Chicago Bears: Scouting Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions
There are two Lions teams: the Old Lions, who played for almost three quarters against Dallas and left trailing 27-3...
And the New Lions, who entered last week's game down 24 points with 24 minutes to play. They pounced on the Cowboys, returned two interceptions for scores and freed Calvin Johnson to feed on Dallas DBs.
It was their second comeback from 20 points or more in two consecutive weeks.
The Bears need to know how it happened and how to respond, or they’ll suffer the same fate in Week 5.
The Old Lions Offense
For three quarters, Stafford looked out of sync.
Actually, that’s being kind. He looked bewildered by the Cowboys’ defense, his eyes full of stars, like he’d never been indoors before.
Maybe it’s the fact he was returning to Dallas, where he attended high school and was a top prospect. Maybe it was the gigantic HD video screen showing him miss receivers on every other replay. Maybe it was because the Lions offensive line spent a lot of time on their heels watching Cowboys run over them (in really high definition).
No matter the reason, Stafford threw from his heels and hit receivers in their heels. It was the theme of the game for three quarters. And the Cowboys defense kept the Lions safely underfoot.
Detroit couldn’t put together a drive over three and a half minutes and they managed just a field goal from their most prolific offensive output: nine plays for 47 yards. Jahvid Best’s 24-yard reception from a scrambling, panicking Stafford was his biggest play of the game. And Calvin Johnson went three quarters and had just three catches.
This Detroit offense looked familiar to everyone in the league.
Against Chicago’s Defense
The Bears squad will probably look at the game film this week and spend the first three quarters like caffeinated 12-year olds, bouncing off walls and ready to cause trouble.
The defense should be (rightfully) fired up at the possibility of facing a dysfunctional offense in an NFL game instead of just during weekly practices.
What to watch for: If Detroit can consistently put together drives of six plays or more, it will be a long day for Chicago. The Lions want to collect first downs. If they can’t do that, the Bears will create turnovers when the Lions get frustrated and try to force it.
The Old Lions Defense
Until the end of the third quarter, Detroit’s defense was equally forgettable. I will say this for them: they looked poised (to call timeout).
Their secondary was cowardly. They were timid as kittens against a Dallas receiving corps missing Miles Austin, sporting Dez Bryant’s tweaked hammy, and featuring freshly released and re-signed wide receiver Laurent Robinson.
But those Cowboys looked like Pro Bowlers the first three quarters of the game. And after each Dallas catch, the Lions whimpered back to the huddle and scratched out new plays in the turf.
Probably they were wondering two things:
1. Who is Laurent Robinson? and
2. How did he get seven catches for 116 yards?
Robinson was drafted by the Falcons in 2007 and traded to St Louis in 2009. The Rams released him after one year, and he signed and played well in two preseason games for San Diego. He was released again. He signed with Dallas on Sept. 7, only to be released (again) six days later. The Cowboys signed him (again) seven days after that when Miles Austin was injured. Got it?
And he caught seven passes for 116 yards in just three quarters against Detroit because nobody touched him. Or glanced at him. Or sniffed in his direction. Like three other NFL teams already had, Detroit overlooked Robinson.
The Lions vaunted defensive line struggled for three quarters, too. They had a hard time getting to Tony “The Rib” Romo despite statue-esque mobility in his kevlar-lined pads.
Romo wasn’t rattled and developed a steady rhythm, leading to 27 points. Each Dez Bryant highlight-reel TD catch gave the team confidence and kept the Cowboys rolling.
Chicago’s Offense vs. The Old Lions
Unfortunate Fact: The Bears do not have a receiver who can beat DBs with his body or who possesses clamp-down hands like Dez Bryant (And if you say “Roy Williams.” I request evidence less than three years old.).
Though Bears receivers Johnny Knox and Devin Hester aren’t Dez, they could have a big day against the Humane Society of Detroit, a.k.a. the Old Lions secondary.
And they could always put "Robinson" on the back of their jerseys and hope Detroit ignores them, too.
Matt Forte could run forever, as the Lions defensive line was barely adequate stopping a banged-up Felix Jones and they didn’t record a sack until late in the fourth quarter. The Bears scout team puts up a better fight.
For almost three quarters, these were the same Old (losing) Lions.
Then the New Lions showed up.
The Lions that have everyone buzzing. The not-so-cowardly Lions who don’t know and don’t care if they’re too young and inexperienced to come back from 20 points down twice in two weeks.
Or win 12 games in a season. Or win a playoff game. Or…more?
The New Lions feasted on turnovers in their comeback against the Vikings. And against Dallas, the same formula worked again.
LB Bobby Carpenter changed the game with his interception of a lazy Romo pass (Fear disclosure: It’s easy to see Cutler making the same mistake.). Detroit returned it for a touchdown and sparked a momentum shift.
That defensive score was followed by another on Dallas’ next possession. And it was a legitimately good play (see video).
Lions DB Chris Houston, who could only be fooled seven times, gambled the Cowboys would throw to Laurent Robinson again. He fought off the Dallas receiver to stay underneath a slant route and took a Tony Romo pass to the endzone while Cowboys fans were still grumbling about the first pick six.
Suddenly, it was 27-17.
The Cowboys put together a strong drive on their next possession, but the Lions defensive line finally began to pressure Romo, who twice threw earlier than he wanted. Dallas got to the five yard line but was held to a field goal, increasing their lead to 30-17.
Stafford and the offense moved into hurry up mode—something they’ve done more effectively each week. The Dallas defense gave them the middle of the field and Stafford took it, hitting Brandon Pettigrew and Titus Young before tossing it up to Calvin Johnson in the end zone.
Calvin made a great catch, leaping over good coverage to haul in the TD, making it 30-24.
To be clear: The Bears do not have a receiver who can do that, either.
The Cowboys would go three and out on two straight possessions and convert just one more first down in the rest of the game.
Meanwhile, the Lions motored up and down the field with Pettigrew and Johnson. Despite trying to stall their own comeback with unnecessary penalties, Detroit didn’t slow down.
A field goal, another interception by the defense and another great catch by Calvin Johnson, and the Lions roared home with an unlikely 4-0 record.
Those Detroit Lions are something new. And they’re good.
The Bears couldn’t stop Steve Smith last week. He's still catching passes.
And Calvin Johnson has shredded good coverage and several double-teams for four straight weeks, scoring eight touchdowns. It’s unrealistic to think the Bears can stop him, too.
Their goal must be to slow him down and minimize his opportunities. To that end, they’ll sorely miss safety Chris Harris, who’s expected to sit out another game with a hamstring injury.
Be nervous, Bears fans. Be very nervous.
Defensive line pressure will disrupt the Stafford-to-Johnson connection, but Stafford has a quick release and is tough to reach. The Bears, however, have knocked the Lions QB out of a game twice in his career.
It's safe to assume Julius Peppers is Stafford's biggest (strongest and fastest) fear in life.
Hopefully Peppers and the Bears can introduce Stafford to the carpet a few times because without pressure, they have no chance.
The Bears running game is also critically important this week, as usual. Chicago has not shown they can consistently outscore opposing offenses, and especially one with Calvin Johnson. Even though Cutler has had some of his best games against the Lions, the Bears are likely to lose a shootout.
That means Matt Forte and the running game will be asked to shoulder great responsibility: Keep the Lions offense and Calvin Johnson off the field. Eat the clock. Then eat it again. And don’t turn it over, no matter what.
Finally, in what should be a close game, Devin Hester and the Bears special teams can be the difference.
Detroit may look new on offense and defense, but their coverage looks ancient. The Bears should win field position battles and may get a touchdown from the return game.
How Does It Turn Out?
Best Case Scenario: Lions can’t maintain the energy and emotion of the past two weeks and come out flat against a fired up Chicago.
The old Lions offense, sputtering and fumbling between the 30-yard lines for the last decade, is on display all four quarters, and the Bears run out the clock on offense.
Final Score: Chicago 24, Detroit 10
Worst Case Scenario: The new Lions are for real and play more than just one quarter.
Their opportunistic defense makes the Bears’ offense look pathetic, especially if they force Chicago into must-pass situations. Offensively, Calvin Johnson catches two touchdowns (for the fifth straight week).
Final Score: Chicago 16, Detroit 31
Prediction: Chicago’s defense puts together its most complete game of the year and a defensive/special teams touchdown puts Detroit down early.
The Bears learn from mistakes against Steve Smith and the Panthers and don’t squander the difference. The Lions try to rally, but can’t pull it off three weeks in a row.
Final Score: Chicago 30, Detroit 28