Will The Lions Make The Bears Feel Awkward On Sunday?
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The Lions have had arguably the best off-season of any team in the NFL in 2010. They've added defensive and offensive pieces that should allow them to make strides forward for the first time in nearly a decade. Lets take a look at some of these pieces from both the perspective of the Lions as well as the perspective of the Bears.
But do the Lions really have the ability to take it to the next step and win in Chicago?
Do they really have the talent in place to snap an away game loosing streak that has extended back to October 27th, 2007? (which ironically took place at Chicago).
Until the Lions prove it on the football field with wins, it's just a bunch of kool-aid and cornbread. As well as overzealous fans (like me) who are touting the positive moves Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz are making.
These are questions we'll look at today.. Lets get started shall we?
Matthew Stafford Has Arrived Ladies and Gentleman.
Matthew Stafford looks a lot more like a pro than a rookie these days.
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Matthew Stafford has arrived ladies and gentlemen. His preseason numbers show a completely different quarterback than what we saw in his rookie campaign.
Last year he completed 53.3% of his passes. He had a passer rating of 61.0.
More importantly he threw 13 touchdowns against 20 interceptions.
Since there have all ready been some great articles here on the Bleacher Report that explain why many of those interceptions could be attributed to a rookie trying to force things in games where they were all ready way behind, I won't get into that in great detail. The bottom line is, Stafford was an inexperienced NFL QB and it showed. It also didn't help that he was playing behind by 21 points early and often (we'll get into that later).
This year we will have the pleasure of watching a whole new QB taking the reigns of this offense and conducing him self as the Field Marshall that Detroit knew he could be when they selected him #1 overall in the 2009 Draft.
Stafford is, like many of the leagues best QB's, a video room rat. He's spent considerable time in the film room watching tape of last years games, trying to learn from those mistakes. He knew going into the off season that his biggest objective was to become more efficient and protect the football (by not throwing interceptions).
Consequently, he also knew that a lot of his efficiency depended on his connection with star wide receiver Calvin Johnson. And he spent a lot of time during the off season both on and off the field working on that connection.
What has all this work done for him? Good question.
In the preseason we have been witness to a new Matthew Stafford. An efficent, savvy passer with the knowledge of when to throw and when to hold it. The one thing he needs to learn to do is get rid of the ball if there is nothing open so throws an incomplete pass vs taking a sack for loss of yards.
His passer rating after the first 3 games was about 106 but after a short and not so special performance against the Bills, is preseason passer rating dropped to 92.9.
He scored this passer rating by completing 71.2% of his passes, and throwing 3 touchdowns against 2 interceptions.
Granted, there is still a lot of room for improvement, but he's clearly a much more efficient passer than he was last season. He's completing nearly 20% more passes and throwing a dramatically lower number of interceptions by ratio to touchdowns. Consequentially, he's also developed some chemistry with Calvin Johnson that will go a long way when the going gets tough later this season.
The New Force In The Defensive Middle
Ndamukong Suh Flattens Jake Delhome with a Headlock body slam.
Ndamukong Suh will command respect from every offensive unit he faces, for his entire career in the NFL.
Since his first snap in the preseason, offensive coordinators have committed a double team to defending his awesome presence on the defensive line. Subsequently this has opened up opportunities for Corey Williams, Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch to get penetration and pressure on the Quarter Back.
But that is just the beginning of this young mans story, as he is nowhere near satisfied just being the mechanism that opens up opportunities for his team mates. Don't confuse that with a lack of a team player attitude because it's not. He's more than happy to draw the double team and open up chances for his fellow defensive linemen. Just like he was in college though, he will be double teamed. That is just the reality of being Ndamukong Suh.
But his focus in the NFL, just like it was in college, is to learn to beat those double teams. He did it in college and he sees no reason that he shouldn't be able to do it in the NFL. And in time he will. He's all ready shown the ability to do it.
On the play that had many Browns fans crying bloody murder, Suh beat the double team and was the first man on the scene (OK, of the crime) to attack Jake Delhome. Had he only wrapped and tackled him instead of face-mask, and then body slam with a headlock, he would have executed his first QB sack after beating the double team to do it. But I digress.
The point here is that this young man is a force, a very powerful one. And when we look at the difference between the Browns very solid offensive line unit, and compare it to the Bears offensive line, I can't help but start to drool a little bit.
The Bears offensive line is returning just one player to the position he played last year. They've also given up a league leading 10 sacks on Jay Cutler alone in the preseason.
When we combine what is apparently the leagues most porous offensive line, with what could become known as one of the most aggressive defensive front fours, anchored by Ndamukong Suh, we could have the makings of a blood bath in the Windy City.
Will Jahvid Best Run Away With The Show?
Jahvid Best brings "the big play" to Detroit.
It's very interesting that two of the best running backs in the preseason will go head to head this Sunday in Chicago. There is one big difference though, and that is that Mike Martz is not known for his penchant for establishing the Run while the Lions offense will attempt to establish a balanced offense featuring equal parts of the running and passing games.
Matt Forte though has a 10.2 yard per carry average on 12 carries in the preseason. While Jahvid Best has an 8.6 yard per carry average on 15 carries. The big difference here is that Best will be featured in the passing game as well, where as the Bears will likely resort to 3rd down back Chester Taylor when featuring a running back in the passing game.
That being said, the Lions also have other options in the stable of running backs including Jerome Felton who also had a solid preseason and showed that he's good for more than just mowing down tacklers with devastating blocks. The Lions will feature a lot of change ups between Best and Kevin Smith, all though Smith may be used sparingly until he proves that his knee is no longer a detriment to his ability to run the football.
In the end I would say the Lions and Bears are quite equally matched on the running game, each one having a back that can catch the ball from the back field, and each one having a explosive game changer to tote the rock.
Whoever Wins The Turn Over Battle Wins The Game
Jay Cutler, Interception MACHINE!
This preseason, the Detroit Lions are +1 and the Chicago Bears are -1. So the Lions have had one extra chance to score compared to their opponents and Chicago has had one less chance to score compared to their opponents. But that was against teams that didn't feature Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Corey Williams and Cliff Avril as the front four.
It's no big secrete that Jay Cutler was an interception throwing Machine last year. And as we've all ready reviewed the Offensive Line of Chicago and Defensive Line of Detroit should match up very strongly in favor of the Detroit Lions. But what does it all mean?
Well you've heard it many times before, who ever wins the turn-over battle wins the game right? There is a good reason for that. Having a positive turn over ratio means more chances to score.
I predict that Detroit not only wins the turn over battle, but that someone on the Defense is going to score (probably Louis Delmas).
Given the fact that we've all ready established the poor protection Jay Cutler (and Dan Le Fevour for that matter) have gotten from the Chicago offensive line, and the pressure the Lions are no doubt going to get, there should be no shortage of lame ducks flying from Cutlers hands into the grasp of Huston, Wade, Brown, Delmas, or even Spievey for a pick 6.
The Lions Offensive Line Should Fare Well in Chicago.
OG Stephan Peterman is a grade-A, Caterpillar class "Road Grader".
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This is news in Detroit that has not been heard in a long time, and possibly one claim that will stand a very tough test this season. However, the Detroit Lions offensive line is holding back defenders like the Hoover dam so far.
Remarkably Stephan Peterman was recently placed on NBC's preseason all NFC team alongside team mate Calvin Johnson!
It's no surprise to any of us that Calvin Johnson would get such an accolade, but it appears that the cat is out of the bag on Peterman. All though it's no shock to many of us Lions fans who had to watch last season what happens with out Peterman manning his spot on the interior offensive line, his performance as a road grading run blocker have apparently been noticed by others now.
This Offensive line though is made up of several players including co-captain Domonic Raiola, Jeff Backus, Ghosder Cherilus, and newly acquired guard Rob Sims. So far during the preseason, none of them have given up a sack. That being said, we're still going to see a lot more exotic blitz packages during the regular season than we have so far.
But at this point, I can't help but be very pleased with the performance of the offensive line so far. If they can keep up the good work, keep Matthew Stafford upright, and give him time to distribute the ball around, the offense is going to have a marked advantage against the Bears, even in Chicago.
Megatron's Chemistry With Stafford
Calvin Johnson is poised for a break out season.
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No one can deny that Calvin Johnson is one of the premier receivers in the NFL. However, a great deal of them would argue that he is not the best simply because he doesn't have the stats to prove it.
NFC North fans from Green Bay, Chicago, and Minnesota will say that he's good but not the best. Technically they are right, Andre Johnson had the best season for a Wide Receiver for the past two years. But Andre Johnson has had the benefit of chemistry with Matt Schaub since 2007 while Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnon are just getting warmed up.
In the preseason "Megatron" caught 6 passes, and 2 of them were for touchdowns. Both passes also looked very similar, as it seems Stafford and Johnson have been working tirelessly to perfect the "fade rout" on the edge of the end zone.
It seems they have the right idea too because in reality there are probably no corners in the NFL that can stop Johnson in a fade rout pattern. They're just not tall enough or athletic enough to compete with his vertical height.
Now that Calvin Johnson is combined with the likes of Tony Scheffler, Nate Burleson, and the aforementioned Jahvid Best, teams will no longer have the luxury of double (or triple) teaming him with out jeopardizing giving up points to one of the other weapons Matthew Stafford has to chose from in distributing the ball.
In the end, the balance of this offense should spell disaster for any defense, let alone the Bears who's defense is going through some struggles of their own. Other guys like Kevin Smith, Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams should also begin to emerge as effective targets for Stafford in his efforts to keep defenses guessing.
In the end though, in many cases "Megatron" will be the bane of many a defensive coordinator as he and Stafford have worked tirelessly during this off season to improve the chemistry between them. It shows in the two fade route touchdown passes Johnson had in the preseason. One can only hope they have worked on other routes that are very hard, if not impossible for opposing corners to defend.
In the end I think it will be apparent that their chemistry has built a connection not unlike "Wifi" as they begin to grow together as team mates in what should become one of the most potent QB/WR tandems in the NFL.
The Bears Went 0-4 In The Preseason
A displeased Jay Cutler walks the sidelines after being removed from the Browns/Bears game.
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Now I know what you might say about this "Oh it's only the preseason and it doesn't count". And you're right if you would say such a thing. It is the preseason and it doesn't count. But it is very telling as to the state of the Bears organization right now.
As I predicted in the off-season, the Martz-Cutler combination is not going to produce the results the Bears are hoping for. This is like adding water and oil as the two just don't and won't mix well.
An Offense run by Mike Martz relies heavily on timing, and 7 step drop backs. This works great when the team you're playing with has Kurt Warner,Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Marshal Faulk, and several all pro offensive lineman to offer protection.
It's a whole different story when you're QB is a "gunslinger" with an uncanny knack for throwing interceptions (please see the slide about the turn over battle on that one). Not to mention the Bears lack anyone of Holt's or Bruce's talent at receiver and they play outdoors in the "windy city" which is called that for a reason.
These are the reasons why Cutler has had anemic numbers during the Bears preseason attempts to implement "the greatest show on turf" in The Windy City, with a receiving corps lacking any home run threats, and an offensive line that provides no continuity, protection, or time for Cutler to deliver accurate balls. Just to show you what I'm talking about lets take a closer look at Cutlers statistics.
Jay Cutler has a 62.3 passer rating during the preseason (that's right he's playing the Martz system about as effectively as our Rookie Matthew Stafford did last year). In order to achieve this low passer rating he has completed just 51.4% of his passes (again similar to Stafford Last year) and thrown 1 TD against 2 INT's. So it's not a question of which team will see better play from the QB.
The Bears would have been smart to stick with the type of football they're known for. But again, I digress.
The Bears have gone 0-4 in the preseason for several reasons, and the biggest factor is the incomparability of a Martz offense in Chicago with the personnel they have to work with (not to mention the location outside). But that is not the only factor.
As we've discussed before, the Bears offensive line has given up 10 sacks on Cutler and 6 on Dan Le Fevour (which isn't nice to watch having attended CMU my self). So they have the number one most sacked QB in Cutler and a back up in Lefevour who's arguably the most mobile QB in the NFL, yet he's also been sacked the 7th most in the NFL. This is horrible protection folks. The Lions defensive line has no excuse not to decimate the Bears QB and offensive line.
Defensively the Bears and Lions have a lot of very similar statistics in the preseason. Lets take a look.
The Bears allowed 335.5 Yards per game VS the Lions 338
The Bears and Lions each had 27 Penalties on Defense all though Detroit gave up 241 yards to Chicago's 209 on Defensive Penalties.
Each team had 3 interceptions all though the Lions returned one for a touchdown.
The Detroit Lions had 6 forced fumbles in the preseason, 4 of which they recovered, and 1 that went for a touchdown.
The Chicago Bears had 4 forced fumbles and 3 of which were recovered, none of which went back for a touchdown.
We don't have time to look at every statistical comparison but just a few of these show the Detroit Lions and historically stout Chicago Defenses are incredibly similar, and if anything Detroit should win the turn over battle.
All in all, when we combine the Bears Defensive statistics from the preseason, and just look at how ineffective the Martz system has been thus far, and it's no wonder why the Bears went 0-4 in the preseason.
Add it all up and this has to be a game the Detroit Lions can, and should win.
If they can pull it off, the Lions will have won the first road game since they last beat the Bears in Chicago on October 27th, 2007.