There is no such thing as an ugly win in today’s NFL, as long as you win. This is something that Detroit Lions fans need to realize following a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles that was quite possibly the ugliest win for this team in recent memory. The discipline was awful, as evidenced by the league leading 16 penalties committed. The play was sloppy and inefficient, specifically on the offensive side of the ball. The coaching was horrendous. The team failed to finish drives, and allowed an opponent that should have been knocked out in the first half, to take a 10 point fourth quarter lead.
All of those negatives considered, the Lions won. Detroit won a game that they absolutely needed to win, on the road, against an above average football team. The victory didn’t come with much finesse and explosiveness, as it did with grit and tooth and nail clawing. The defensive line finally woke up, and dominated in a fashion that should be a weekly occurrence, largely due to the play of Nick Fairley. The secondary got a much needed lift form Louis Delmas, whose impact was felt everywhere on the field. And the offense awoke from their slumber just in time, as fans have unfortunately become accustomed to and grown to expect. Jim Schwartz and company can enjoy the much needed success, but at the same time must make a significant amount of adjustments and improvements, specifically regarding penalties, and the lackluster offensive performance, if they hope to keep their season alive in Chicago on Monday night.
Detroit Front four vs. Chicago offensive line
Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are a spectacular combination, one that any coach would love to have. But what is apparent now more than ever, is that these two are not the most important factor in the Lions’ success. This team was built around the defensive line, and will only go as far as the front four can carry them. Look back at some of the amazing comebacks of last season, and you will find that in most of these cases, big plays from the defense led to a Lions victory. Just ask Tony Romo.
The front four finally arrived in Philadelphia, and harassed Michael Vick into committing much needed turnovers. The same must be done in Chicago. jay Cutler is another turnover prone quarterback, but more importantly, his lack of character and composure leads to finger pointing and temper tantrums at the first sign of adversity. Hits on Cutler leads to break downs in leadership, and a quarterback screaming at his offensive linemen. Getting to Cutler physically, means breaking him down mentally, and the collapse of the Chicago offense. The Bears offensive line is subpar, and Cutler has been beaten up already several times this season, and the Bear offensive line has proven to be a liability. Detroit must build on the performances of Nick Fairley and Cliff Avril, and force Jay Cutler to breakdown, and lose his cool. If the defensive line plays like they did in Philadelphia, the Lions will leave Chicago at 3-3.
Jeff Backus vs. Julius Peppers
On the other sideline, coach Lovie Smith will be hoping to get the same productivity from his defensive line, and not allow matthew Stafford the time to find downfield targets. Defensive end Julius Peppers may be aged, but is still one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the NFL. Even more significant is his history of success against left tackle Jeff Backus, who is also nearing the end of his career. If Peppers has lost a step, then Backus has surely lost two or three, and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan must compensate by giving Backus the help that he needs to protect Stafford’s blindside.
Statistically the Detroit offensive line has held up well, not allowing an enormous amount of sacks, or even hits on their quarterback. But unlike much of last year, Stafford has been forced to use his feet more to avoid pressure, and rush his throws downfield at a higher rate. Stafford is a great pocket passer, but very average when forced off of his mark while dropping back. Pockets have been collapsing around him this year, and Stafford has been quick to bail, either forced out by pressure, or his perception of it. Chicago will try to force movement within the pocket, and not allow Stafford to set and throw on time. Jeff Backus will be key in holding the pocket together, and allowing his quarterback to find targets downfield against a Bears defense that while strong, isn’t what it used to be.
Other matchups to watch
The Lions seemingly have made the necessary adjustments on special teams, and performed well against the Eagles in Philadelphia. The Eagles only used dangerous return man Desean Jackson on one return however. A much stiffer test will come on Monday night when the Lions will be kicking and punting to Devin Hester. The key here will be for Jason Hanson to make sure his kickoffs reach the back of the end zone, and for punter Nick Harris to pin Hester to the sideline, if Schwartz chooses to kick to him at all. This test should truly tell us which was the aberration, last week’s solid performance agains the Eagles, or the four touchdowns given up on special teams in the two weeks prior.