JENSEN: Lions’ No. 2 offense simply has no answer for Bears’ bullying ‘D’
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @seankjensen
Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (54) brings down Detroit Lions running back Mikel Leshoure (25) in the first quarter on Monday, October 22, 2012 in at Soldier Field. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Something had to give.
The NFL’s third-ranked defense against the NFL’s second-ranked offense. The Bears’ star-laden unit matched up against a Detroit Lions offense spearheaded by the league’s highest-paid receiver, Calvin Johnson.
On Monday night, the decisive advantage went to the Bears.
That was evident from the jump, when the Lions won the coin toss and elected to receive. Bears Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman, charged with shadowing Johnson, knocked the opening pass away. Two plays later, Johnson flat dropped a pass that could have netted a substantial gain.
By quarter’s end, the Lions had 30 net offensive yards.
But that’s not what the Bears’ defense is known for.
Late in the second quarter, after quarterback Jay Cutler was driven hard into the turf by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the Lions seized momentum. Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed four consecutive passes and even scrambled for 17 yards. But just as the Lions entered the red zone, weakside linebacker Lance Briggs knocked the ball out of running back Mikel Leshoure’s grasp. The ball disappeared into a scrum, and when the officials pulled apart the bodies, it was in the vise grips of defensive end Julius Peppers.
That’s at least three points saved.
Them, in the third quarter, after another impressive drive by the Lions, backup running back Joique Bell lunged for the goal line, only to have the ball knocked loose by defensive tackle Henry Melton.
Seven points perhaps saved.
By the end of the third quarter, the Bears led 13-0, the defense having allowed 193 net yards but permitting just two conversions on nine attempts on third down.
That’s not to mention four forced fumbles by the defense, including two by Tillman that weren’t recovered by his teammates.
That also doesn’t include a muffed punt by Stefan Logan that cornerback Zack Bowman recovered early in the third quarter.
The Lions were wise to try to establish the running game, with Leshoure and Bell contributing to 93 rushing yards through three quarters against the Bears’ top-ranked run defense. But the run didn’t set up the pass, as Stafford was pressured consistently and relentlessly. Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli even dialed up some blitzes.
Entering the fourth quarter, Stafford was just 14-for-25 for 105 yards, his longest completion a 16-yarder. He entered the game averaging just under 300 passing yards per game and completing over 62 percent of his passes.
His lack of production was, in large part, because of Tillman’s defense on Johnson. While he did get flagged once for pass interference, Tillman was his usual feisty self, blanketing the All-Pro receiver and not giving him anything easy. Entering the fourth quarter, Johnson was targeted six times but hauled in just one pass, a six-yarder with about six minutes left in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the desperate Lions continued to struggle to move the ball down the field. Stafford’s long pass attempt midway through the fourth to Johnson was off-target, and they lost a yard on a short pass to Leshoure on third-and-10. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who earlier recovered a fumble, made the sure tackle.