ReFo: Bears @ Lions, Week 17
It is the season of giving and the Lions were wholeheartedly in the giving spirit, handing the ball over to the Bears four times deep in Detroit territory. It’s a testament to Detroit’s red zone defense, though, that they only lost by two points, forcing the Bears to settle for field goals on three of those possessions.
Aside from the lack of yardage from their No. 1 receiver, this game pretty much sums up the Lions’ season — they stuck close with the opposition, but in the end they simply couldn’t overcome their own mistakes. A four-win season is a huge regression from the playoff team they were a year ago. They have talent on the roster, but a certain knack for shooting themselves in the foot proved to be costly in more than a few games this year. A Top 5 pick is about all Detroit fans will have to be excited about, as 2012 will only go down as a disappointing (though record-breaking) season.
The Bears’ only shot at the playoffs required a win, and they got it. But due to the other NFC North game not falling their way, they’ll be stuck at home next weekend. The chief reason for this has been their inability to beat good teams; each of their six losses this year has come against a playoff team.
The absence of a playoff berth was apparently enough for Head Coach Lovie Smith to be shown the door, and it will be interesting to see who they look to replace him with in the coming weeks. The Bears are owners of the best record of all the non-playoff teams, though, so it’s not a stretch that Chicago could find itself back in the playoff mix 12 months from now. Let’s look at what went right and what didn’t quite go as planned in a season that saw Chicago come up just a hair short.
Chicago– Three Performances of Note
Run First, Ask Questions Later
The offensive line has been the Bears’ biggest scapegoat in recent years, but it’s hard to fault their play in this game. On their heels, they gave up just 10 total pressures, but it was the run game where they really shone brightly. Both guards did well for themselves, with Chris Spencer (+2.1 run blocking) getting the better of Ndamukong Suh (at least in the running game) and bullying Stephen Tulloch when he reached the second level. Left Guard James Brown (+1.6 run blocking) also did a fine job at the second level with Detroit’s linebackers. Even the benched Gabe Carimi contributed on his four snaps, making a pivotal block on Matt Forte’s second-quarter touchdown run by forcing Kyle Vanden Bosch hard to the inside and out of the running lane. A solid day.
Just Shy of 2K
Those hoping to see Calvin Johnson eclipse the 2,000-yard mark were sorely disappointed, but those looking for a highly competitive cornerback-wideout matchup were not. Just as he did on Monday Night Football 10 weeks ago, Charles Tillman shadowed Johnson for nearly the entire game, only lining up away from the much larger Johnson on a handful of plays when Megatron lined up in the slot. Considering what Johnson is capable of, Tillman won the battle handily by allowing completions on just two of the five balls thrown his way while on Johnson, breaking up two others. Matthew Stafford paid close attention to the few opportunities that Tillman wasn’t on Johnson — six of Johnson’s 11 targets were on the rare occasions when another defender was covering the sixth-year pro.
The Marshall Effect
As much as Johnson is a one-man show in Detroit, Brandon Marshall is just as important to the success of the Bears’ aerial attack. On the season, he has four times more receptions than any other Bear receiver, so the Lions did all they could to slow him down. They even went so far as to legitimately double him in press coverage on 3rd-and-8 (11:14, Q1), only for the Bears to commit a false start and cancel the play. The result was and underwhelming day for Marshall, nabbing just 42 yards from his 12 targets and losing a shoe in the process.
Instead, Jay Cutler looked elsewhere in the receiving corps, and that resulted in career days for Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett. Jeffery (+1.4 receiving) pulled in four balls for 76 yards, including a 55-yarder off a nice double move that made Chris Houston look quite foolish. Bennett (also +1.4 receiving), statistically, had the best day of his career, posting his first 100-yard game in his five years with the Bears. He reeled in all five balls thrown his way, and while his 60-yard catch and run constituted most of his yardage total, the 28-yarder he snagged against Houston was most impressive. He exhibited great body control in coming back to the ball without allowing Houston to make a play, all while ensuring his feet would avoid the sideline when he touched down. Positive days out of these two in the future will do wonders for the Bears’ passing game.
Detroit– Three Performances of Note
Taking the Good with the Bad
While it’s usually a group effort (and this game was no different), Matthew Stafford (+1.5 passing) is often the one most responsible for the Lions’ self-destructive tendencies. There was a bit more of ‘good Matt’ in this one, but the reckless, side-armed gunslinger Stafford reared his head a few times too. It won’t show in the stat sheet, but Stafford made a superb throw on 3rd-and-11, threading tight coverage only for Johnson to drop the conversion. The 25-yard touchdown he placed precisely into Kris Durham’s hands showed excellent touch, but there were a few head-scratchers as well.
Ball security was an issue, as Israel Idonije forced a fumble by getting pressure directly in Stafford’s face, where there was no excuse not to see it. He was bailed out of another fumble by the infamous tuck rule, but the rulebook wasn’t there to save him when he overthrew Tony Scheffler and handed Tim Jennings his ninth interception of the season. Put on the tape of the good plays, and it looks like he’s an MVP-caliber quarterback. But when you watch all the bad that goes with it, he looks like a rookie in need of a benching, and it’s all the more maddening that it occurs in the same game.
Justifying his Draft Status
Teams always hope to find their own Joe Thomas when picking tackles in the first round. Sometimes you get a guy like Gosder Cherilus, though, who hasn’t been terrible but also hasn’t been great. Well, working against Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin, Cherilus (+3.2) brought his overall season grade to +23.5 (eighth-best among tackles). He didn’t allow any pressure for the third time this year, and he hasn’t graded negatively in pass protection since Week 7. His work in the run game left a little something to be desired, but just about any team will take that tradeoff. It’s been just five years since Cherilus was taken in the first round, and if he can keep up this level of play, Stafford looks to have a terrific pass protector for much of his career.
Defensive Line Fails to Impress
Against a Bears’ offensive line that has struggled for much of the season, it’s a bit frustrating that the Lions were only able to sack Cutler once on the day, settling for hits and hurries to account for their other 14 QB disruptions. As is often the case in Detroit, the interior of the line holds the stars of the show, and while Ndamukong Suh had a decent enough day (a sack, a hit, and a hurry), it was nothing near the dominance he’s displayed in recent weeks. Although he won’t be confused for Nick Fairley anytime soon, Andre Fluellen notched a couple of hurries — he even beat a double team (Q3, 5:49) to get in Cutler’s face and force him to get rid of the ball early. Not a bad day overall, but considering who they were up against, Detroit’s line could have had a field day.
– Only three of the 11 snaps (27.3%) that WR Mike Thomas played were passing plays — even though the Lions threw the ball over 70 percent of the time. He was targeted on two of those plays.
– Calvin Johnson saw 11 targets. All other Detroit wide receivers saw a combined total of six.
– Kyle Vanden Bosch recorded a grade of -0.2, which is tied for his third-highest grade of the season.
PFF Game Ball
With Marshall under wraps, this is going to Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett for making plays through the air when the team needed it.