COMMENTARY | Early season showdowns in the NFC North division are always exciting. However, this Week 4 clash between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears carries a little extra weight with the division lead hanging in the balance.
Yes, it seems odd to have the Green Bay Packers falling behind both of these teams at any point in the season, but the fact remains that either Detroit or Chicago is going to sit atop the "black and blue" division a quarter of the way through the 2013-2014 campaign.
The question becomes: What must Detroit do to beat the Bears? Let's examine five keys to ensuring a victory for the team in Honolulu Blue and Silver:
5. Make Charles Tillman a non-factor
Admittedly, trying to avoid "Peanut" Tillman is nearly impossible, but having Calvin Johnson on your side tends to level the playing field. Johnson has struggled against the Bears in his career, with only one receiving touchdown in the team's last three meetings.
What "Megatron" can do is occupy Tillman, force him deep down the field and open up underneath routes for Detroit's other weapons. Johnson may not rack up a ton of yards or touchdowns, but keeping Tillman away from the action will be a big boost to Detroit's passing attack. Plus, Detroit should be willing to take some chances should Johnson somehow get one on one coverage from Tillman at any point.
4. Continue throwing to any and all eligible receivers
It is a huge blow to the Lions to see Nate Burleson go down with a broken arm. He is a supremely talented possession receiver who was having a great start to 2013 and is one of the most important guys in Detroit's locker room. However, while his presence and leadership will surely be missed, his on-field production can be replicated. Matthew Stafford found eight different targets against the Washington Redskins and knows how to distribute the ball to the open man.
Johnson is obviously the only elite target on the field, but Ryan Broyles is finally healthy, Joseph Fauria is emerging as a pass-catcher and Reggie Bush is, well, Reggie Bush. The point is that Detroit can keep the Bears offense off balance by throwing to everybody.
3. Find the balance between Reggie Bush and Joique Bell
Joique Bell looked fantastic as a standalone back against the Redskins. His final rushing stats (20 carries for 63 yards) were not impressive, but he also caught passes out of the backfield and looked like the type of downhill rushing threat that Mikel Leshoure refuses to become. In other words, he is the perfect complement to Reggie Bush.
Bush is coming off a knee injury and will not be 100 percent this week (assuming he plays). This means that Bell will again be counted on to help move the chains and handle a significant portion of the offensive workload. Fans should be excited about that happening rather than skeptical. Bush is an awesome talent, but his penchant for getting hurt is well known. Work him back in slowly, perhaps as an occasional slot weapon and allow Bell to keep grinding for tough yards. There is a great dynamic that can be developed between these two guys that should give the Bears (and everyone else) fits.
2. Shade safeties to wherever Brandon Marshall is on the field
Chris Houston is the best cornerback on the Lions. He has not played well to this point in the young season, but neither has Bill Bentley or Darius Slay. Houston is going to be matched up across from Brandon Marshall and this is undoubtedly the scariest proposition facing the Lions defense on Sunday. Marshall is in another class than Houston and most cornerbacks in the NFL.
Quarterback Jay Cutler is going to look Marshall's way early and often, that is simply what he always does. Detroit should know this and recognize it is coming. Do not be a reactionary secondary. Instead, shade a safety to wherever Marshall lines up and take your chances with one on one coverage against Alshon Jeffery. This strategy could prove fatal, but it is smarter to take chances with Rashean Mathis against Jeffery than Houston alone against Marshall.
1. Put constant pressure on Jay Cutler
What is the quickest way to derail any offense? Put pressure on the quarterback and force him to make bad decisions with the football. Jay Cutler has been known to make the occasional bad decision in tough situations and the defensive line employed by the Lions is arguably the best in football. Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh know how to wreak havoc in the middle like few others and their combination of size and skill should be a nightmare for the Bears to try and stop.
Rookie right guard Kyle Long has been good for Chicago to this point, but Suh and Fairley can bring him back down to earth in a big way and not allow Cutler enough time to get the ball downfield to Marshall. Yes, everything has to work out perfectly for this chain of events to take place, but it is critical that Detroit finds a way to get Cutler off balance. Chicago's offense can be great when in a rhythm, especially when Matt Forte plays like the elite talent he can be. Detroit can stop the Bears before they ever get started, but it all starts with Suh and Fairley.
Nick Kostora lives in Michigan and has covered the Detroit Lions for 4 years. His work has appeared on CNN, the Detroit Free Press, Bleacher Report, Yahoo and more. He is also the co-host of a Lions podcast @LionsCentralPFC
You can follow Nick on Twitter @nickkostora
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Detroit Lions
- Reggie Bush
- Chicago Bears
- Charles Tillman
- Brandon Marshall