It's been a long time since the Lions have been chosen to be on MNF (2001). Unfortunately, they did not come out with a win in that contest. However, this is a new era and a new team and I'm telling you my friends, there are several reasons why you should believe they will come away with a win this time.
In order to do so, however, there will be a few things that need to happen. You know it and I know it but most importantly, the Detroit Lions themselves know it.
So what needs to happen for the Lions to keep improving as the season goes on and the match-ups get tougher?
This game will start and end with QB Matthew Stafford. The Lions have not started out strong since their blow-out win against the Kansas City Chiefs in front of a sold out home crowd at Ford Field at their home-open this year. The game against the Chicago Bears will be the Lions second time to play at home and second time they will be in front of a sell-out crowd.
Stafford is happy for the wins but has reported that he would rather not have to come from behind to win this Monday night's game against the Bears. He knows what he has to do. “We want to start faster than we have for, frankly, the whole year,” Stafford said. “We want to get out there and play our style of football early on.”
What I've noticed in the first four games is that Stafford has some "happy feet" issues. He just needs to settle down and not force anything. He's actually done a great job of not forcing bad passes but has failed to see some of his guys open when in pressure situations. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather see him throw the ball away then get sacked or risk a fumble, but if this offense is going to get better in the stretch he has got to start seeing his options and trusting his guys to move the ball.
When Stafford settles in the entire offense seems to settle in with him. He just needs to get a feel for things earlier and start taking calculated risks by getting the ball into the hands of one of his bevy of weapons. When Stafford is in sync the whole offense syncs up with him and great things happen.
He may also need to get a new helmet. Last week his helmet seemed too big and therefore kept sliding down over his eyes. This will not be helpful to him.
Once again the front offensive line has been an under an increasing amount of criticism. Jeff Backus is usually at the center of this. It's his job to protect Stafford and many feel he has not done a good enough job.
I would have to disagree with the complaints about Backus. He has just faced two teams who arguably have some of the best pass rushers in the NFL (Jared Allen and DeMarcus Ware). The Vikings got to Stafford a lot (5 sacks in all) but Ware didn't get a single touch on Stafford. When Backus was out of the game for a couple of downs against the Cowboys there was noticeable difference. That told me something. Backus has value.
This game against the Bears could be an ugly reminder to Backus and Stafford about what happened during their first meeting last year. Stafford was taken down hard by Julius Peppers and went out with a separated shoulder. Jeff Backus got the blame for that. He knows his job and he knows that neither he, nor any of the other offensive lineman, can allow Peppers to get a hit on Stafford like that again.
The good news is that Stafford has been hit since then and has shown that he can get back up and play.
What the entire line needs to do on offense is not just protect Stafford but open running lanes for Jahvid Best and make the critical blocks and tackles for the receivers. They also need to stop getting penalties.
Other good news is that the Bears defense is last in the NFC for yards allowed while the Lions are ranked sixth for offensive yards gained (second in the NFC North).
There is an obvious connection between Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Johnson is the go-to guy for getting TDs in tight spaces and is on track to set another NFL record if he receives two TDs in the game against the Bears. He is always a threat no matter who covers him. But Nate Burleson and Titus Young can not be ignored for stretching the field and making some pretty spectacular grabs of their own. Tight ends, Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler may be the best TE tandem in the NFL and Jahvid Best can almost always be counted on to pick up rushing yards as well as passing yards.
The Lions have tremendous weapons on offense. They just need to get in sync earlier in the game. Once they do this, there will be very few who will be able to stop them.
Once again, the Lions have a ton of talent on this side of the ball. The problem so far? They are not playing with the intensity at the beginning half of the regular season games that we saw last year or even during the preseason.
That doesn't mean they haven't been effective at all, it just means they seem to have trouble getting started, just as the offense has. The Lions are ranked third in the NFL (first in NFC North) in defense against total yards allowed. So far this season, other teams have only been able to score an average 19 points per game against the Lions.
With as many gashing yards as it seems other running backs have been able to get on the Lions defense, they have only allowed one rushing TD. In comparison, the secondary have allowed five passing TDs this season.
Priority number one for the Lions defense has to be to get to QB Jay Cutler. Cutler has been very efficient against the Lions. In his five contests with them so far, he has thrown for 1,043 yards and nine TDs. If the defense can remove this option than all he has are his running backs. Containing the running game won't be easy since Cutler has Matt Forte' and Marion Barber on his side but if the Lions can force the Bears' offense to become one-dimensional, they will be very happy with that.
Ndamukong Suh talks about forcing Cutler to become one-dimensional too but his take is that they need to focus on the running game:
I definitely think the Bears are going to try to run the ball, and they’re smart for that. They probably know that crowd noise is going to have a big effect for Jay Cutler to be in passing situations, but they can be in pretty solid run situations and run downhill. We understand as a defense; we go into every single game wanting to shut down the run and make them a one-dimensional team. Our crowd can put that much more into the noise factor and get them into passing situations where we can go back there, hit Cutler and get a lot of sacks.
They definitely have some big weapons. (Matt) Forte, (Devin) Hester and you can’t forget Cutler. What a lot of people don’t know is that he creates a lot of plays with his feet and he can hurt you if you let him out of the pocket, as well as with his arm. We just need to be able to contain those guys [...]
I am not going to argue with Suh's point. He's too big and he knows the game better than I do, but statistically the Lions have kept a scoring advantage by keeping the backs out of the endzone. In the end, it doesn't matter what the Lions defense does or how they do it, it just matters that it gets done.
Based on how hungry they are and having been beat by the Bears twice last year, I don't believe they will be denied this time.
The Lions special team players have been anything but "special" this season. Logan has not been able to get off any great returns and the tackling has been sub-par. The shining star this year has been K Jason Hanson. That man still has a great leg.
The Lions have the players to make the plays on special teams they just have to commit to stepping it up and executing. The creases and tackles need to be there for Logan who absolutely has the ability to bring it back for a TD. On the other side, they have to find a way to stop the return game. Devin Hester has proven over and over what a threat he is. The Lions have to keep the ball out of his hands or get the tackles to stop him short of any big gains.
For whatever reason, the Lions special team players don't appear to be as unified as the offense and defense, yet it's just as important for them to be. They need a player to be the glue. Hanson could be that but he would have to talk tackling, protecting the Lions receivers, and getting low, solid hits on their opponents receivers.
Detroit could get a huge spark from this part of the team if they could force a turnover on a botched kickoff or punt return. The priority, however, has to be good field position for the Lions offense and keeping the Bears' offense backed up.
Since this game is in front of a home crowd, it would be great to see Logan break out and bring one back for a TD like he did last year (105 yards). He is more than capable. His TD return last year was in October against the St. Louis Rams in the opening play of the 2nd quarter. Maybe this October will prove to be a great one for him too.
Every team wants to play well at home in front of their fans. Detroit is no different. What is different is that Lions fans have not been this excited for a very, very long time. Expect the noise in Ford Field to be deafening whenever the Lions are on defense and between plays on offense.
However, Detroit is not that far away from Chicago so there will be plenty of Bears fans in the house too. The Lions fans have to help raise the roof and make a difference. They have to make it difficult for Cutler to hear, take away the audible and bring the beast mode out of the Lions defense. On offense they have to hold back their excitement long enough for Stafford to make his plays and then explode all they want when the Lions score.
In any dome, crowd noise becomes a factor but when you have fans who felt robbed by the Bears last year, and who are chomping at the bit to see the Lions continue their winning streak, you can expect it to be crazy loud in Ford Field.
Detroit Lions fans have gotten behind this team. The Lions have brought hope back to a city that has been suffering financially and looking for an identity since so many auto industry jobs have been lost. This is a proud blue-collar town and it couldn't be more fitting to have the Lions bring a "never give up" attitude and swagger the entire city can feel. The fact that the Lions clawed and scratched their way back in two come-from-behind wins just adds to the sense that anything is possible.
Detroit, the team, its fans, and the city itself are coming back bigger and better than ever. The Bears will have a battle on their hands on Monday Night because this is not just about a football game anymore.
It's about not giving up. It's about pride. It's about being a microcosm of what is going on in the State of Michigan. It's about having the swagger of warriors and the attitude of champions.
It's about watching the rise of the Detroit Lions and feeling that somehow we can be a part of that.