It’s rivalry time for the Detroit Lions this Sunday and after having a bye-week this past Sunday, I hope their ready and prepared seeing that they again face-off against their rival the Chicago Bears. Now of course this is a big game since it’s on the road and a rivalry game. However, keep in mind that this game is huge from a division standpoint as well seeing that the Lions, Bears and Packers are tied in the NFC North with a 5-3 record and 2-1 record in their division. So who ever wins this game, earns a chance to possibly take the lead of the NFC North depending on what the Packers do this Sunday as well.
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I honestly feel it’s crunch time in the NFL right now especially in the NFC North and the Lions need to take control of the division and the way to do that is by defeating the Bears. Last time these two teams met, the Lions came out victorious and while it was a good victory, the Lions still have to follow certain steps if they want to defeat the Bears for the second time this season.
Offensively, it all starts with running the ball early and often with running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. This Bear defense is different from a few years ago and one of their glaring weaknesses is run defense. Bears are currently ranked 29th in the NFL allowing their opponent to rush for 127 yards a game. Lions must use Bush in a multitude a ways and run him early often. The Lions did a good job last time against the Bears running the ball but I also like the fact they executed on some short passes to Bush and Bell. I think they would smart to do that again. Plus running the ball successfully will open up things in the passing game.
Which leads me to quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford must perform well in this game and it all starts with the offensive line. The Bears will make a point to pressure Stafford so the offensive line needs to be prepared to protect Stafford consistently and give him time in the pocket. When it comes to Stafford he needs to first take what the defense gives him, no need to force anything because he can’t afford any turnovers. I would also suggest that Stafford make a point to exploit the Bears safeties, all season long they have been inconsistent and the Lions must exploit that. As always, Stafford will need his receiving core to step up. It can’t just be wide receiver Calvin Johnson making all the plays, before the bye week, wide receiver Kris Durham and tight end Brandon Pettigrew did a good job of getting open consistently, catching the ball and earning yards after the catch. Durham and Pettigrew need to continue doing that in this game and I hope to see the rest of the receiving core follow suit.
The most important thing this Lion offense must do is take care of the ball. Last game against the Dallas Cowboys they committed four turnovers, while they were able to still win the game, they are still very fortunate that they did. Bears defense may be struggling this season but they have no problem creating turnovers seeing that they have created 19 turnovers so far this season. Bush and Bell must run the ball well but they must also protect the ball, because Bears defenders love to strip the ball and their good at it. As I mentioned earlier, Stafford will have the opportunity to expose the Bears safeties but he still needs to take care of the ball and make a point to not force anything.
Defensively, it all starts with pressuring quarterback Jay Cutler who is back in the line-up sooner than expected. The Lions must pressure Cutler because while the offensive line has improved they still allow Cutler to be pressured often. Plus, Cutler has a tendency to force passes or fumble the ball when pressured just as he did earlier this year when the Bears played the Lions. The Lions must also slow down the run game and to do that you must contain running back Matt Forte. So far this season, they have done a solid job of containing the run and it needs to continue, especially since the Lions best bet is to make the Bears a one-dimensional team.
However the biggest area to watch is the secondary. The Lions secondary has had its good and bad moments this season and going into this game they need to perform well. The Bears main goal will be to get the ball to their play-makers and keep in mind that their play-makers are capable of making big plays after the catch. It all starts with wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, who have turned into a dynamic duo in Chicago. While the corners may not be able to contain them all game long, the key is to limit the big play and the Lions safeties need to assist them in that. However, the real area of concern is the linebackers, because Bears tight end Martellus Bennett is a force and is capable of having a big game. Lions were exposed earlier this season by the Bengals tight ends and although they did a good job of containing tight end Jason Witten in the Dallas game, I still worry. I expect the Bears to use Bennett and try to isolates both Stephen Tulloch or DeAndre Levy in man coverage. While I don’t worry about Levy when it comes to coverage, I do worry about Tulloch because he doesn’t do well in pass coverage. The defense must also make a point to wrap up and finish tackles, if they plan to limit the big play.
Overall, the Lions defensive goals should be to make the Bears a one-dimensional team by containing the run which will allow the Lions to pressure Cutler. When it comes to the secondary, they should do their best to not give up big plays and basically bend but not break. Lions as a whole must also avoid costly penalties and mental errors that could cost them the game.
As I said earlier, this is a big week for the NFC North, since the Lions, Bears and Packers are all tied for first place in the division and the Lions should understand that winning the NFC North this season and making the playoffs starts right now with defeating the Bears.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com