Detroit Lions Analysis: 5 Requirements Essential to MNF Retribution vs. Chicago
The last Monday Night Football game hosted by the Lions ended horribly with the eventual NFC Champion St. Louis Rams routing Detroit 35-0 in 2001.
Since defeating the 1970 Chicago Bears 28-14 on a Monday Night Football game in its inaugural season, Detroit possesses an 11-13-1 all time Monday night record.
The Lions-Bears rivalry is one of the fiercest and longest standing rivalries in the history of the National Football League.
It’s a rivalry memorialized by spectacular moments and great players. A history that has produced the likes of all-time great running backs Barry Sanders and Walter Payton and revolutionary Hall of Fame linebackers Joe Schmidt and Dick Butkus.
It’s a history, though, that more recently has become shrouded in controversy, adding fuel to an already burning fire.
It was the closing moments of their 2010 Week 1 affair at Soldier Field that is regarded as the origin of “The Calvin Johnson Rule.” In a rule that dictates possession by means of referee interpretation, an apparent game winning reception by Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson with 24 seconds remaining in regulation was later rescinded and ruled an incomplete pass.
Detroit went on to fall to the Bears in Chicago in what would have been Detroit’s first opening day victory since 2007.
Poor officiating, though, is a misnomer. Ed Hochuli isn’t to blame for Detroit’s inability to defeat Chicago.
Detroit has failed to beat Chicago in each of the last three regular seasons. In fact, Chicago has been victorious over Detroit in 11 out of their last 13 contests.
Week 5 of the 2011 NFL Regular Season will feature some of the greatest young talent Detroit has put on the field in years. Look for tight end Brandon Pettigrew and middle linebacker DeAndre Levy to have the greatest impact.
Here are 5 requirements Detroit will have to meet to take down their greatest rival.
5. Hustle and Flow: Establish Strong Run Game Early
Chicago’s defense relies heavily on its ability to stop the run. By adding Oregon State product Stephen Paea in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft the Bears fill an immediate need up front.
Against Detroit in Week 13 of last season the Bears routinely stacked seven defenders in the box with the primary intention to corral Javhid Best. Jahvid’s size as a primary back is a detriment to Detroit’s ability to manage the game clock while eating chunks of yardage.
The selection of Mikel Leshoure could remedy Jahvid’s inability to hit the hole, and implies that the Lions are serious about establishing a strong run game for years to come. During his sophomore and junior years at Illinois, Leshoure averaged 6.8 and 6.0 yards per rushing attempt respectively.
Ball security is a non issue for Leshoure; through 424 carries at Illinois, he never fumbled once.
Mikel is a physically powerful short yardage monster, someone that Detroit will need to battle the intelligently athletic duo of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.
The combination of Best and Leshoure should allow Detroit’s offense to control the box, permitting a healthy Matthew Stafford time to take advantage of a susceptible Chicago Bears secondary.
4. Utilize Speed in the Quick Passing Game
It is imperative that Detroit utilize the speed of its wide receiving core against an aging Chicago Bears defensive group in their precision quick passing game. Stafford will look to get rid of the ball early and often; no one receiver will be targeted.
Exploiting Chicago’s linebackers and controlling the defensive line is of utmost importance. Detroit will have to employ quick passes such as slants, curls, and out routes.
The Lions offensive lineman will have to explode into the defender off the snap to ensure that the ball doesn’t get knocked down at the line of scrimmage.
Detroit’s quick passing game going from 5-7 yards drops to 2-3 yards drops should alleviate pressure off the edge from defensive end Julius Peppers. A couple successful swing passes out of the backfield to Javhid Best will all but nullify Peppers involvement in Chicago’s speed rush pass defense.
Week 5 could be Detroit Lions rookie Titus Young’s breakout game.
3. Heavily Employ Pettigrew in Offensive Game Plan
This is why Detroit drafted Brandon Pettigrew in the first round with the 20th pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. You can find tight ends that can block and you can find tight ends that can catch; it’s not very often that you can find a tight end that can do both.
Detroit’s offensive success against the Bears on Monday Night Football hinges on the play of Brandon Pettigrew.
If Pettigrew is able to sustain his blocks at the second level, look for Detroit to rush for significant yardage.
Pettigrew looks to prosper the most from Detroit’s quick passing game. Favorable match ups against linebackers in a potent Scott Linehan offense led to 72 receptions for 722 yards for Pettigrew in 2010. Those are numbers greater than 2010 NFC Pro Bowl selection tight end Tony Gonzalez put up for Atlanta that year.
Pettigrew’s success in the Lions passing game will almost assuredly lead to double coverage. The young tight end’s ability to occupy a nickel corner and possibly a safety will lead to single coverage for Detroit’s star wide receiver Calvin Johnson. It’s a conundrum that former Detroit Lions and current Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will work diligently to prohibit.
2. Detroit Must Focus on Stopping Devin Hester
Detroit’s special teams will play an integral role in defeating the Bears. Detroit’s kick off and punt coverage teams will be largely to blame if the Lions fail to defeat the Bears at Ford Field.
Detroit’s hands will be full in dealing with Bears return ace Devin Hester, who is the most lethal return man in all of the National Football League.
There are two rules Detroit must adhere to in their strategy in stopping Devin Hester.
Rule No. 1: DO NOT KICK THE BALL TO DEVIN HESTER. I don’t care if Detroit kicks the ball directly out of bounds and Chicago takes the ball at the 40 yard line; don’t kick it to Devin Hester…ever. Dangerous return men are game changers and have been known to win games single handedly. (See Week 13 Giants vs. Eagles match up. Reference DeSean Jackson’s walk off 65-yard punt return touchdown to win the game.)
Detroit did a incredible job in 2010 corralling Devin Hester. Hester was held to zero scores and his lone highlight against Detroit was a 30-yard punt return in which he was brought down by Detroit Lions punter Nick Harris.
Rule No. 2: DO NOT KICK THE BALL TO DEVIN HESTER. Period.
1. Detroit Must Continue to Pressure Jay Cutler
Historically, no matter how well Chicago’s defense plays, sometimes it cant keep up with Cutler's mistakes.
Though Jay Cutler has played well against the Detroit Lions, consistent defensive pressure has lead to turnovers and terrible decisions.
In 2010 against Detroit, Cutler threw two interceptions when pressured and was sacked a total of eight times and fumbled twice, resulting in turnovers.
The draft selection of defensive tackle Nick Fairley and the healthy return of Kyle Vandenbosch, Louis Delmas, DeAndre Levy, and Alphonso Smith should only bolster an already strong Lions defense.
Detroit’s success, or lack thereof, will be directly related to how many mistakes the Lions can force Jay Cutler into making. One thing is for sure, Ndamukong Suh and the Detroit Lions have a score to settle.
It’s a guarantee that Detroit will bring pressure.