NFL Preview - Detroit (2-3) at Chicago (4-1)|
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Lovie Smith's teams always seem to have opportunistic
defenses but his latest group is taking it to another level and will get a
chance to show off its acumen on national television.
Smith's NFC North-leading Chicago Bears welcome division rival Detroit to
Soldier Field for Monday Night Football.
The Bears are a perfect 2-0 in the Windy City this season and have had plenty
of rest after dismantling Jacksonville, 41-3, in Week 5.
Chicago has been led by its aforementioned defense, becoming the first team in
NFL history with five interception-return touchdowns in their first five
The Bears "D," which allows an NFL-low 14.2 points per game, has returned an
interception for a touchdown in each of its past three games and star
linebacker Lance Briggs, along with cornerback Charles Tillman are the first
set of teammates in NFL history to each have a pick-six in consecutive
"I just know that we need to keep it going," Smith said. "Taking the ball away
is a part of a good defensive game for us. We can't wait for them to turn the
ball over. We have to go and get it. I think it's just a mindset. We have guys
that have been around here a long time."
It will be Matthew Stafford's job to navigate that minefield, eight days after
possibly saving the Lions season in a 26-23 overtime win at Philadelphia.
The venerable Jason Hanson tied that game with a field goal in regulation and
won it in overtime. Hanson went 4-for-4 and also added two extra points to
move past John Carney into third place on the NFL's all-time scoring list.
"I think it was a big step for us as a team, playing team football today and
it was a lot of spirit and guys picking each other up," Lions coach Jim
Schwartz told the team's website. "I think that's a good sign of things to
come for this team."
Stafford was off for much of the game, but he led the team on three
scoring drives in the fourth quarter and the game-winner in overtime. He
finished the game 22-for-45 with 311 yards, one touchdown and one interception
for the Lions, who won for the first time since opening the season with
a win over St. Louis. Stafford also ran in a score.
"It's huge because we really needed this," said Detroit defensive end Kyle
Vanden Bosch. "We just needed to play well and get back on track."
Calvin Johnson was also quiet for much of the game, but he finished the
contest with six catches for 135 yards while Nate Burleson caught a score for
Detroit, which snapped a six-game losing streak to Philadelphia and won
despite accumulating 16 penalties.
"Every guy in that locker room never stops fighting and that's what got us the
win," said Stafford. "We can't make it this hard on ourselves every week. We
understand that. But at the same time, a win is a win in the NFL and they
don't always come easy."
The last time Chicago was on the field back on Oct. 7 in Jacksonville, Jay
Cutler had two touchdown passes and the Bears defense returned a pair of
interceptions into the end zone as Chicago crushed the Jags.
Cutler went 23-for-39 with 292 yards and an interception, while Brandon
Marshall had 12 catches for 144 yards and a score for the Bears, who
have won their past three games. Matt Forte finished the game with 107 yards
on 22 carries and also had two catches for 20 yards.
"I thought he played well like he's been playing," Smith said of Cutler.
"Jay's put two good weeks together back-to-back like our offense has. Jay's as
good as anyone out there, simple as that."
This is one of the oldest rivalries in football with the Bears holding a
94-65-5 all-time edge, including seven of the past eight. The last time the
teams met in the Second City on Nov. 13 of last year they got into a big
skirmish Stafford ripped off D.J. Moore's helmet during a Tim Jennings
"There's always going to be bad blood," Jennings told the Bears' website.
"Just the fact that we're Chicago and they're Detroit, and they're in
our division and we know we have to go through one another to get to that
championship that we need to get to, there's always going to be bad blood with
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Obviously ball security will be paramount in this game and Stafford will need
to keep the sharks at bay, even if it means playing dink-and-dunk all night.
Johnson's presence outside the numbers spooks most opposing defensive
coordinators and the Lions, who average an NFC-best 419.6 yards per game,
have probably seen more cover-2 than other NFL team so far this season.
They'll get more of the same against Chicago but only magnified since the
Bears, who give up just 291.2 yards per game, bring so many ball hawks to the
dance. Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher are the big names with the big
reputations but Briggs and Tillman have been the big producers. Meanwhile,
defensive lineman Isreal Idonije and Henry Melton along with Jennings have
also been extremely effective so far this season.
The problem for Detroit is that it lacks a competent running game so moving
the ball through the air is a necessity for this team to have a chance.
The Lions have plenty of weapons. Johnson's main co-stars are fellow receiver
Burleson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who have combined for 82 catches
through five games.
Defensively, Detroit has an excellent front seven but the defensive backfield
is shaky at best and the team re-signed cornerback Alphonso Smith on Thursday
in an effort to shore up a position that's presently depleted by injuries.
Smith was a 10-game starter for Detroit in 2010 and led the team with five
interceptions that season, then compiled 27 tackles and three picks over 11
games (1 start) last year. He was released by the Lions during final cuts
following this preseason.
Detroit entered the week with only Chris Houston and rookie Jonte Green as the
club's only healthy cornerbacks, with Jacob Lacey (concussion) and 2012 third-
round pick Bill Bentley (shoulder) both injured during Sunday's 26-23 overtime
win at Philadelphia. Having free safety Louis Delmas back from knee injury
Delmas had one of the Lions' two interceptions against the Eagles after the
club had gone without a pick in its first four games.
"Turnover ratio is well-documented as being part of success," Schwartz said.
"But I think we need to worry about executing schemes, making plays, those
kind of things. And when you do, you'll take care of the football and also
you'll have a chance to get the football."
The trends point toward Chicago here. The Bears are an impressive 8-2 on
Monday night under Smith and have outscored Detroit by over 14 points per game
during a four-game home winning streak in the series.
Stafford, however, won his only MNF start vs. the Bears on Oct. 10, 2011. One
of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL, Stafford has been pedestrian so
far this season, compiling a mediocre 79.2 passer rating. He did, however,
show some of the old zip in the fourth quarter against Philadelphia last
Sunday. For the Lions to have a shot here, the Georgia product will need
to make big plays minus the turnovers and that might not be untenable against
this Bears defense.
"Our division took a step up," Smith said when talking about the competition
in the NFC North. "None of that really matters for us. We like the position
we're in. Detroit, this week ... I'm sure they've been waiting for this game
for a long time."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bears 24, Lions 14
10/19 09:37:11 ET