Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions: 5 Monday Night Matchups to Watch
This Sunday, there is no Lions football.
It's not a bye week, not Thanksgiving, nor the offseason. It's merely a harbinger for Monday Night Football.
The Detroit Lions are the co-stars of the weekly Monday night game for the first time in a decade, and if that weren't enough, they enter the game with a record of 4-0 for the first time in over three decades.
Suffice to say, there will be some excitement surrounding the game.
But hype aside, this is still a regular season football game that needs to be played, and the Chicago Bears are still a team to be taken seriously. All the excitement will turn around in a hurry if the Lions lose this game on national television.
Here are five matchups the Lions must win to help prevent that from happening.
Nick Fairley vs. the Bears' Interior Line
This matchup will likely have the least effect on the outcome of the game, but it's certainly among the most intriguing storylines.
Nick Fairley, the Lions' 2011 first-round pick, has yet to play a down for the Lions, even in the preseason. He has been sidelined with a foot injury, which basically wiped any opportunity for him to get acclimated to the Lions' defensive system.
But depending on who you ask, this Monday could be Fairley's NFL debut, and it couldn't come against a better team. The Bears are exceedingly thin on the front line, and pressure on Jay Cutler will be both possible and key to winning the game.
That falls more on the starting front four than Fairley, who will probably come in to spell Ndamukong Suh and only get 10-15 snaps in this game (Schwartz has been very particular about not rushing Fairley back to action).
But still, try telling me that you're not psyched about seeing Fairley get his first shot against the Bears.
Brandon Pettigrew vs. Whoever Covers Him
Fun Fact: The Chicago Bears are among the league's worst at limiting tight ends as receivers.
Brandon Pettigrew is a matchup nightmare for opponents, even those that haven't been torched by tight ends in the past. He's too quick for linebackers and too big for safeties.
More importantly, Calvin Johnson is getting national media attention for his unstoppable-ness, and with the Bears' defense shaded towards stopping him, the middle should open up for Pettigrew.
The Bears can't afford to put a nickel corner on the guy because Pettigrew is also a menacing blocker, so it's worth paying attention to how they opt to play him in this game. There may not be a right answer for the Bears' defense.
Ryan Donahue vs. Devin Hester
Through four games, Ryan Donahue has been good enough to erase any longing that may remain regarding Nick Harris.
Donahue is booming punts high enough to force fair catches, far enough to give him one of the better averages in football, and accurate enough to get a whole bunch of them downed inside the 20-yard-line.
Because he's been so good so far, I'm placing it on him—not the coverage team—to contain the Bears' greatest weapon: Devin Hester.
Obviously, the coverage team will need to be prepared for this game, but if Donahue plays it right, they won't have to play much at all. Look for lots of high punts and kicks out of bounds.
If not, then look for a very angry Jim Schwartz on the sideline.
Jeff Backus vs. Julius Peppers
This might not be the most visible matchup on Monday night, but it might be the most important.
Matthew Stafford has been injured twice in each of his first two seasons. The first injury in each season came against the Bears. Consequently, Stafford has never finished a game against the Bears.
After last year, Backus needs to take it upon himself to shut down Peppers, even if he has help doing so (he should). This season is going far too well to allow a whiffed block to drive it into the ground.
My perception of Backus this season has been up, down, up again and just all over the map. This is a good opportunity for him to bring the Backus hater/apologist factions a little closer to equilibrium.
More importantly, it's a good opportunity for Backus to neutralize the Bears' most potent pass-rusher and give Stafford a chance to finish and win a game against Chicago.
Matt Forte vs. Stephen Tulloch
But it was a total team effort to stop Peterson, and it should be the same to stop Matt Forte. So it's not quite right to place it all on Stephen Tulloch.
But to this point, Tulloch has been the Lions' most effective, most consistent run-stopper. More to the point, he calls the defense out on the field.
The Lions' game plan should involve limiting the Bears' running game and forcing Jay Cutler to beat them. If they put the game on Cutler's shoulder, they can focus on pressuring him. And Jay Cutler under pressure might be the worst quarterback in the NFL.
But that starts with Tulloch doing his part to put himself and his teammates in position to stop Forte, who gashed the Carolina Panthers for 205 yards on the ground last week.