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22 Oct 2012

Film Room: Lions-Bears

by Andy Benoit

Lions offense vs. Bears defense

The Lions offense has scored just 50 points in their first, second, and third quarters this year. They've scored 73 points in the fourth quarter. Why the difference? One explanation could be their commitment to the run game. They make a commitment in the first three quarters, but not in the fourth, where lately they’ve been playing from behind. The Lions are a shotgun-based offense that lacks athleticism along the front line and a wiggling, agile tailback who can operate in short space. In other words: they’re not built to spread and run. They don’t find their rhythm that way. Last season the Lions threw 66.8 percent of the time and posted 29.6 points per game. This season, they’ve thrown 63.4 percent of the time and are averaging 25.2 points per game. That may seem like a minor difference, but keep in mind that the Lions aren’t adding on extra running plays to protect late leads the way they were last year.

It’s not only the play-calling, though. Matthew Stafford and his receivers haven’t been as crisp. A few inconsistencies in mechanics have compromised Stafford’s accuracy at times, and he’s also forced some throws into coverage downfield. Even the forced balls to Calvin Johnson often haven’t worked, as defenses have contained Detroit with two-deep safety looks.

Two-deep coverages are something the Bears, of course, are known for. Their defense has been bolstered by improvements from safety Major Wright and cornerback Tim Jennings, as well as better depth and variety along the defensive line. First-round rookie Shea McClellin has been the dynamic outside speed-rusher that the front office and coaching staff expected. Henry Melton has emerged as one of the game’s most explosive one-gap shooters. His ability to win one-on-one matchups inside and outside has made it easier for Julius Peppers to align all over the front line. The Bears do as good a job as any team in football at creating favorable one-on-one pass-rushing matchups for their defensive linemen. Expect them to go after right guard Stephen Peterman Monday Night.

Bears offense vs. Lions defense

We think of Detroit as a vanilla Cover-2 defense that relies on its four-man pass rush. Lately, though, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has been more diverse in his third-down play-calling. The Lions have a 3-3-5 sub-package that features Ndamukong Suh inside and blitzers from the second and third levels. They also have packages that have Suh or ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril (who, by the way, is one of the most underrated athletes in football) stand up as jokers prior to the snap. Chicago’s propensity for pass protection breakdowns should encourage Cunningham to get creative Monday night.

The return of safety Louis Delmas from a knee injury should also help. The fourth-year player looked solid as a box-safety in his season debut at Philadelphia last week. Most likely, he’ll drop back near centerfield more as the season unfolds. Delmas infuses Detroit’s secondary with some much-needed speed, which lends the group more freedom to be aggressive. The Lions play extremely fast in the box, but as an 11-man unit, they’ve been too susceptible to methodical rushing attacks in 2012.

The Bears have a sustainable ground game as long as Matt Forte is healthy, but what’s obviously propelled their offense is the addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Mike Tice has done a great job constructing one-on-one scenarios for Marshall in the slot. Being a zone team that’s razor-thin at cornerback, the Lions may be inclined to take their chances and give speedy linebackers DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch significant help-coverage responsibility against whoever lines up inside. If that’s the case, all Jay Cutler will need is tolerable pass protection and the self-discipline to unload the ball off a three-step drop. That sounds easy, but often it hasn't been for Cutler.

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 22 Oct 2012

14 comments, Last at 23 Oct 2012, 3:58pm by LionInAZ


by dbt :: Mon, 10/22/2012 - 1:13pm

Aren't the Bears the #1 passing defense by DVOA so far this year? Should be an interesting game...


by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 10/22/2012 - 2:27pm

The Lions pass offense if #7 (actually 20 percentage points higher than last year through 5 games), so it could potentially be interesting. The thing is, they have tended to do nothing through 3 quarters and do all of their damage in the 4th quarter. That won't work against the Bears defense, who will make them pay if they have to start taking more chances if they're behind in 4th quarter.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by LionInAZ :: Mon, 10/22/2012 - 6:27pm

And the Lions run D is ranked 5th in DVOA so far this year. If they can shut down Forte the way they shut down McCoy and Vick last game, that should make things interesting too.

by Marko :: Mon, 10/22/2012 - 2:05pm

Bears special teams vs. Lions teams* should be interesting, too.

*"special" intentionally omitted

by LionInAZ :: Mon, 10/22/2012 - 6:32pm

The Lions ST managed to keep Desean Jackson under control last week. The return of Delmas may trickle down into improvements on both D and kick coverage.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 10/22/2012 - 2:23pm

The Lions secondary, which was mediocre-to-bad when healthy, is running out of warm bodies. Injuries have left them with three healthy corners. Backup safety Amari Spievey was pressed into duty as a nickel corner last week. The Lions D-line dominated the Eagles O-line, so it didn't matter. This week, if Cutler gets even halfway decent protection, the Bears could easily build an early lead. If that happens and Stafford is forced to take more chances to try to keep up...it could get ugly really fast.

-I'm not Billy Bad-Ass.

by Marko :: Mon, 10/22/2012 - 2:41pm

All true. But to a Bears fan, that would be pretty.

by LionInAZ :: Mon, 10/22/2012 - 7:12pm

Definitely not happy with Alphonso Smith back in there. Has some ball-hawking skill, but he can't tackle worth a fart. He'll just get bowled over or dragged along by a guy like Earl Bennett.

by LionInAZ :: Tue, 10/23/2012 - 3:58pm

And, as one might have expected, Smith trying to cover Brandon Marshall turns out to be a bad thing.

by Roch Bear :: Mon, 10/22/2012 - 4:57pm

You may be right about the Bear's needing Forte to sustain their running game, but the Bear's running DVOA is higher with Michael Bush than with Forte.

I also think that Bush is likely to be better help with the pass protection. Forte is bad, but helping out on Suh will challenge any RB.

by Roch Bear :: Mon, 10/22/2012 - 4:59pm

Weird. I used 'Bush' three times in a draft of that comment and that was too much for the spam filter. Dirty minded software.

by Marko :: Mon, 10/22/2012 - 5:11pm

Good thing your comment didn't also include references to Calvin Johnson, Danny Woodhead, Dick LeBeau or Randall Gay.

by tuluse :: Mon, 10/22/2012 - 5:10pm

Matt Forte is one of the best blocking backs I've ever seen. So I find your second paragraph perplexing.

by Roch Bear :: Mon, 10/22/2012 - 8:14pm

We all saw a really good blocker his rookie year, but perhaps not as good as Bear fans thought since expectations for rookie RB pass protection blocking might have been low given the Cedric Benson experience). I've lost the reference now, but some place tried to quantify the RB blocking and, if I remember it rightly, over the last three year Forte has been good, but Bush was significantly better.

That matches my eye ball test. I see Forte trying to just give a shoulder to big rushers (when he was not just chipping on his way to a pass pattern), it helps a lot but isn't as good as a squared-up take take-'em-on. Probably more important is the quick, correct read of where to go when the RB is in protection. On that, Forte does seem good as does Bush (I haven't seen enough of them to distinguish given I often don't look) my 2 cents.