Game Preview: Lions (6-2) at Bears (5-3)
Calvin Johnson (Mike DiNovo, US Presswire)
Calvin Johnson (Mike DiNovo, US Presswire)

Posted Nov 11, 2011
scout.com


In a game rife with playoff implications, we bring you a complete preview of Sunday's tilt between Detroit and Chicago.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 11/13/11

SURFACE: Natural Grass

TV: FOX, Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin

KEYS TO THE GAME

The Bears have revamped their passing game since being flagged for nine false-start penalties in a 24-13 loss at Detroit on Monday night in Week 5. Coordinator Mike Martz is leaning on RB Matt Forte's versatility and QB Jay Cutler has been efficient with short drops and quick throws. That combination will help thwart Detroit's pass rush while attacking the league's fifth-worst run defense.

The Lions have a plus-13 turnover margin, which will be difficult to maintain without a better ground game. Chicago will focus on keeping completions in front of its defensive backs, although Detroit QB Matthew Stafford kept the chains moving by completing 73.1 percent of his passes in the first meeting.

FAST FACTS

-Detroit has allowed an NFL-low 49 points in the second half this season while scoring a league-best 149.

-Bears RB Marion Barber has a team-high four rushing touchdowns on just 32 carries.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Lions


WR Nate Burleson
Leon Halip/Getty

Is Nate Burleson having a down season?

Fantasy football team owners would probably say he was. After all, 26 catches for 245 yards and one touchdown won't get him on many Pro Bowl teams.

But Lions players and offensive coaches, however, would dispute that.

"We looked at it over the bye week and he had over 100 receiving yards called back (on penalties)," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "He's had some explosive plays called back and if that doesn't happen, his numbers look pretty good.

"But Nate is the most unselfish player I've ever been around. He plays the game the way he's supposed to play it and he affects the game the way he's supposed to."

Technically, Burleson is the Lions' No. 2 receiver behind Calvin Johnson, but in reality, he's the third. Without a consistent ground game, the Lions compensate by using tight end Brandon Pettigrew in a control passing game.

Research by ESPN shows that Johnson has been targeted 74 times (47 catches), Pettigrew 53 times (41 catches) and Burleson 43 times (26 catches).

"As long as somebody in our receiving core is having a good game and is balling out on that Sunday, as long as somebody is getting off, we're doing what we're supposed to do," said Johnson, who leads the NFL with 11 touchdowns. "We stand behind each other on that. Somebody has to get off every Sunday. If it's me or somebody else, so be it. But we put that on our shoulders.

"We feel like if we don't play well, we can't win."

Burleson recognizes that he's had a couple of drops. He realizes there have been games where he was either not featured or didn't make himself as available as he could have. But, when it's all added up, the Lions have the third most potent offense in the NFL, averaging 29.9 points a game.

Only the Packers and Saints score more.

"You know me, I feel privileged to play this sport and get paid a lot of money," he said. "Really, what do I have to complain about? It's just numbers. If we're winning, I'm good.

"As long as I'm getting open, doing my job, taking advantage of the opportunities when they are afforded, I am good with that. If I am not putting up numbers and I am getting jammed at the line of scrimmage and falling down on my routes, then there's something to be concerned about. But right now, I am doing my job and we're winning."

And besides, being Johnson's wing man isn't a bad gig these days.

"If Calvin keeps scoring, I'm not going to say nothing," he said. "With him being the best receiver in the game and making such a dominant statement early in the season, it's a compliment to the guys around him.

"Hopefully I will keep a job as the best decoy in the business as long as he keeps scoring touchdowns."

Bears


RB Matt Forte
Streeter Lecka/Getty

With Matt Forte having a career year, offensive coordinator Mike Martz has wisely adapted the offense to make better use of its best weapon.

That has meant "Mad Mike" has called for more runs and fewer passes. The bottom line has been three straight victories in which Forte has rushed for 365 yards and 5.5 yards per carry.

The Bears have also made concessions to an offensive line that has improved significantly but is still not an elite pass-blocking unit. To make it easier on the group, Martz has called for shorter drops by Cutler and quicker passes. The Bears have also max protected more frequently than they did during a 2-3 start. Last week in the victory over the Eagles, Cutler threw some passes off planned rollouts, which hadn't been in the Bears' repertoire previously.

"We made some subtle changes," Martz said, understating the situation. "We had some different personnel groups. We moved the quarterback around a little bit more than what we had in the past maybe, a little bit more play-action type of things because we're running the ball so well. A team that's running the ball as well as we are right now, it just seems like it would help the passing game, too."

In his last four games, Cutler has thrown six touchdown passes and just two interceptions, and has passer ratings of over 96 in three of the games. Most important, he's only been sacked three times in the past three games after getting sacked 14 times in the first three games. The lack of rollouts had been noted for several weeks, with the main complaint among critics of Martz being that it was a tactic that seemed to work well for Cutler in his three years in Denver.

"That's been a strength of Jay's his whole career," Martz said. "His ability of impromptu or, if things break down a little bit, he's able to scramble or move around in the pocket and take off with the ball and go with it. He's got excellent speed and of course (is effective) moving around and throwing the ball on the move. He's always been very good at it. We've done a few things -- not many -- but a couple things to get him on the perimeter and take advantage of that, too."

Sunday's game against the Lions will be the fourth straight in which all five offensive linemen have started at the same position. In the first five games, the Bears used four different line combinations. Martz says the key to the improved line play is Lance Louis' move from right guard to right tackle to take over for Frank Omiyale, whose early play was a disappointment.

"The biggest issue is Lance at right tackle," Martz said. "He's done a remarkable job in the past three weeks for not being there before. He's made a terrific difference for us. When that group settles in, when you're playing with the same guys every week, of course they're going to get better every week. "That's what they've done. Since I've been here that was as good a game (Monday night vs. the Eagles) as we've played as a group up front. They've done a remarkable job. A very good job."

PERSONNEL NEWS

Lions

--PK Jason Hanson kicked outdoors on Thursday, his first time kicking a football since incurring a multiple-stitched cut on his left knee during the bye week. He kept his kicks short, from 40 yards and in, but looked strong. "It's just a matter of will everything hold together and is there pain," Hanson said. "We passed a good test today but not the official one. It felt pretty good, but we weren't quite at full speed. We will evaluate it tonight and (Friday) and see how it responds. But from where it was till now, I feel pretty good."

--P Ryan Donahue, who tweaked his right quad trying to kick field goals on Wednesday, won't test his leg until Friday. "I was trying to fill in and maybe help the team more," he said when asked why he was kicking. Donahue was one of the top field goal kickers in the country coming out of St. Rita High School in Chicago. Early in his career at Iowa he was on the depth chart as a kicker, as well as a punter. So it wasn't totally out of the blue that the Lions would test him as a possible fill-in for Hanson. "I was stretched out but with the bye week, I hadn't been working those muscles in a while," he said. "I probably should've done some more running."


WR Calvin Johnson
Leon Halip/Getty

--WR Calvin Johnson said the high, soft grass and potential rainy conditions at Soldier Field Sunday shouldn't hamstring the Lions' offense. "Not at all," he said. "If you have the right footwork and the right cleats, you should be fine. Some people might say it slows things down, but hey, that's the game of football. I'd rather be playing outside."

--QB Shaun Hill is technically the team's backup holder, but there is a chance that Donahue, the regular holder, would be on the active roster even if he can't punt. With a 46-man roster now, the Lions could use him to hold. Hill hasn't performed that chore since college.

--DT Sammie Hill did not practice again Thursday and seems doubtful for Sunday. He did, however, acknowledge that it was a new injury. He had hurt his left foot against Atlanta. This injury is his right ankle, which he apparently injured at Denver, though he did finish that game.

--RB Jahvid Best (concussion) still hasn't been cleared. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said they are prepared to go with Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams Sunday in Chicago. He also said newly-signed Kevin Smith could be active.

Bears

--OT Gabe Carimi (knee) did not practice Thursday and will not play Sunday. He has been out since Week 2.

--DE Julius Peppers (knee) did not practice Thursday, but coach Lovie Smith said he expects him to play Sunday.

--WR Devin Hester (ankle) did not practice Thursday, but offensive coordinator Mike Martz expects to have him available on Sunday.

--DT Matt Toeaina (knee) did not practice Thursday, and his availability for Sunday is uncertain. If he's not close to 100 percent, he could be replaced by Anthony Adams, who was a healthy scratch last week.

--TE Kellen Davis (shoulder) was limited in Thursday's practice but is expected to play Sunday.



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