Re-Focused: Week 1, Lions at Bears

| September 13, 2010

This was a matchup both teams initially conspired to lose before making valiant, last-ditch efforts to win the thing.

After combining for 7 fumbles (5 of which were lost), they both then engineered drives which actually won, and then should have won the game.

We won’t go into the rights and wrongs of Calvin Johnson‘s disputed touchdown (the officials interpreted a dodgy set of rules to the letter), but we will look at who performed well, who should have done better and how a large rookie contingent fared — including prized Ndamukong Suh.

LIONS

The Detroit defense appears to have made significant positive strides since 2009 while the offense, if anything, has regressed slightly.

The most positive addition so far is Kyle Vanden Bosch, who had an excellent all-around game (+6.1 overall rating) while once again proving to be an ironman to boot. He played all but one of 79 defensive snaps and got consistent pressure, registering a hit and 7 hurries and making life very tough for Bears LT Chris Williams’. In addition, Vanden Bosch registered a +2.7 grade in run defense after making 8 tackles, 4 stops and showing terrific hustle to chase plays down from behind.

As jokes go, “Why did Josh McDaniels trade Alphonso Smith for Dan Gronkowski? Because he knew Bill Belichick had a Gronkowski and he wanted one too!” made me laugh. While Smith didn’t exactly set the world on fire here in his Detroit debut, he must have at least made coach Jim Schwartz smile, because he did a very capable job in relief. Aaron Berry originally had the slot cornerback role but when he was injured Smith came in and played 31 snaps, mostly against the two Devins (Aromashodu and Hester). In 18 plays in coverage, Smith allowed only 1 reception (for 6 yards) and also showed very good skills in run support, notching 3 stops and a +2.1 run-defense grade. He got called for one hold (on Aromashodu), but overall made a positive impression and may well win the job, long-term.

On offense things were far less rosy, and Brandon Pettigrew is becoming something of a disappointment. He was supposed to be the prototypical multi-talented tight end: an athletic receiver who also had superior blocking skills. This game was actually a step back from an average first season. He struggled in the passing game (15 pass routes, 2 targets, a catch for 6 yards and a bad drop) and was beaten consistently as a run-blocker (-2.8 run block rating). He only played eight more snaps than backup Tony Scheffler, and if this continues, expect that number to shrink even further.

BEARS

This was a real improvement for Jay Cutler (+4.5), as he overcame a strong defense, poor pass protection and multiple fumbles to win the game. He looked much more in control, and if he can just cut out the poor deep throws over the middle, he will be well worth the cost of the picks to the Bears. He threw three times into the deep middle (more than 20 yards) and was 0 for 3, including an interception. If you took just those throws into that area away, his passer rating would have increased from 109 to 131, and our pass grade from +4.5 to +6.5. He actually performed better when pressured and his actual rating when hit or hurried was 132.9.

When Chris Williams moved to left tackle last year upon the coaches finally deciding Orlando Pace had gone a season too far we feared the worst. He had a poor start on the right, and stepping over to the left looked like it might finish him. Fortunately for the Bears, he improved and we looked forward to watching him progress this year. However, he had an awful preseason, getting beaten constantly, and it looked as if our initial fears might be realized. This game solidified that view — he had a shocking day (-6.2). He gave up a sack, 2 hits and 4 hurries in protection as well as a holding penalty. In addition, his run blocking was worse, as Vanden Bosch regularly got inside him to make tackles for no gain or loss.

All three of the Bears linebackers played well, but it’s perhaps most relevant to highlight just how good Brian Urlacher (+5.4) was in this game. He made a similar positive start to the first game last year before being cut down by injury in the first half. This year he not only made it through the game but he looked even better. He got a sack and hit on five blitzes, gave up next to nothing in coverage (32 drops, 4 targets and 2 catches for 12 yards) and 7 of his 9 tackles were stops.  Particularly impressive — and not normally a staple of his game — was the way he took on and beat the fullback. If he can continue this against better players than Jerome Felton, we may be able to confirm a return to full form.

ROOKIE REPORT

While everyone is keen to crown Ndamukong Suh immediately, we’ll take our time before handing over the family silver. It’s not that he wasn’t impressive in some respects: He looked very difficult to block at times and got a sack, a hit and 2 hurries. But it needs to be remembered this was off a very large number of rushes and was only just above average for an interior lineman on that number passing plays. In addition, the way he threw back Frank Omiyale on 3rd-and-1 will make many highlight films, but the number of times he fell straight into traps probably won’t. It’s this lack of savvy that is the biggest issue at the moment.

After giving away the early part of the draft, Chicago’s first pick in 2010 was Major Wright. He was rotated at deep safety with Chris Harris throughout the game and ended up playing 40 percent of the defensive plays. He was partially responsible for the 24-yarder to Bryant Johnson that got Detroit moving on its final drive, but other than this he had a very quiet 23 snaps.

RANDOM NOTE

In the battle between Isreal Idonije and Mark Anderson for the right to start opposite Julius Peppers, Anderson may be the winner on paper as he was actually in for the first defensive snap. However they played a very similar number of plays (29 against 32, respectively) and both had positive outing against the run (both graded +1.6). However, Anderson got no pressure at all from his 18 rushes while Idonije managed 2 hurries in his 19 attempts to get to the QB.

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