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Tale of the Tape - "What Happened?!" Edition

I do love the classic games of yesteryear, and I was tempted to pick out one of the franchise-record 93 wins the Bears have over the Lions for this week's Tale.  There is, however, something to be said for living in the present, so I held my nose and took a look back at our less-than-stellar game versus the Lions from Week 6.  I was going to break down all three phases as per usual, but my summary of our offensive performance can be made in seven words: Block somebody, and stop the dumb penalties.  Add in the sage defensive advice to not give up two 70+ yard touchdown plays and a "Devin, run forwards!" and my article is done, right?  Unfortunately, the site said something about a "minimum word count" when I tried that.  So, if you're not into the whole brevity thing, you can follow me below the fold to get a full breakdown of our defensive performance and my week's predictions.  Onwards!

While my focus is going to be on the defense, I did want to talk a bit about the offense.  Unless you somehow missed it, you saw this Monday that the Bears were once again able to right their offensive ship over the bye week.  The only thing "Wide 9" about the Eagle's defense was how many yards their defense was getting blasted off the line by our suddenly competent run blocking, and the only time Jay Cutler saw the turf was when he slipped on it.  Since the Lions are equally as fond of leaving huge holes for Matt Forte to run through the Wide 9 and have given up an average of 5.2 YPC and 138 yards per game on the ground, I'm not at all worried about Matt Forte's performance.  Even with our mediocre game last time around, he was good for 122 yards on 22 carries.  And if the line can play half as well as they did last week, Jay will have the protection he needs to complete passes and put points on the board.  More of what we had on offense against the Eagles, please.

Putting points on the board is well and good, but there's still the small matter of needing to keep the other guy from scoring if you want to win.  The Bears came up short in that regard last time around, but upon closer inspection, it was a fairly good defensive outing for the good guys.  Even with Julius Peppers injuring himself in the first quarter, the line was able to generate a decent enough pass rush despite only getting one total sack.  There were times that Matthew Stafford stood in the pocket for far too long, which gave him the chance to make just enough of those 8-15 yard passes to keep a few drives going. For the most part, though, the rush was able to force the ball out early or lead to throwaways - remember, the Lions did not sustain many drives, they beat us with the big play.  With Peppers now back to something close to 100%, he could be the spark the front four needs to stop the big passing plays before they leave Stafford's hand. 

The front four are going to need to do more than rush the passer, though.  With Jahvid Best likely to be held out another week due to concussion-related issues, the Lions will be forced to call on Maurice Morris and the recently re-signed Kevin Smith to man their backfield.  While it might not make sense that the defensive front will have to step up their game against a middling run threat, it would also help to keep those big plays from happening this time. If the Bears are able to contain the Lions' RBs with their defensive line, it will free up the safeties and linebackers to stay in pass protection and prevent those nasty 80 yard plays - along with some of those short ones - from getting the better of them.  Even with Best in the lineup, the Lions made heavy use of screen passes and the end-around to supplement their run game, and they will probably add in even more to make up for Best's absence.  Julius Peppers had one very nice breakup of a screen and the linesmen were able to keep their blockers home on the end-arounds so the linebackers and DBs could clean up the plays early, trends that hopefully will continue.  If the Bears are able to contain the diminished run game of the Lions, the Lions will have to get even more pass-happy than they were last time.

I'm sure you're saying to yourself, "Didn't we give up an 88 yard run last time?", which is entirely correct.  That play, a simple run behind the right guard, was as successful as it was because of a misplay by a man who now wears a lighter shade of blue: Chris Harris.  Yes, the offensive line was able to bust a hole in our front, and yes, Brian Urlacher was blocked out of the play, but Harris was still there ready to make the play.  The whole point of playing eight in the box is to put that third level of defense closer to the play, but the Hitman took a swing and missed.  Brandon Merriweather had little chance of catching the speedy Best from the deep zone over Calvin Johnson on the opposite side of the field, and the rout was on.  While Major Wright has had his share of missed tackles against running backs this year, he and Chris Conte need to make sure to stay in front of the play instead of finding themselves watching it from behind.

While we are on the subject of Chris Harris blowing the game for us, there is also the small matter of him giving up a 73 yard catch to Calvin Johnson earlier in the game.  It's no surprise that the Bears gave Harris his walking papers, since he showed he couldn't do the one thing the safety has to do in the Tampa 2: keep the #%$ play in front of you.  Besides that big one, we actually did as good a job as could be expected against Megatron.  Charles Tillman will probably once again follow him around the field, and the secondary will be more than happy to let them have the 15-yard gimme passes to the sideline that they were so fond of taking last time - if Johnson is running those routes to keep drives alive, he isn't trying to burn us deep and put points on the board.

The Lions did better at working the sidelines than they did at working the soft spots in the defensive zones, but they did get the Bears up the middle on their last touchdown play of the game, an 18-yard pass to Brandon Pettigrew right over Brian Urlacher's head.  The play was designed to draw Urlacher in with a run-fake and have the TE sneak past him, and it worked to a T, but assuming the Lions' run game doesn't get going, 54 will be keyed into coverage and won't be lured away from his zone so easily.  The other nice thing about the Lions' B-team run game is that unless they really get it going, the Bears will be more than happy to sit in Cover 2 all day. They used the deep coverage shell to their advantage last time, breaking up Stafford's two-minute drill at the end of the second with a timely DJ Moore pick.  If the Bears can put their safeties 20 or more yards off the line of scrimmage because of an anemic run game, both the linebackers and cornerbacks will be set up to cut off routes and get a couple more of those interceptions. 

Defensively, I think the Bears are set up to get back to their winning ways over the Lions.  The loss of Jahvid Best is huge for us, as it sets up the Bears to do what they do best: stuff the run, make you pass, and rack up the sacks and interceptions.  Calvin Johnson will get his yards and probably even get his touchdown - Tillman is good in coverage, but not great.  With Urlacher and the rest of the back seven keyed into the passing game, though, it could be a long afternoon for the Stafford.  With the addition by subtraction of cutting Chris Harris, the improved health of Juilus Peppers, the Bears have a good chance of keeping their win streak alive.  Add in that I will be at the game and that I have never seen the Bears lose in person, and you've got the perfect recipe for another Bears win.  As always, thanks for reading, and see you next week.