Bears-Lions preview: Chicago's ball

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Bears-Lions preview: Chicago's ball

The Bears have won seven of the last eight games against the Detroit Lions but they have not always ruled with offense.

Chicago special teams and defense accounted for nearly as many return yards (213) in the offense (216) in the Bears 37-13 win in Soldier Field last November. The Bears piled up 463 yards in week one of 2010.

But 117 of that came on two Matt Forte TD catch-and-run plays, and the Bears needed the good fortune of Calvin Johnson failing to complete an apparent winning touchdown catch in the end zone. Game two was won 24-20 in Detroit with a winning TD catch by Brandon Manumaleuna and two fourth-quarter stops in Chicago territory.

The Bears scored 48 and 37 points in the two 2009 victories but Detroit outgained the Bears 747 to 694 in the two.

How good the Chicago offense really is at this point of 2012 will begin to be answered starting Monday night and against a front four that includes first-round picks at tackle (Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley).

This will be one heck of a challenge against this front, said offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Anybody that plays against this front has a challenge, for the fact that they can take over a game. We have to go out and have answers, as many as we can.

The Bears are No. 2 in the NFL with 29.8 points per game but that includes five defensive touchdowns over the past three games.

Detroit went into the weekend ranked ninth allowing 324 yards per game but 24th in points-against. Like the Bears, however, not all of the points are reflective of a weak defense. The Tennessee Titans scored 44 point on the Lions but got touchdowns on a punt return, kickoff return and fumble return.

Cutler dominance

The Bears traded for and invested in Jay Cutler to be a true franchise quarterback, which GM Phil Emery and coach Lovie Smith believe Cutler has become. He most assuredly has played like one against the Lions.

Cutler has played seven career games, six as a Bear, against the Lions, all but game one last year a win. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes vs. one interception, netted 1,415 yards and posted a passer rating of 105.0.

He registered ratings of 108.3 and 117.0 in the 2010 games but declined to 99.6 and then 68.5 in the games last year as Detroits front of Kyle Vanden Bosch, Suh, Fairley and Cliff Avril sacked him a total of five times in the two games.

They get after the quarterback, Cutler said. I think what they have is not only guys on the outside, but those two inside can get a push. Whenever you feel pressure on the outside and you step up and theyre getting a push in there, theres not a lot of room to operate.

Forte has averaged 5 yards per carry against Detroit, but finished with a modest 64 yards on 18 carries in the game-two win in Soldier Field last year.

The overall is that the Detroit defense has played the Bears progressively better over the past two years.

Secondary plans

Where the Lions have struggled has been in pass defense, with injuries at cornerback. The return from knee surgery of safety Louis Delmas was a major boost for the secondary but the game, like most, will be decided by the play of the lines.

The Bears will be without No. 2 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, out with a broken hand. But they get Earl Bennett back from his hand injury, although Bennett has never scored in six Detroit games and has a total of 18 catches. Brandon Marshall has faced the Lions twice in his career, with a gaudy 19 catches but also none for scores.

The Bears defensive strategy and mindset is to stop the run with the objective of making an opposing offense one-dimensional. That is precisely the plan of the Lions, take Forte away and force Cutler to throw to a weakened receiver group.

We have a lot of talent up front, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. When we play well up front it tends to trickle down to the rest of our defense. I think you saw that last week with Philadelphia. We did a good job of stopping the run and we also put pressure on the passer.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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