Chicago Offensive Line vs. Lions’ Pass Rush
Monday Night Football visits the city of Detroit for the first time since 2001, when the St. Louis Rams embarrassed the Lions on national television. The Chicago Bears come into town sporting a 2-2 record, in a divisional contest that could have major implications down the road. One of the most crucial matchups to watch is the ability of the Lions’ front four to take advantage of a Bear offensive line that led the league in sacks allowed last season. The Lion defensive line has failed to produce consistent pressure through four victories, but against this offense the Lions will have difficulty escaping with a victory if Cutler has time to throw.
The reason is Chicago’s current offensive coordinator, Mike Martz, who held the same position for the Lions for the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Martz employs an aerial attack that features down field passing. This plays into a major weakness of the Lion defense, the secondary. In the previous four games Detroit has succeeded in limiting big plays by allowing short pass completions, and then tackling efficiently. Strong linebacker play has allowed the Detroit defense to bend, but not break. If Cutler is given ample time to throw, he will be able to pick apart a Lion secondary that has struggled in down field coverage. A strong pass rush will force Cutler to get rid of the ball quickly, and allow the Lion linebackers and safeties to make tackles, limiting Bear receivers to short gains.
Matt Forte vs. Lions’ Linebackers
Leading up to week four of the NFL season, the Chicago Bears had all but forgotten about the run game, as they possessed one of the most unbalanced offenses in the league. This changed on Sunday against Carolina, as Matt Forte carried the ball 25 times for 204 yards. Forte will play an integral role on Sunday, but it will be his involvement in the Chicago passing game that will have a major impact on the outcome of the game. Forte has established himself as a viable receiving threat out of the backfield, and a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. The fourth year back will also be Cutler’s safety outlet if he is pressured by the Lion pass rush. If said pass rush is effective on Monday night, coordinator Mike Martz will likely implement his screen game to counteract the aggressiveness of the Lion front four.
Whether as a runner, safety valve, or primary receiving threat, Matt Forte will undoubtedly play a key role in Monday’s matchup. The runningback will get plenty of touches, and regardless of how they come, it is imperative that the Lion defenders tackle well, as Forte does possess explosive capabilities.
Julius Peppers vs. Jeff Backus
Every Lion fan remembers the hit, though all have tried in vain to forget. More vivid than the image of Julius Peppers crushing Matthew Stafford in last season’s opener is the image of left tackle Jeff Backus completely missing the block that injured the quarterback’s shoulder. Through the first two weeks, Backus appeared to be healthy, and reliable, not allowing Stafford to be sacked. In week three, Minnesota’s Jared Allen abused Backus en route to three sacks, and several more pressures and hits. Week four swung in Backus’ favor, as DeMarcus Ware was held largely ineffective for most of the game.
If Peppers repeats his 2010 dominance of the Detroit offensive tackle, Stafford will be forced to move from the pocket, which he has not looked comfortable doing thus far. Stafford will surely be noting Peppers’ position on the field, and sensing his presence should he get within striking distance. This can lead to unnecessarily rushed throws, and premature departure from the pocket. If Backus has success, the Lions should easily exploit the Chicago Bears’ 26th ranked pass defense.
Other Matchups to Watch
One intriguing factor to consider will be jay Cutler’s ability to perform despite the raucous Monday Night Football crowd. Lions’ fans have been waiting for a meaningful prime time game like this for over a decade, and there is no doubt they will erupt at every opportunity. Cutler has proven throughout his career that he can be rattled by external factors, and dealing with the crowd noise could have an impact on his performance, as well as that of his pass protectors. If Cutler makes a mistake early that allows the Detroit crowd to explode, it could lead to a snowball effect throughout the game. Cutler mistakes, paired with an opportunistic defense, could lead for a great Monday night in Detroit.