Joniak’s Keys To The Game: Bears Vs. Lions
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By Jeff Joniak-
Josh McCown ran the Bears offense beautifully over the last six quarters and earned team-wide praise for it. However, Jay Cutler is cleared to return and will start against the Lions. Coaches have made a point that both quarterbacks run the same offense. Cutler is expected to play without limitations from his groin injury and is confident he can perform at a high level. The protection scheme designed by Marc Trestman and Aaron Kromer has been outstanding dealing with all the pressure packages of the Redskins and Packers the last two weeks. Quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh prepares his guys diligently, and the Bears offense is proving it can move the ball and score points at any point in the game. The Bears know exactly what they are getting from the Lions defense. They are ferocious up the middle, they are physical, and they make you pay for poor technique. There is growing confidence that the Bears offense is a resilient one, living for the next play, protecting the ball, avoiding harmful penalties, and moving the chains. The unit has the fewest pre-snap penalties in the NFL, and only one false start. Detroit’s cornerback play is suspect. They give up big play, including 11 of at least 40 yards and teams are averaging 4.7 yards-per carry against the Lions.
They’ve had trouble tackling big backs like Brandon Jacobs and Eddie Lacy, and they had trouble tackling the shifty Reggie Bush. After a week out of the lineup with a knee injury, Bush slammed the Bears for 139 yards, 37 on a nifty touchdown. Bush enjoyed the bye week, and so the same scenario exists in terms of fresh legs for Bush. The biggest difference is he’s not making his cuts on field turf, but Kentucky blue grass this week. The bottom line is the Bears have to tackle better. In order to get in a position to make the tackle, defenders have to start taking the right angles to the ball. Shea McClellin, Julius Peppers, and Cory Wootton cranked up the pass rush in Green Bay, and the spark could keep that fire burning against Matthew Stafford and the Lions. However, McClellin is doubtful with a hamstring injury, forcing the Bears to shuffle personnel again. It makes no sense to bring up Calvin Johnson. It’s the same for every defense. You do what you can, and hope he doesn’t dominate you.
SPECIAL TEAMS: SETTLING DOWN
There has been a revolving door of personnel on special teams due to injuries and performance. The lack of continuity, which is often common at this time of the season, has led to some gaffes and a lack of consistency. It’s not an excuse, of course, but smoothing out some of the rough edges on the unit will be welcomed. Focusing in on assignment integrity and finishing plays on every special teams unit will be very important in a keystone moment in the season. Devin Hester has to outperform Michael Spurlock in a matchup where every little bit matters.
INTANGIBLES: KEEP IT TOGETHER
Once again the Bears will have to control their emotions against Detroit. Fifteen-yard penalties are killers and let the Lions keep getting those. Controlling themselves in stressful situations has been a consistent theme for this version of Bears, so it’s not a worry. Look for the Lions to play with urgency. They see Green Bay and Chicago with injured quarterbacks and see opportunity in the division. What the Bears would love to do is force Detroit into feeling like they just can’t win in Chicago. They’ve lost seven of eight at Soldier Field, including five in a row, the last win coming in 2005.