By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Talk about an inferiority complex.
The Detroit Lions have it. The NFL standings show that they are tied for first place in the NFC North with the Bears and the Green Bay Packers as all three teams are 5-3, but history shows they have been remarkably consistent when facing one aspect of their schedule.
When they face divisional opponents on the road, they simply can’t win. The Lions almost never win when they are playing the Bears, Packers or Minnesota Vikings on the road. They are 1-17 in their last 18 road divisional games. Their lone win in that span was a 26-23 overtime victory vs. Minnesota in 2011.
The Lions are coming off a miraculous 31-30 victory over the Dallas Cowboy in Week 8 and a bye in Week 9, so they should be fully prepared and ready to play the Bears.
But they have been in this position before and they almost always disappear when they are playing away from Ford Field. While their chief nemesis is the Packers – they haven’t won at Lambeau Field since 1991 — they often fall apart at Soldier Field or the Metrodome.
Old-timers will remember that the Lions of yesteryear did not play well at Wrigley Field or the dear, departed Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota either.
It would be difficult to make a cogent argument that the Lions don’t have the talent to match any of their NFC North rivals, but that talent often goes to sleep on the road.
Calvin Johnson has had just one 100-yard receiving day in his six previous efforts at Soldier Field, while Matthew Stafford has a 3-6 TD-interception ratio in four career games in Chicago.
These numbers are going to weigh on the Lions. Collectively, they come to Soldier Field knowing they have been awful against divisional opponents on the road. Their two most important offensive players know they have not often played their best there either.
Head coach Jim Schwartz bears the burden of all of this. While he has often been victimized by his own gameday decision making, his players truly love and support him. He is a great coach from Monday through Saturday – it’s Sunday that gives him a problem.
Fortunately for the Bears and other opponents, the Lions play most of their games on Sunday. Crucial decisions about when to go for it and when to kick it torment him the way Muhammad Ali’s verbal assaults tormented Joe Frazier.
Those decisions loom over Schwartz and he has not been able to outrun his past mistakes.
The Lions certainly have a chance to help Schwartz write a new chapter to his coaching resume this year, and they have their best opportunity to win the division for the first time since 1993.
Not only are Stafford and Johnson playing well, but the Detroit defense has a chance to step up as well. They rank 25th overall defensively, but they have the tools to put together a fearful pass rush with Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Willie Young. So far, these three have just 7.0 sacks, but the potential for destruction is there, particularly if Suh gets loose.
Suh, by the way, wants to see Jay Cutler return to the lineup for the Bears. In his analysis of Chicago’s offense, he said that Josh McCown seemed to be immune to pressure and less likely to make mistakes with the ball than Cutler.
“McCown is going to throw the ball away if he feels pressure and he is going to be very accurate with his passes,” Suh told Detroit reporters. “Cutler is going to go for the big throw more often than not. I respect Jay and he’s got a very strong arm. He’s their best quarterback and I want to go up against the best no matter whether it’s Cutler or (Aaron) Rodgers when we’re playing Green Bay.”
Suh thinks there’s more opportunities for the Bears to make mistakes when Cutler is in the lineup.
He may be right, but when it comes to mistakes, the Lions are the leaders. Especially when it comes to playing on the road against divisional opponents.
It may not be any different this week – no matter who is at quarterback for the Bears.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.