By Jeff Joniak-
(WBBM) Here are my keys to Monday night’s game against the Lions:
OFFENSE: RUN BECAUSE YOU CAN
“Run because you can”, is one of the best quotes from Lovie Smith during the bye week. He’s still tethered to the idea this is a running team. He wants it to be a team that runs the ball when it wants to run the ball, and run it because they can. And when they get off the bus running, put it up and get some explosion plays. The beauty is in the balance, and the Bears ultimately want to light up the scoreboard because of a balanced attack. Running the ball against the Lions’ front seven is not simple. They have taken the run away on first down, with a league leading average of 2.84 yards. This is still one of the areas of improvement needed for the Bears offense. Increasing the percentage of first down runs, gaining four-yards plus, is one of the key steps. Right now, the Bears are at 36.3 percent which is 26th in the NFL. They are still last in the NFL averaging more than nine-yards to go on second down. Despite Detroit’s success stopping the run on first down, they are getting hurt in the passing game on second down ranking 31st with a defensive quarterback rating of 118.4.
DEFENSE: PLAY 60
It’s imperative no matter what the score is and where the game is at, to play the full sixty-minutes against the Lions. They are never out of games, because of quarterback Matthew Stafford and the league’s best receiver in Calvin Johnson. They have trailed in all five fourth quarters this season. The Bears are making teams one-dimensional, taking away the run. They are No. 1 in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game at 65.8. There is no way the Lions are going to run for the 188 yards they did in their first meeting with the Bears last season. So it puts the game in the hands of Stafford and he will throw as much as he needs to throw. NFL Network analyst Marshall Faulk is quoted as saying Stafford “plays at his best when he’s trailing”. He did throw 64 times in the second game against the Bears last season, which resulted in a loss. The point is, the Bears defense is going to be busy defending the pass and there will be opportunities to take the ball away. They have to do it from start to finish against the Lions. The Bears boast the best defensive quarterback rating in the NFL at 60.0, but they will be challenged.
SPECIAL TEAMS: EXPOSE A WEAKNESS
While the Lions did look good on special teams in their win over Philadelphia last week, they are vulnerable in kick and punt coverage. Already socked for four touchdown returns, they are last in the NFL defending the punt return, allowing 19.6 yards. They are 30th on kickoff coverage allowing an average of 30.3 yards. This all sounds good for Devin Hester and his blockers. Hester’s punt return average is down from his traditional excellence at just under eight yards with a long of 23. Opportunities have been there, but he’s yet to find the right crease or get the right block to hit a home run. Against the Lions, he just might find it. An improved return game is one of the early season points of emphasis for the Bears. It not only affects the scoreboard, it affects field position. At home, the Bears are 4th in the NFL with an average starting spot of their 30-yard line. They are 6th in the NFL with an average start after kickoffs at their own 24.
INTANGIBLES: FOURTH PHASE
It’s time to make some noise. I mean a lot of noise. Up at Ford Field last year for their Monday night win over the Bears, the Lions fans erupted. It was deafening. One of the loudest road games I can remember. Bears players and coaches agree. That noise fed the beast so to speak and the Lions won. The loudest I remember Solider Field was during the 2006 run to the Super Bowl in the NFC title game win over New Orleans. It’s time to replicate that kind of volume and intensity. Emotions will be running high anyway given the distaste between the teams. Everyone involved is going to be on high alert. It’s going to be a physical, intense affair, and nothing would enhance the drama and the setting on Monday night than an orchestrated attack by the most loyal and supportive fans in the NFL.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Bears on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @JeffJoniak.