Lions vs. Bears: 5 Matchups That Will Decide MNF Clash
The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears square off in a colossal Monday night matchup.
The implications of this game are extreme, because both teams are 0-1 in the NFC North and face some key games down the road. Winning now will simply ease some of the pressure later on and set up for a postseason run.
Chicago still has to play the Minnesota Vikings twice and host the Packers, whereas the Lions have yet to play Green Bay and must travel to Minnesota later on.
Here, vital matchups such as Calvin Johnson and the Lions' aerial assault against the Bears' ability to record interceptions will determine this game's outcome. The victor moves to .500 in the division and significantly increases its odds of earning a playoff berth.
Devin Hester vs. Lions Special Teams
Devin Hester is rightfully regarded as one of, if not, the best return specialist in NFL history.
Unfortunately for Chicago and anyone with the Bears defense/special teams in fantasy football, Hester has not taken a kick or punt back to the house through the team's first five games of 2012.
That said, Hester faces a vulnerable special teams unit in the Lions this week. Detroit gave up a kick and punt return for a score to the Minnesota Vikings before its bye, and the Lions rank 29th in kickoff and dead last in punt return yards allowed per attempt.
So provided the Monsters of the Midway minimize the damage of Detroit's explosive passing game, we could certainly see Hester significantly swing the field position pendulum in Chicago's favor.
Jay Cutler's Pass Protection vs. Lions' Pass Rush
Through five games Jay Cutler has been sacked 14 times and thrown seven interceptions.
In addition, Cutler is sitting with only a 57.7 completion percentage and only seven touchdown passes. Certainly this is partially due to his decision-making, which plays a key role in any quarterback's production and impact each season.
Still, the Bears aren't always providing him with enough time to survey a defense and get the ball downfield. That plays a factor into interceptions and incompletions, because Cutler may not always have the utmost trust when dropping back.
The Lions present a sound pass rush capable of disrupting a lot in the backfield, and the pocket semicircle must hold up for Cutler to thwart Detroit's suspect coverage.
Matthew Stafford Decision-Making vs. Bears' Opportunistic Defense
It's been a rather uncharacteristic year for Matthew Stafford. With just four touchdowns and five picks and having been sacked nine times in 2012, Stafford is clearly not in a rhythm like he was in 2011.
Then again, it also doesn't help when the ground game averages fewer than 100 yards per game. Play-action then becomes irrelevant to a defense and it's astronomically easier to blanket even Calvin Johnson in coverage.
Stafford must gradually move the chains against this Bears defense and has to avoid turnovers. Chicago not only knows how to force turnovers—13 picks and six forced fumbles thus far—but the Bears also have a knack for finding the end zone after a turnover (five defensive touchdowns).
That's an average of one per game for the Windy City in 2012. And if Stafford is not able to spread the field at all levels, Chicago will get pressure and force numerous ill-advised throws while immediately capitalizing in the process.
Lions' Running Game vs. Bears' Rush Defense
As previously mentioned the Lions struggle to run the ball consistently. Ranking No. 19 in rushing offense, Detroit averages only 3.9 yards per carry.
On the other side of line is a Bears defense that ranks No. 1 in pro football against the run. Giving up just 65.8 rushing yards per game, Chicago allows an impressive 3.6 per carry. So, it's not like opponents are constantly refusing to attempt to move the ball on the ground against the Bears, success has just come at a minimum.
Now, Detroit does have a strong Brahma Bull in Mikel Leshoure who is capable of moving piles and winning the short-yard situations. He has accounted for 11 rushing first downs, and slamming between the tackles with Leshoure is imperative.
Regardless of the numbers, Leshoure's impact is the difference for Detroit because being one-dimensional against this defense will cost the Lions. Hit the ground with Leshoure to set up play-action, and Chicago will be kept off balance.
Jason Hanson vs. Robbie Gould
Yes, the kickers.
Jason Hanson and Robbie Gould are two of the best placekickers in the NFL today. Even more importantly, both are in the midst of strong seasons.
Hanson has missed only one field goal kick so far, and his long is from 53 yards. From ranges of 30 yards through 49 yards Hanson is 13-of-14, and he is perfect on extra points. Meaning: This guy can connect from virtually anywhere on the field and at any angle provided.
He's been a reliable weapon for Detroit his entire career, and that automatic display needs to pull through every time the Lions get a scoring opportunity.
As for Gould, well, he has literally been gold for Chicago throughout his career, and 2012 is no different. Perfect on extra points, Gould's long of the year is from 54 yards, and he is also a straight 10-of-10. The man has landed from 30-plus yards seven times, and he is a key reason for the Bears' 5-1 record.
Anticipate both connecting on everything, although one miss could be the difference since divisional late-night matchups are always nail-biters. Just like every crucial field-goal attempt.
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