By Jeff Joniak-
Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford may be headed for a gunslinger’s showdown at Ford Field. My instincts tell me this could be a high scoring affair what with the bounty of skill position talent touching the ball Sunday on both sides. Cutler is building confidence in his unit daily and how he’s working at his craft is impressing coaches and teammates. Stafford already hit the lottery, two years before the expiration of his contract. No one threw it more than the Lions quarterback in 2012 (700+attempts), and for nearly 5,000 yards. In Rich Gannon’s best season with the 2002 Oakland Raiders, Marc Trestman coordinated an offense that dropped to throw 654 times. On average, Cutler has had a little more than 34 pass plays per game, while Gannon averaged 40 per game. I’m not sure in what direction the Bears offense will grow this season, but with Cutler’s improved accuracy, protection, ball security, keen decision making, and clutch throws, it wouldn’t shock me to see the ball in the air a lot… eventually.
In September of 1962, Detroit Lions Hall of Famer Yale Lary penned an article for Sports Illustrated that started like this: “Punting requires only modest coordination… I have always considered it remarkable that with so many boys in the country playing football, so few know how to kick a ball for distance and accuracy. There is, in fact, an acute shortage of good kickers.” In 2013, that is not the case. Punters are drafted annually, with booming legs, and pinpoint accuracy. The article goes on to explain how the former defensive back crafted his style of punting, which included a three-step method coaches in that era typically didn’t approve of. The Lions have a rookie fifth round draft pick from Appalachian State punting for them today. He also kicks off after punting just one year as a prep after a standout soccer career. Last week, Sam Martin was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week, a Lions first in two decades. He averaged 52.5 yards on six punts, with a 40.7 yard net average. For the season, his 42.7 net average ranks sixth in the NFL. As Bears punter Adam Podlesh once pointed out to me, until about six years ago, no punter in the history of the NFL had a 40-yard net average. After three games in 2013, 20 punters, Podlesh included, are averaging at least 40.0 net. In 503 punts, Lary’s career gross average was a very good 44.3, but I can’t find his career net average anywhere. He led the NFL in punting three times, but more impressively intercepted 50 passes on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Detroit and Philadelphia got a lot of attention lining up their defensive ends outside the shoulders of the tight end in 2011. The technique called “Wide 9” gave pass rushers a different angle of approach to the quarterback. However, the teams combined won eight games in 2012 and had difficulty sacking quarterbacks. The Lions still employ this technique, but according to Bears head coach Marc Trestman they are using it less this season. Running the ball against this look would seem to create inviting gaps, but only if the defensive tackles get blocked. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairly are disruptive penetrators who create opportunities for other defenders to make big plays. The Bears have to limit the penetration of these guys. Get them blocked, stopped, and stalemated. Not simple. If the Bears can influence these two inside playmakers one or two steps in the wrong direction, they have a chance to win the snap.
Fourth And Short
Five of Charles Tillman’s 33 career interceptions and three of his eight pick-sixes’ have come against the Lions. It was October 2005 at Ford Field when Tillman swiped Jeff Garcia’s across the body toss and took it back 22 yards for a touchdown with 8:43 left in overtime. I believe it’s the first time I pulled out a “Fade to Black” to capture the moment. Tillman fired the ball into the wall at the back of the end zone , in a win that gave the Bears the NFC North division lead breaking a first place tie with the Lions. A similar outcome Sunday afternoon, gives the Bears a two-game lead over the Lions.
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 @JeffJoniak.