Mike Burzawa, a Chicago Bears blogger at Bear Goggles On, and I took some time to exchange questions and answers in preparation of the Lions game against the Bears.
Zac Snyder: The Bears have exceeded expectations so far this season. Do you think their season would be going much differently if Calvin Johnson had “completed the process” and started the Bears off 0-1?
Mike Burzawa: You’re telling me. I was one of the guys pegging the Bears for around 7 or 8 wins based on last season and an 0-4 preseason. There’s been a lot of talk about how lucky the Bears have been this season and it all started with “the process of the catch” in Week 1. You never know how things go if the Bears start 0-1. Confidence can be a funny thing and getting that first W of the season may very well have helped propel them to this surprising season.
It looks like the Bears catch a break with Shaun Hill sidelined with a busted finger and Drew Stanton getting the call on Sunday. Give Bears fans who might not be familiar with Stanton a little preview of what to expect from him. What are his strengths? Weaknesses? How does Stanton impact the Lions offensive game plan?
ZS: Stanton’s strengths are more of the intangible variety. He is one of those tough grinder guys that get labeled as “gamers”. That is all well and good if there is legitimate NFL talent behind it, but Stanton has mired as a third string quarterback for a reason. He does have the ability to make a couple plays with his feet but the game plan will be limited with Stanton under center. I expect a lot of short passes and an attempt at running the football as Stanton is asked just to manage the game.
What is different about the Bears now compared to when the Lions saw them in week one?
MB: You’ll see a different look out of the Bears offense. Mike Martz has dialed back the playbook and simplified things quite a bit. Jay Cutler has taken on more of a (gasp!) “game manager” role.
You’ve got to love what you’ve gotten out of Ndamukong Suh this season. Has he met your expectations? What can the Bears expect from the Lions D on Sunday? Can they get to Jay Cutler?
ZS: Ndamukong Suh’s performance has not only met my expectation, it has exceeded it. He saw double teams right off the bat in the preseason and it hasn’t fazed him in the least. I probably would have laughed at anyone that predicted he would put up eight sacks on the year but that is what he has so far. The Lions’ plan is always to use their front four to generate pressure on the quarterback. It has worked for much of the year and they will have to take advantage of the Bears’ weak offensive line to have a chance to win on Sunday. I think they will be able to get to Cutler, hopefully it leads to the zero touchdown and four interception Cutler as opposed to the four touchdown and zero interception Cutler.
How disappointed would Bears fans be if they fail to make the playoffs after this great start? What is the biggest roadblock to them actually securing a playoff spot?
MB: After a big win over the Eagles last week, expectations are sky high for the Bears. Even the last few stragglers have jumped on the bandwagon. It would be a major disappointment to miss the playoffs at this point. You have to believe that if they can get to 10 wins, they have a decent shot of making it. The biggest obstacle is the schedule on the way out. They have three road games all against their division rivals and their final two home dates are against the Patriots and Jets. If they can get through that stretch of games with at least 10 wins, they will have earned their way into the playoffs and could actually head in with some momentum.
Devin Hester seems to have gotten his groove back. Will the Lions kick to him? Can their special teams bottle up the Bears potent return game?
ZS: Special teams have been better under Danny Crossman than they were under Stan Kwan. They have a more aggressive approach this year with less directional kicking so Hester should get at least a couple chances in the return game. It seems to me that the Lions are doing a better job pinning opposing offenses deep in their own end after punts so it will be key for the Lions offense to at least put themselves in the middle of the field rather than giving Hester the opportunity to field a punt away from the shadow of his own end zone.
Has Lovie Smith’s seat cooled off at all?
MB: Lovie Smith seems to be officially off the hot seat. In fact, I’ve heard some rumblings of a contract extension, which might just make my head explode. As I just mentioned, the Bears have a tough stretch of games to close the season and they can’t lose focus. A playoff appearance should save his job for at least another season or two.
You asked me about how the Bears season may have gone differently if Calvin Johnson had “completed the process of the catch.” It seems to me that the he was starting his touchdown celebration when he lost grip of the ball in the end zone. Here’s a 2-part question. Has Calvin done a better job of hanging onto the ball? Do you think the Lions season would have gone differently if that call went the other way and the Lions had won that Week 1 matchup?
ZS: Stafford was already hurt at that point so I can’t confidently say the record would look much better than it does now. What I am certain of is that the feeling around the team would be much better. If the Lions win that week one game in Chicago then their road losing streak would have ended there and we wouldn’t have had to endure the shame of breaking the record the Lions set a few years back. It just feels like piling on at this point with one extra negative hanging over the organization that could have been gone.
As for Calvin Johnson individually, I was somewhat critical of him early in the season but he has had a great year. Even with Stafford out for much of the year he is in the top ten in terms of receptions and receiving yardage and trails only Dwayne Bowe as the touchdown receptions leader.
Give me your game prediction.
MB: If you listen to Nate Burleson, the Bears shouldn’t even bother showing up, LOL! This is the classic trap game for the Bears with the Lions sandwiched between home games against the Eagles and the Patriots. Drew Stanton just sprung the trap. The Bears’ season of lucky breaks continues as they face yet another third string quarterback. Bears defense is playing inspired football and that’s the difference. Bears 23, Lions 13.
Give me your prediction for the game.
ZS: I was ready to pick the Lions in the upset but I can’t do that now that Drew Stanton will get the start at quarterback. Bears 23, Lions 13