Tonight is the first time in over a decade that the Detroit Lions will appear on a Monday Night Football broadcast. The last time Detroit was on a Monday Nighter they lost 35-0 against the high-flying, "Greatest Show On Turf," St Louis Rams who were en route to one of the most-prolific offensive seasons of all time and would eventually fall to the New England Patriots in a very exceptional Super Bowl. Coaching that Rams team was one Mike Martz and his defensive coordinator was one Lovie Smith. 10 years later and Lovie is coaching the Bears and Martz is running his offense. For the Bears, it has been a pretty decent decade. A Super Bowl appearance, a NFC Championship and another NFC Championship game appearance, not bad. By no means "amazing," but not bad for a decade. Particularly when you compare and consider the plight of the Detroit Lions and their fanbase over the course of the past ten years. "Mogadishu sends Detroit CARE packages after Lions suffer a winless season. Et cetera. #LULZ Wokka-woka." The cliched parallels between Detroit's crumbling, automotive-based infrastructure and economy and the horrors that have occurred on the gridiron are predictable enough, suffice it to say, Detroit's Lions have sucked. But just as a surge in urban gardeners, DIY-enthusiasts and hipsters have helped to make downtown Detroit "decay-chic" and "buzzworthy," so has the Lions youth movement made them "undefeated" and "much better than you're giving them credit for." Let's discuss.
When The Lions Have The Ball
Detroit's offense is somewhat one-dimensional. But what a dimension it is! Throw the ball to Calvin Johnson and let him do the rest. A bit rote, perhaps, but it's so effective. Heading into tonight's game against Chicago (a defense that, by the way, is giving up the 3rd-most passing yards/game thus far) Detroit is averaging nearly 34 points a game and a shade over 300 passing yards per game. MoTown's offense is coming through the air. The concussion factory known as Jahvid Best does his --wait for it-- "Best" to keep defenses honest as a change-of-pace running back, but well, "concussion factory." So, yes, Detroit is bringing continual heat via the passing game. Defenses have been keying in on Megatron with double and triple-teams, to little or no avail. And it's not just the all-Universe, Calvin Johnson that's doing the damage. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew has become one of Matt Stafford's favored targets and is an absolute handful for defenders to take down one-on-one in the open field. More shocking about the Lions 4-0 start than the fact that they're undefeated has been the relatively baffling manner in which they've spotted their past two opponents (Minnesota and Dallas) huge leads in the first half, merely to resort to the nuclear option in the second half and strut out of the Metrodome and Jerrydome with unblemished record completely intact.
So what does Chicago's porous secondary do to try and slow down the aerial assault? Tricky question without a clear solution, the Bears typically turnover happy D hasn't really gotten started yet (7 combined fumbles/interceptions so far) and the secondary, on a weekly basis, seems to be finding more and more questions that they don't have answers for. You can't really just say "Let Calvin Johnson get his," but to neutralize any aspect of Detroit's offense, it's gonna take some clever, clever scheming. Attempting to aggressively blitz with Peppers and crew? Go for it, but be aware that then suddenly Brandon Pettigrew (or Jahvid Best) are patrolling the flats and that Stafford knows exactly where they'll be. Unpleasant, Bears fans, sorry I don't have better news for you.
When The Bears Have The Ball (Or: Will Jay Cutler Die?)
The Lions against: Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Minnesota and Dallas are surrendering 19.0 points per game, their defensive line, anchored by offensive black hole, Ndamukong Suh, is continually harrying, pressuring and knocking opposing QBs down.
Meanwhile, rookie monster, Nick Fairley is expected to be making his season debut tonight. Never mind, Fairley won't be ready to go until the San Francisco game. Still, the omnipresence of Suh is very, very, very bad news for Chicago's woeful offensive line. Mind you, it's worse news for Jay Cutler who will likely be running for his life and making terrible decisions (get ready to shot "THROW IT AWAY!" tonight) all game long. The Lions do not blitz a ton, leaving their indomitable defensive line to clobber their way through any offensive line with sledgehammer arms and continually mashing legs; which means? More bad news! Yes, even if Cutler gets a quick pass off to Matt Forte against the defensive line's heat, Forte could very well be avalanched by the always-closing linebacking corps. Detroit's defense isn't as statistically amazing as a Baltimore or the New York Giants, but they've been damn disciplined and effective at getting teams well out of there comfort zone thus far. This trend will continue tonight for Cutler and crew, bummer. Not to bring you down, but if the Bears are to win this game it's gonig to have to come at the hands and feet, feet, feet! of Matt Forte to deliver something. Cutler's other receiving options, save for the one good Johnny Knox play per game, are just not effective and that won't change tonight.
Have fun watching the game, folks, don't expect too much and hopefully the Bears won't disappoint you. Oh, and ESPN after their kerfluffle with Hank Williams, Jr. have some sort of Barry Sanders-narrated piece on "Detroit's crumbling, automotive industry and infrastructure and the parallels that the recent on-field success means for Detroit." Because NFL wins equate jobs for citizens. Or something.