favored by six at this time) and to start gaining some positive traction after an up-and-down first quarter of the season, while the Lions are looking to cross another team off its hit list and stay undefeated. While the Lions arrow is decidely pointed up at this time and the Bears is teetering in the middle somewhere, the similarities of the two teams heading into the Monday contest give this game a little more intrigue.
The quarterback situation for both features guys that haven't fulfilled their potential yet, but have definitely shown they can get the job done. Cutler's failings at this point fluctuate between blaming him, Martz, or the lack of talent around him, while Stafford is finally healthy and doing well after orchestrating two straight comeback wins, but isn't yet at the elite level due to his small sample size. Both quarterbacks also deal with offensive lines more closely described as offensive as opposed to a team strength. The Bears... well, we know their issues, while the Lions line hasn't been consistently successful providing running lanes for Best (3.2 ypc average). And don't let the five sacks allowed fool you; the protection for Stafford has been uneven, especially left tackle Jeff Backus, and the passing games success is more a result of Stafford's short throw precision and Megatron's presence then the line's success. The Bears also rely on the short stuff in the passing game, evident by Matt Forte's receiving numbers thus far, and probably need to incorporate more of the quick and short to avoid a quarterback splattered across Ford Field.
Also, both defenses rely on their front four to create pressure on the quarterback; the scheme's for both Lovie and the Mad Gunther (Cunningham, that is) call on minimal amounts of blitzing so far this year, surprising for Detroit since Cunningham is traditionally known as having a blitz-heavy D. How each team's average-or-worst O-Lines counteract the force of the front four will be a key matchup, but I'll be looking for how each defense executes their expectedly small number of blitz packages as well. And while I don't think anyone would compare the Bears and Lions linebackers as being equally talented, the overall back seven of each team has some issues with big pass plays and tackling, making a homerun-or-pass for a touchdown possible, even likely on Monday.
The two key differences for the Bears and Lions at this stage of the season are, to me, the reason why the Lions are favored and expected to win so decidedly (by media prognosticators, we all know the final score will be Ditka to Millen, Bears win). Number one is Megatron himself. Eight touchdowns after four games is obscene; Johnson should have a "Parental Advisory" sticker on his helmet. The Bears (hopefully) have a scheme adjustment to minimize the carnage, but there's just no one in the NFL playing at his level right now outside of Aaron Rodgers (gulp). The second difference is health: the Lions were banged up in training camp, but now they get Nick Fairley back in a likely limited role, and Justin Durantis healthy after a concussion, not to mention key injury-prone guys like Stafford, Young and Best haven't even coughed yet this season. The Bears, meanwhile, have been playing without their best O-lineman (Carimi), most dependable receiver (Bennett), and best secondary player (Harris), leaving the Bears to shuffle all three groups in hopes of
maximizingminimizing the damage. The injuries reveal a lack of an identifiable succession plan and a talent drain that comes with injuries, but the Bears are struggling to find answers at a time when there shouldn't be many questions.