By Jeff Joniak-
OFFENSE: PROTECTION CONFIDENCE
In three games the Bears have already blocked Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Lamarr Woodley and a variety of fronts and blitzes. They will get a stiff test from the interior of the Lions defense starting with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He was dominant against the Vikings in the opener with seven quarterback hurries, which opened the door for young Nick Fairley to get two sacks. Suh was difficult for Washington’s right guard Chris Chester to deal with last Sunday. The veteran struggled with Suh’s raw power and quickness. The website Pro Football Focus has determined that Suh’s pass rushing productivity after three games is the highest among all defensive tackles in the NFL. Kyle Long’s game is quickness and power, and this will be a battle to watch. In the end, the front five, plus the tight ends, the backs, and the receivers have combined to create a confident environment for quarterback Jay Cutler to make plays in and out of the pocket, even when he feels some pressure. In key moments in the first three games, Cutler has been clutch because of that protection.
DEFENSE: BEND, DON’T BREAK
Given the skill set of the Lions offense, giving up some yardage to prevent touchdowns is probably the best course of action. In order to do that the Bears tackling needs to continue to improve. If they allow a completion, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, and Brandon Pettigrew have to be limited in their yards after the catch. No on in the NFL has done a better job on Johnson than Charles Tillman. He challenges every throw, and plays physical with him and often without safety help. I don’t know if that will continue giving that Tillman is less than a 100 percent. What the coverage call on Johnson in the red zone will be a key factor in the game. Tillman’s positioning has to be near perfect with his eyes on Stafford and in a position to make a play on the ball against a unique physical specimen. Tillman did a great job in this aspect of his defense of Johnson last season. For as great as Johnson is he only scored five touchdowns last season in a scheme where quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for nearly 5000 yards. He was tackled eight times inside the five-yard line. That’s the key. Stop him somehow, someway. He’s got three touchdowns this season and nearly 100-yards after the catch. Stafford was the only quarterback to throw more than 700 passes in 2012, but the Lions dropped a league high 45 passes, led by Johnson’s 14. Nate Burleson’s Monday night car accident resulted in a broken arm, and that is also a big break for the Bears defense. Burleson takes advantage of the matchups Johnson’s presence affords him. This season, Stafford’s completion percentage is way up, and he’s one of only four quarterbacks with more than a 1000 yards passing. Johnson caught 40 passes of 20+ last season and the Bears gave up 9 plays of 20+ yards in Pittsburgh.
SPECIAL TEAMS: LAY THE HAMMER
This is going to be a highly charged environment, and the opening kickoff rough stuff through the whistle will be something to watch. The Bears have players like Blake Costanzo, and Eric Weems who are tempo setters. They hit and they jaw, and letting the Lions they will be around for three hours is something they like to do. The Lions have a very good rookie punter in Sam Martin and a new veteran kicker in David Akers with a new return man in Michael Spurlock, who has five career return touchdowns. They were bottom of the barrel in the return game in 2012 and one of only four teams who failed to return a kick more than 40 yards and one of only five teams without any return play longer than 50 yards. Spurlock’s longest kick return this season is 23 yards, his longest punt return is 11 yards. Early last season, the Lions had trouble covering kicks before getting better as the season went on.
INTANGIBLES: POISE IN THE “ROAD” NOISE
Marc Trestman coined the phrase “Poise in the Noise” leading up to the Pittsburgh game in Week 3. It can get loud at Heinz Field, but it wasn’t filled to capacity, and the Bears took the juice out of the building jumping to a 17-nothing lead in the first thirteen minutes of the game. Anemic as the last decade plus has been for the Lions, they have an exciting team that is 2-and-1 and the fans will likely pack Ford Field for this early September showdown with the Bears. Indoor road football in the NFC North creates a different level of noise, with more than a hint of distaste for the visitors. This is the intangible for week four; can the Bears remain poised in the noise, but also poised if and when the Lions go the “tough guy” route and pull some of the shenanigans they’ve become known for, in particular the unnecessary rough stuff from defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.