By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) Looking for their first wins, the Bears (0-3) host the Lions (1-2) on Sunday at Soldier Field at noon. Here are my keys to the game.
Offense: Blitz beaters
Brace for some unique pressure packages designed by Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who’s blitzed the second-most times in the league. His elite pass rusher, Ezekiel Ansah, is working through an ankle injury, but replacement Kerry Hyder has four sacks. Finding a matchup to beat middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead in the passing game could be the blitz beater. He’s given up three passing touchdowns.
The Lions carry 11 defensive linemen, so the Bears should expect waves of fresh legs throughout the course of the game. The Lions are missing outstanding outside linebacker DeAndre Levy with a quad injury, so one of their most active defenders won’t play. Possessing the ball continues to be the most urgent matter for the Bears offense, which needs to play extremely well on third down and convert those first downs into touchdowns.
Defense: Lash the lion
Finding ways to pressure Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to get him out of rhythm is critical. He runs a big chunk of no-huddle, and nothing is more demoralizing to a defense than an offense getting up and down the field without being stopped. Stafford must be disrupted. He spreads it around to nine different skill position players, including the dangerous Theo Riddick out of the backfield.
At receiver, Marvin Jones is tearing it up in the first three weeks, and Golden Tate is coming off a Pro Bowl season. The Lions have a young tight end with great potential in Eric Ebron who will require proper coverage, and the venerable Anquan Boldin is still a receiver who needs to be accounted for. Like with the offense, the Bears’ third-down defense is a critical component to this game. Chicago must get off the field.
Special teams: Tame the tone
Last week’s surprise onside kick that the Bears possessed but which was nullified by penalty is the kind of aggressive approach I like. Try to set or take the tone with something big.
Detroit has threats in the return game and a good kicking and punting unit. This will be a critical battle in the field position chess match. Lions kicker Matt Prater can make field goals from just about anywhere. He owns a powerful leg, like outstanding punter Sam Martin. The Bears’ coverage units are experiencing quite the revolving door due to the constant roster shuffle due to injuries or performance in other areas. Limiting the Lions’ opportunities for returns might be the plan for Bears kicker Connor Barth and punter Patrick O’Donnell.
Winless football teams need to find some juice, somehow, someway. For the Bears, a quick and sustainable start will draw an intense and loud reaction from the home crowd and fuel a 60-minute effort. That’s the dream scenario. After losing 14 of their last 18 in the NFC North, including seven of the last nine division games at home, the Bears are looking for a little love from their fans, but only if they can return the favor with an outstanding, emotional and physical performance.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.