Detroit Lions: Keys to Victory Over Bears on Monday Night Football
A lot has changed in Detroit since that game almost exactly a decade ago. During the past 10 seasons, the Detroit Lions have gone through five head coaches, two general managers, two stadiums, and a combined 39-121 record. After a miserable decade of football, the Lions are back in the prime-time game.
The 2011 Lions seem to be a completely different team now. They are outscoring opponents 101-46 in the first three weeks of the season and are 3-0 for the first time since 1980. The Lions are the hottest team in the NFL right now, with a regular season win streak of seven games, the longest active streak of any team.
Despite the early success, many fans are still skeptical of Detroit. On October 10, the Detroit Lions will have the chance to prove to the entire nation that the team is not a fluke, but a serious contender to go to the Super Bowl. For this to happen, the Detroit Lions must get past last year's NFC North champions, the Chicago Bears.
Here is a look ahead to the Week 5 matchup and five key things the Detroit Lions must focus on to win their first Monday Night Football game since 1998.
Matthew Stafford and the Lions' Passing Attack
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The passing offense is what has carried the Detroit Lions through the first three weeks of the season. The Lions have been dominating defenses, throwing for 321.7 yards per game (fourth in NFL) and nine touchdowns, (second in NFL).
Detroit has been lead this season by arguably the most talented wide receiver in the league, Calvin Johnson. Johnson has six touchdowns in three games and is averaging one touchdown on every 2.7 receptions. He has been incredibly successful in the red zone, and no cornerback in the league has yet to stop him.
They will be facing a Chicago Bears defense, which has struggled greatly against the pass, giving up 277.3 yards per game (26th in NFL). The Bears showed a huge weakness against tight ends last week in Green Bay, allowing Jermichael Finley to catch for 85 yards and three touchdowns.
Chicago will have their hands full against Detroit's two explosive tight ends, Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler who have combined for 227 yards and two touchdowns this season.
The Detroit Lions need to continue their success in the passing game and exploit a very shaky Chicago defense.
Putting Pressure on Jay Cutler
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The Detroit Lions have one of the most talented defensive lines in the nation. Headlined by Kyle Vanden Bosch and pro bowl defensive tackle Ndamkukong Suh, the Lions have recorded eight sacks this season. The defense has been putting pressure on quarterbacks all season long, forcing bad decisions and four interceptions.
This success has been without Detroit's 2011 first round draft pick, Nick Fairley. Fairley came out of Auburn as one of the most talked about defensive players in the country, but has yet to see the playing field due to a foot fracture suffered in training camp. His recovery is going well, and he may see the field during the Monday night game.
The Chicago Bears have done a terrible job of protecting quarterback Jay Cutler, giving up 14 sacks in three games (31st in NFL). Detroit will look to overpower this weak offensive line and ensure that Cutler has little opportunity to make plays.
Protecting Stafford in the Pocket
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Last week against the Minnesota Vikings, the Lions showed a huge weakness against the pass rush. Tackle Jeff Backus struggled against defensive end Jarod Allen, allowing three sacks including a crucial sack late in the fourth quarter following two false start penalties. Backus will be facing an even tougher matchup in five-time pro bowler Julius Peppers (two sacks in 2011 season).
Chicago has been able to have great success when they can pressure the quarterback. In the week one matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, the Bears recorded five sacks on their way to a 30-12 victory.
In addition, quarterback Matt Stafford has shown a history of injury problems, missing 19 games since he was drafted in 2009. Detroit's offensive line will need to step up against a very aggressive Chicago Bears defense.
Winning the Special Teams Battle
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Both the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears have exceptional special teams units. They have two great kickers (Jason Hanson for the Lions and Robbie Gould for the Bears) who have been perfect in their field goal attempts this season.
In addition, Chicago has one of the most explosive returners in the league in Devin Hester. Hester has been relatively quiet so far this season, but his 10 career punt return touchdowns and four career kick return touchdowns can not be overlooked.
I don't expect the Bears to attempt a trick return, like the one that occurred Week 3 against the Green Bay Packers, but the Lions should still be aware of giving up the big play.
Detroit has a speedy returner of their own in Stefan Logan. Logan also has been quiet this season, but is capable of making a big play anytime the ball is in his hands.
In a prime-time divisional matchup between two playoff caliber teams, special teams plays could make all the difference in the world.
Finishing the Game Strong
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Throughout the 2010 season, the Detroit Lions had a habit of coming out of the gate strong, but giving away the game in the second half. In fact, the Lions were outscored 205-152 in the second half last season.
This season, it has been a completely different story. Detroit has been explosive in the second half, outscoring opponents 58-13 including a second half comeback over the Minnesota Vikings last week which made up a 20-0 deficit.
The Lions seems to have learned how to close out games this season and will need to keep this up, especially for what will most likely be a very close game against the Chicago Bears. Each of the last two games between these two teams has been decided by five points or less, including the controversial game last season where Calvin Johnson failed to complete "the process."
Detroit will need to play hard for four quarters when October 10 comes and prove to the world that this team belongs among the nation's elite.