How the Bears and Lions match up
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org | @MarkPotash September 28, 2013 1:44AM
Bears cornerback Charles Tillman breaks up a pass intended for Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson on Oct. 22. The Bears and Tillman held Johnson to his lowest total of the season that night, 34 yards. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP
ADAM L. JAHNS
BEARS AT LIONS
Time: Noon Sunday at Ford Field
Line: Lions by 3 • Total: 471⁄2
TV: Fox-32 (Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick)
Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
The Bears will be challenged to run against a Lions defense that has allowed 78 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry after Adrian Peterson’s 78-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage of the season. The Lions’ ends try to funnel the running game to their strength inside with DTs Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. The Bears, though, have had success running the ball against the Lions. Matt Forte had strong games at Ford Field (24-103, one TD) and Soldier Field (22-96) last season, and the Bears’ 171 and 144 rushing yards were the third- and fifth-most against the Lions in 2012.
IN THE AIR
Despite operating under constant duress, Jay Cutler has a 108.8 passer rating against the Lions at Ford Field — the same as the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers. He has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 1,016 yards, seven TDs and no INTs in four games there. With better protection and more weapons, it figures he will have opportunities for more against a Lions pass defense that ranks 18th in the NFL (262 ypg). Cutler usually finds the soft spots in the Lions’ hit-and-miss secondary, which has rookie Darius Slay starting opposite Chris Houston at CB. Complementary receivers have played a big role against the Lions.
Lions DT Ndamukong Suh has more negative plays (22 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss) than any DT in the NFL since 2010 — and that doesn’t include the cheap shots. Bears rookie RG Kyle Long is an excitable, athletic lineman who should be a good counter for Suh, but he will need help from teammates — and likely some discipline — to get the job done.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
Reggie Bush, who is expected to play after sitting out last week with a bum knee, gives the Lions’ running game a new dimension. Bush, though, has been more dangerous in the screen game (7-145, 77-yard TD) than in the running game (30-115, zero TDs). But containing him could leave the Bears vulnerable elsewhere. ‘‘You need to stay in front of Reggie and not allow him that crease to get started,’’ said Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who coached Bush with the Saints. ‘‘Once he gets started, he’s extremely fast.’’ The Bears are eighth against the run but will be without injured DT Henry Melton.
IN THE AIR
The Bears have had better success than most in containing the great Calvin Johnson: He averaged 53 ypg against the Bears and 132.7 ypg against the rest of the NFL in 2012. But Bears CB Charles Tillman, who is most responsible for that success, is questionable with knee and groin injuries. If Tillman can’t play, the Bears will be challenged to stop Johnson with Zack Bowman and Tim Jennings, especially if their pass rush doesn’t take another step forward after an improved effort against the Steelers. The absence of WR Nate Burleson (broken arm) can’t be ignored, especially if the Bears can contain Johnson.
Lions QB Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick of the 2009 draft, hasn’t had much luck against the Bears: He’s 1-5 with a 76.7 rating (eight TDs, eight INTs) against them. Stafford has a 99.9 rating in 2013 (six TDs, two INTs). Lance Briggs has seven missed tackles in three games. If he misses Lions RB Reggie Bush, it could be a long day for the Bears.
After Devin Hester averaged 56.7 yards on kickoff returns against the Vikings, the Steelers predictably avoided him last week, and the Lions figure to do the same. ‘‘It’s something we’re going to have to get used to,’’ special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. Hester has one yard on two punt returns in 2013. The Lions upgraded their return game with Micheal Spurlock, who has five career TDs (two on punts, three on kickoffs), all from 2010-12. Spurlock is averaging 4.8 yards on punt returns and 19 yards on kickoff returns. Veteran PK David Akers has replaced retired Jason Hanson. He’s 4-for-6 on field goals.
The Bears have been relatively healthy in the early going, but injuries are starting to become a factor. DT Henry Melton is out for the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against the Steelers. Melton wasn’t playing well, but he was commanding double teams that replacement Nate Collins likely will not. The Bears also might be without CB Charles Tillman, who has a groin injury this week in addition to a knee injury from last week. His absence obviously would be prolematic against Lions WR Calvin Johnson. This might be the first big test of the Bears’ depth under Mel Tucker.