Gridiron Gab Week One Preview: Detroit at Chicago

The Lions open the 2010 season on the road against the Bears on Sunday, and I like this matchup for the Lions.  The Bears grabbed a lot of headlines in the offseason with some big money deals, but I don’t think that will be enough to overcome some of their glaring weaknesses.

Lions Advantages

  • I like the advantage the Lions have personnel-wise against the Bears’ secondary.  Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Tony Scheffler, Brandon Pettigrew and Jahvid Best against Zackary Bowman, Charles Tillman, Chris Harris and Danieal Manning.  Bowman, Tillman and Manning all started for the majority of the season last year and the Bears’ secondary struggled.  The addition of Harris who was re-acquired via trade isn’t a significant improvement.
  • In addition to the personnel advantage the Lions have vs. the secondary, I believe the Lions have a scheme advantage as well.  The Bears play the Tampa 2 defense that former Lions head coach Rod Marinelli runs.  The Tampa 2 generally features the two safeties each covering a deep half of the field.  The cornerbacks play shallow underneath zones, while the middle linebacker drops back into a middle zone.  The outside linebackers either cover shallow zones over the middle, or cover the flats.  The holes in the zone are the deep middle of the field, the area in between the cornerbacks’ zone and the safeties’ and the linebackers’ short zones.  The Lions have the personnel to attack these weak areas and they know Marinelli doesn’t like to blitz.  A good tight end can cause headaches for the Tampa 2, two good tight ends, two vertical threat receivers and a running back that can catch out of the backfield are a nightmare.
  • Another former Lions’ coach, Mike Martz is running the Bears’ offense in 2010.  Martz’s attack is a rhythm based passing attack with little to no commitment to the run.  Martz also favors 5 or 7-step drops for the quarterback and he almost always sends all five eligible receivers out for routes leaving the offensive line on an island.  The Bears’ offensive line is definitely one of the worst in the league which gives the Lions a big advantage.  The Lions should be able to generate a rush with their front four, leaving seven guys back in coverage.  Jay Cutler isn’t the most decisive quarterback and he tends to make stupid throws when under pressure.  The other factor to consider is Martz’s complex offense usually takes a few weeks to get going.  In his first two games as the Lions’ OC and his first two as the 49ers’ OC they averaged 14.75 points per game.  His offense requires a lot of timing and rhythm and I didn’t see anything in the preseason that suggested they were ahead of the curve.

Lions Disadvantages

  • If the Lions can’t get pressure on Cutler with just the front four, they will have to rely on the blitz to disrupt the Bears’ passing game.  The Lions’ secondary is improved over last season, but they still are the weakest unit on the defense.   If Cutler has time to pass or if the Lions have to blitz Cutler, the advantage shifts to the Bears.  The Bears don’t have great receivers, but they have a good mix of size, speed and playmaking ability and will be able to make plays against the Lions’ secondary.
  • The Bears have one of the better running back tandems in the NFC and even though Mike Martz doesn’t always call a lot of running plays, he does get the backs involved in the passing game.  The Lions might be without DeAndre Levy and Zack Follett will be making his first career start.  The Lions’ linebackers need to be able to control the short passing game to give the front four time to get to Cutler.  If the short passing game is working, it will allow the Bears to utilize another advantage.
  • The hurry up offense has already made a handful of appearances against the Lions this preseason, and it will definitely be in the arsenal for the Bears on Sunday.  The hurry up doesn’t allow the Lions time to substitute lineman and they start to wear down which slows down the pass rush.  It also limits the defense’s ability to make pre snap adjustments to the Bears’ offensive formations.  The Lions have struggled against the hurry up in the preseason and they will continue to see it until they prove they can stop it.

Wild Card

The Tampa 2 defense thrives on penetration by the front four which causes quick passes or forces running backs to move laterally towards the sidelines.  The linebackers and secondary then aggressively attack upfield and rally to the ball to make a play.

The Lions have been working on attacking the perimeter of defenses with Jahvid Best on bubble screens, pitches and traditional screen passes.

Normally, you hear that the team that wins in the trenches has the advantage, but I think this game could come down to who is able to control the perimeter, the Bears’ defense or the Lions’ offense.

If the Bears take the perimeter away from the Lions, they will be forced to run the ball in between the tackles, which Jahvid Best hasn’t done very much at the NFL level.  If the Lions are able to have success on the perimeter, it opens the middle of the field for the tight ends and sets up the downfield passing game.

Prediction

I have to give the Lions the advantage in this game because of their offensive firepower.  I don’t think Julius Peppers gives the Bears enough of an upgrade to make up for their weak secondary and the Bears’ offensive line should struggle with the Lions’ defensive line.

In a battle of the two offenses, I have to give the nod to the Lions.


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