The 2011 season saw the Detroit Lions have their first winning record in ten years and their first playoff appearance since 1999. The Lions success was in most part due to their explosive offense in which quarterback Matt Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards.
Through five games this season, the Lions are 2-3 with wins over the Eagles and Rams but tough loses against the 49ers, Vikings, and the Titans in overtime. In those five games, Stafford has thrown for nearly 1,500 yards but has thrown just four touchdowns to five interceptions.
The Bears will need to try and get pressure from their front four in order to slow down the Lions passing game. The Lions offensive line has played well in pass protection, allowing just nine sacks this season, good enough for fifth best in the league. The Bears will rely heavily on a rotation that has been able to account for 17 sacks on the season. With the Lions desire to run three wide receiver sets, rookie Shea McClellin will likely get more looks as a rushing end in the Bears nickel package.
Much of Stafford’s success over the years has been hinged on the performance of wide receiver Calvin Johnson. The 2011 season saw Johnson accumulate over 1,600 yards to go along with 16 touchdowns. Through the Lions first five games, Johnson’s catches and yards have remained on pace (35 catches and 558 yards) but he has only brought down one touchdown in comparison to last season where he had an unprecedented nine touchdowns after the first five games.
Despite numbers not up to his typical standards, Johnson is still one of the best wide receivers in the game. It is unknown whether or not the Bears will play Johnson straight up with Charles Tillman all game or keep Tillman and Tim Jennings on their respective sides and let Johnson face whomever is in front of him. Receivers Nate Burleson and Titus Young are both reliable options for Stafford when Johnson is covered and expect Young to be matched up a lot against the Bears D.J. Moore in the slot.
Besides the threats from their wide receivers, the Bears will need to account for tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Schefler. Pettigrew currently has 261 receiving yards on 26 catches with one touchdown while Schefler has ten catches for 140 yards.
Strong side linebacker Nick Roach and strong safety Major Wright will likely get the task of defending the tight ends. Roach has the strength the match up with Pettigrew physically but lacks the speed that Wright has. Both Pettigrew and Schefler can be a major mismatch in the redzone.
After a concussion that has not allowed Jahvid Best to play this season and poor performances from Kevin Smith and Joique Bell, Mikel LeShoure has taken over the starting running back position after missing his rookie season in 2011 due to injury and the first two games of this season due to a suspension for off the field issues.
In LeShoure’s first start against the Titans, he rushed for 100 yards on 26 carries and recorded his first touchdown. He bounced back last week against the Eagles after a poor performance against Minnesota the week before their bye with 70 yards on 15 carries.
The Bears have remained stout against the run this season, shutting down backs like Steven Jackson, DeMarco Murray, and Maurice Jones-Drew. In five games this season, the Bears have only allowed one rushing touchdown and with Brian Urlacher’s health improving and the dominance of Lance Briggs on the outside, the Bears should not have a problem slowing down the Lions running game.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work on BleacherReport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.