By Tom Pollin
The Bears and Lions Monday Night War Reporter (@tjpollin)
The Bears played rude hosts to the Lions in their first meeting this season under the Monday night lights. They rode their NFL best defense to a 13-7 win to hold their NFC North Division lead with a 5-1 record while the Lions dropped to 2-4 on the season.
Lovie Smith extended his franchise best Monday night record as head coach to 9-2. He's the eighth head coach of the Bears since the launch of Monday Night Football and is only the second with a winning record (no, Mike Ditka wasn't the other; Abe Gibron was 2-1 on Monday Night as head coach between 1972 and 1974).
Both teams played a hard-hitting defense dominated game that this rivalry is known for, now that it's over here are five things we learned.
1. The Bears’ defense put together another exceptional effort
The Bears’ defense scored touchdowns in three straight games before the Lions’ offense pitched a shut-out on Monday night. Other than that they played another outstanding game.
The Bears sacked Matthew Stafford three times, hit him six other times as he threw and pressured him throughout the game. They held Stafford to a 5.2 Real Passing Yards per Attempt and a 74.6 Offensive Passer Rating.
They kept a tight lid on Calvin Johnson the entire game who was targeted 11 times by Stafford but finished with 3 catches for 34-yards. His first catch came in the third quarter, due to the effectiveness of offensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s shifting defensive sets and the suffocating coverage by cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman.
Tillman’s highlight moment against Johnson came in the third quarter. A play earlier Tillman had been called for pass interference against Johnson to set up first and goal at the Bears’ one yard line.
On the next play Johnson came to the line to see Tillman across from him again. As Stafford did so many times in 2011, he lofted a pass towards the right corner of the end zone that Johnson briefly latched on to before Tillman punched the ball out from between his hands.
On the second down play Lions’ running back Joique Bell took a solid hit from Henry Melton that jarred the ball loose and into the hands of Brian Urlacher to shut the door on a prime scoring opportunity for the Lions.
2. Turnovers doomed the Lions.
The Bears are now No. 1 in the NFL in Turnover Differential at +13 after forcing four against the Lions. The painful part of that statistic for Detroit is three of those turnovers were in the red zone and killed scoring opportunities.
In the second quarter Mikel LeShoure had the ball stripped from his arms by linebacker Lance Briggs at the Bears’ 17-yard line that was recovered by Julius Peppers.
The second turnover at the Bears’ one yard line is described above. In the fourth quarter, on fourth and goal at the Bears’ three yard line, Stafford was chased out of the pocket by Julius Peppers and his desperation pass was intercepted by D.J. Moore who was pushed out of bounds at the five.
The other turnover was by Stephan Logan of a Bears’ punt on their first possession of the third quarter. That cost the Lions points when Robbie Gould kicked a 21-yard field goal to make the score 13-0.
3. The Lions’ offense has completely come apart.
Somewhere between 2011 and 2012 the Lions’ young, big play offense has disappeared and except for fourth quarter comebacks in Week One and Week Six, has been nowhere to be found.
Matthew Stafford became one of the young rising stars at quarterback in 2011 when he passed for 5,038-yards and 41 touchdowns. Calvin Johnson caught 16 of those touchdown passes on the way to establishing himself as one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL.
Stafford was off target quite a bit against the Bears but when he was on target the Lions’ receivers had a terminal case of the “drops”. The most damaging to the cause was on the Lions first drive of the game when Stafford hit Johnson, who was wide open across the middle, with a pass that was on target and in stride but bounced off Johnson’s hands incomplete.
Now Stafford has to try and get things back together without reliable receiver Nate Burleson, who was carted off the field with a broken leg that will keep him out the rest of the season.
What gets forgotten in the problems the Lions have had is Stafford is still a young quarterback, drafted in 2009 and completing his first complete season only last year. He's going through a bad slump right now but he also has the talent to go on a tear the second half of the season.
4. The “Jay Cutler toughness” questions can be put to bed once and for all.
It’s amazing that the toughness possessed by Jay Cutler would still be in question after the beating he took the last two seasons behind what is still a talent deficient offensive line.
Cutler does have problems with letting his emotions affect his demeanor and performance in adverse situations, see Week Two against the Packers, that fuel questions about his ability to be a true franchise quarterback but physically, as long as he can still walk out on the field and perform he’ll be behind center.
Cutler can blame the Chicago Bears public relations staff for the ridiculous misconceptions about his toughness. In the 2010 NFC Championship Game against the Packers, when Cutler was sidelined with a sprained knee that affected his throwing ability, the Bears’ statement was that he was questionable to return.
That Cutler was standing on the sidelines as first Todd Collins, and then Caleb Hanie finished the Bears’ losing effort buried the notion about his unwillingness to play hurt into the sports media and the public’s minds.
Jay Cutler was 9 of 16 for 73-yards, 1 TD and 0 INT's for an 88.8 Offensive Passer Rating before Ndamukong Suh grabbed him by the left arm and slammed him to the ground in the second quarter.
Although he went back to the locker room early before halftime to have his ribs x-rayed he came out and played the entire second half while obviously in pain. The injured ribs contributed to the Bears’ problems in moving the ball the rest of the game. After Suh's sack Cutler was 9 of 16 for 73-yards, 0 TD's and 0 INT's for a 62.4 Offensive Passer Rating.
5. Where do both teams go from here?
The Lions head home to host the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday, definitely not the team they want to see as they try to jump start their struggling offense.
The positive that the Lions can take away from playing the Bears is that their defense did an excellent job overall. They sacked Cutler five times and held the Bears to three field goals after their touchdown on the first series of the game.
The Carolina Panthers come to town to face the Bears next weekend. Cam Newton gave the defense fits for three quarters before they were finally able ot shut him down in the fourth last season.
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