OK, I am taking the same approach as usual to my breakdowns, but if anyone has actually been reading these, do you think I should start in on a new approach to this article?
It just sometimes doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to compare QB's when they won't be throwing against one another.
So following the bye week, should I be comparing offensive pieces against the opposing defenses and visa versa? Or keep it as is?
(Of course if I do it that way and be truly fair, there will be some overlaps since the linebackers will be covering both running backs AND tight ends, but I would continue trying to keep it as unbiased as I can.)
But, anyway without further ado...
Quarterbacks: Matthew Stafford vs Jay Cutler
Stafford was the No.1 pick of the draft this past summer and was taken to be the future for a franchise coming off the perfect imperfect season. So far this year, Stafford has made some rookie mistakes, but has also showed why they thrust him into the starting role from the get go when he led them to their first victory in over a year last week against the Washington Redskins.
While his season totals so far are far from awe inspiring, his rocket arm makes him dangerous from anywhere on the field. His numbers so far this season have him at a 53.4 percent completion percentage with two touchdowns and five interceptions.
But he is learning and improving every single week. It also helps that he has arguably one of the top three receivers in the entire league in Calvin Johnson...As a Bears fan, I am not looking forward to seeing this duo twice a year for at least the next five years.
Jay Cutler is coming off back-to-back comeback victories over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks. Since his four interception debut in week one, Cutler has showed why the Bears invested so much in him.
Cutler has hit 64.4 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and five interceptions. He has also accomplished much of this without the assistance of a consistent running attack and three receivers no one expected much from.
Verdict: Stafford's a rookie and will be playing his first divisional road game of his career. Cutler is just plain better at this exact time.
Running backs: Kevin Smith vs Matt Forte
Honestly, this would be a close match up in my mind since Forte has gotten off to a slow start, but there is some speculation that Smith might miss this game with a shoulder injury. But let's assume he will play, just for the sake of argument.
Smith and Forte have similar roles on their respective teams since both are not only the primary ball carriers but also excellent receivers out of the backfield. Forte had 60 receptions last season and Smith currently is the second leading receiver on the Lions roster.
Smith has carried the ball 55 times for 207 yards and a touchdown through the first three weeks and added 12 receptions for 80 yards.
Forte has 59 rushes for 150 yards with no touchdowns and 11 receptions for 73 yards.
Verdict: Forte is the better runner in my opinion but if Smith can play and is healthy enough to take on tackles with that bum shoulder then it evens it out, especially with Forte 2.0.
Wide Receivers: Calvin Johnson/Bryant Johnson/Dennis Northcutt vs Devin Hester/Earl Bennett/Johnny Knox
First off, as I stated above, Calvin Johnson is one of the top three receivers in the NFL. And he is only going to get better. While he has yet to have a 100 yard receiving game, that has more to do with the quarterbacking than it does with the receiving.
Bryant Johnson got on track last week with a couple nice catches and a touchdown. And the third receiver is ten year veteran Dennis Northcutt. With Calvin providing the speed and jumping ability, Bryant as a solid No.2 and Northcutt as the possession receiver, they provide Stafford with several different options.
Hester is finally showing flashes of the being a great, CONSISTENT receiver for the Bears. While his punt return average has lowered, his receiving stats should be pretty impressive by the year's end.
Earl Bennett continues to show that his previous playing experience with Cutler while still in college has transferred over nicely to the NFL. He is currently tied with Hester for the most receptions on the team with 13.
Johnny Knox has been the surprise of the Bears and arguably the steal of the draft. His nine receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns are eye opening considering he is the third receiver on the team. He also has shown some impressive speed, catching a 68 yard pass from Cutler in week one against the Packers.
Interesting side note: the pick the Bears used to select Knox actually came over with Cutler in the Bronco's deal. It was more of a toss in to even things out but who knew it would turn into such an immediate positive for the Bears?
Verdict: While the Bears have more youth and speed, the Lions have Calvin Johnson. I need to see more from Chicago's trio before I put them in the same class as that man.
Tight Ends: Will Heller/Brandon Pettigrew vs Greg Olsen
Heller is listed as the starter on the depth chart, but for the future, the answer is Pettigrew. In fact, Pettigrew has two more receptions and 20+ more yards than Heller through the first three weeks. I believe Heller is there for his reliability and blocking until Pettigrew can learn all the ins, outs and what have yous.
Pettigrew, a rookie out of Oklahoma St., is considered one of the top tight end prospects that came out of the draft. So far he hasn't blown people away, but the Lions offense looks potent for the future with him, Stafford, Kevin Smith and Calvin Johnson.
So far this season Pettigrew has six receptions for 67 yards. But don't be surprised if he receives more looks, especially in the end zone, with his 6'5", 265 lbs frame.
Olsen has not quite lived up to expectations this season, although he seemed to be coming around in the Bears most recent victory over the Seahawks, as he had five receptions for 44 yards and his first touchdown of the season.
Verdict: Olsen's hands look to be improving and Pettigrew still has a lot to learn.
Offensive line: Lions vs Bears
An interesting note here, Lions center Dominc Raiola and Bears Center Olin Kreutz attended the same high school, St. Louis High in Honolulu, HI, only three years apart. Both have been the dominate starters for the respective teams, Raiola for the past seven season, Kreutz for the past ten.
As for the rest of the line, we will have to compare upon stats, because what I don't know about the Lions starters could probably fill a book.
Stafford has been sacked five times and Kevin Smith has an average of 3.7 yards per carry.
Cutler has been sacked six times while Matt Forte has an average of 2.5 yards per carry.
Verdict: The rushing numbers are worrisome, especially since the Lions weren't handed any gifts in facing the Vikings run defense while the Bears faced the Steelers.
Cornerbacks: Anthony Henry/Eric King vs Charles Tillman/Zach Bowman
Anthony Henry was brought in this year after playing the past four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. He has one interception this year (props since the one pick was on Drew Brees) and four pass deflections.
This game against the Bears will be the fifth start for Eric King in his fifth year in the league. Not exactly encouraging numbers but the Bears are almost identical.
Charles Tillman is the veteran who, while missing a tackle that directly led to a touchdown last week, has had an interception and a forced fumble in the past two weeks. He has a nose for takeaways and while you wish he would wrap up better, you can't help but admire his determination.
Bowman will be starting only his fourth start of his career. He impressed the coaches in training camp, but has yet to force any turnovers so far this year, although his 17 tackles is third on the team. (Of course, for a corner that might be a negative stat, since it means the player he is guarding is always catching the ball, but that is neither her nor there).
Verdict: The Lions are currently ranked 30th in pass defense, while the Bears are ranked 12th.
Safeties: Louis Delmas/Marquand Manuel vs Danieal Manning/Al Afalava
Delmas is a rookie out of Western Michigan who has shown some spunk through the first three games of the year. He has recorded 17 tackles and three pass deflections not to mention he returned a Mike Bell fumble back 65 yards for a touchdown against the Saints, so you know he is opportunistic.
Marquand Manuel, currently in his eighth year in the league, is playing for his sixth team. He seems to be the definition of journeyman. His overall coverage numbers aren't overly impressive, only 14 pass deflections and two interceptions during his tenure in the NFL, but one of those picks was returned for a touchdown.
In terms of tackling, he looks pretty reliable when given the chance to start. In the three seasons that he started more than ten games, he racked up 235 tackles.
On the Bears side, I listed Manning and rookie Afalava as the starters, however if you look at the Bears depth chart, Kevin Payne is still listed ahead of Afalava.
The Bears do a fairly unique thing in their defensive backfield. When the opponent brings in three receivers, Manning moves to the nickel corner, Payne takes over at the free safety spot and Afalava is the strong safety. Payne was demoted for the Steelers game and I am a big fan of Afalava, so until I see Lovie say otherwise, he is my starter.
Afalava has nine tackles so far with three pass deflections and a sack. He comes up nicely to support the run defense and has shown the ability to get back on passing plays, including a near one handed interception last week against Seattle.
Manning continues to be a big talent that is still very much in the learning phase. This is due partially to the fact that Lovie has moved him around to several different positions over his career but now claims that Manning is the future at free safety.
He has all of the physical tools, he just has to improve at reading the offense, and more to point, the quarterback and learning where he needs to be on each play.
Verdict: Generally, I am not biased, but I think Manning and Afalava have more upside than the combo of Delmas and Manuel. Delmas should be good, but Manuel has reached his ceiling.
Linebackers: Julian Peterson/Larry Foote/DeAndre Levy vs. Lance Briggs/Nick Roach/Jamar Williams
Peterson and Foote bring a winning attitude into Detroit. Peterson is a pro bowl caliber linebacker and Foote was signed following a Super Bowl win with the Steelers last year. The strong side linebacker is DeAndre Levy, a rookie from Wisconsin. Levy is built right for the SAM at 6'2", 238 lbs and should be able to take out the lead blocker on most running plays, allowing Foote and Peterson to come in and clean up.
Coming into the season, the Bears had one of the deepest linebacker units in the NFL, if not THE deepest. And it is a good thing to because they have suffered a rash of injuries.
In week one, the Bears lost MLB Brian Urlacher for the season with a dislocated wrist and starting SLB Pisa Tinoisamoa until after the bye week with a knee injury. In week three, the Bears lost back up middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer (rib) and Lance Briggs is now on the injury report with a foot injury.
Briggs is still expected to play but now the Bears are looking at Nick Roach, the backup strong side linebacker moving over to play middle, which is where he finished the Seahawks game at, and inserting Jamar Williams into the strong side spot.
Verdict: Peterson and Briggs cancel each other out. Levy and Williams are both unproven leaving Larry Foote against Nick Roach...
Defensive line: Jason Hunter/Grady Jackson/Sammie Lee Hill/Dewayne White vs Alex Brown/Tommie Harris/Anthony Adams/Adewale Ogunleye
Both team's defensive lines have taken a beating.
For the Lions, Jackson (knee), Hill (ankle), White (hamstring) and back up defensive end Cliff Avril (hamstring) were all listed on the injury report.
On the Bears side, Brown (ankle), Harris and Adams (knee), and back up Israel Idonije (knee) are all listed on their injury report.
So really, I guess it is about who can play through their respective injuries more effectively and which team has more depth for their line rotation.
Looking at the numbers...
Lions defensive line has sacked the QB three times and have allowed for 105.3 rushing yards per game
The Bears line has sacked the QB six times and have allowed for 94.7 rushing yards per game.
Verdict: With this many nagging injuries and the teams pretty much even, you have to look at the stats. With all of the Bears lineman expected to play despite their injuries...
Punter: Nick Harris vs Brad Maynard
Harris' numbers this year: 15 punts for basically a net average of 37 yards, a long of 55 yards with six being downed inside the 20 yard line.
Maynard's numbers: 14 punts for an average just under 42 yards, a long of 66 with five downed inside the 20 yard line.
Verdict: Both are experienced professionals so basically, it is a toss up.
Kicker: Jason Hanson vs Robbie Gould
Hanson has kicked two field goals in every game this season and is a perfect 6-6 with his long being 48 yards.
Gould has been clutch hitting four out of five kicks, including the game winner over Pittsburgh in week two. His longest field goal has been from 47 yards.
Verdict: Hanson is consistent but Gould is money at home and while Hanson has been solid, kicking outdoors instead of indoors should only benefit the Bears...Plus, for some reason Karma seems to like have good kickers miss multiple attempts...so
Returners: Northcutt/Aaron Brown vs Hester/Knox
Northcutt has a long punt return of 43 yards while Brown has a kick return of 87, although neither has scored a touchdown.
Hester has a long punt return of 12 while Knox has a kick return of 53.
Verdict: I think Hester is the best returner in the world, but going off of stats...
COACHING: Lovie Smith vs Jim Schwartz
Lovie Smith has taken control of the defensive play calling and, as fellow B/R Report Gene Chamberlin reported here, has been calling a more aggressive defense. The offense has had its ups and downs but what Lovie needs to do is have his team ready to go from the opening kickoff.
The biggest problem the Bears have faced this season is coming out in the first quarter FLAT.
Through the first three games, the Bears have been outscored in the first quarter 17-0 and in the first half 30-16.
Jim Schwartz has already surpassed the win total from last year so that in and of itself is a plus.
Expectations are not to high for the first year coach but he has a solid core to build upon on both sides of the ball. The offense is in good shape for the future with Stafford, Smith, Johnson and Pettigrew while the defense has a nice mixture of youth and experience with Peterson, Foote, Jackson and Delmas.
Verdict: Lovie is on the hot seat and has improved the defense from last year, despite several injuries. Schwartz is in the process of changing the entire culture in Detroit that Matt Millen.
The Bears should win this game. Their offense is further along and the defense is playing at a high level. Whether that means they WILL win remains to be seen.
Bears 27 Lions 20