Lance Briggs accorded Detroit Lions multi-purpose running back Reggie Bush all due respect. To a point.
The Lions rank first in the NFL in yards per game by running backs (187.3), tied for second in touchdowns (four), first in receiving yards and sixth in receptions. Bush, acquired by the Lions last offseason as an instant fix for their running game, is the centerpiece of that production with seven receptions in the span of six quarters (he was injured for the second half of game two and all of game three for the Lions).
“Reggie Bush is a talented running back,” Briggs said. “Not only does he run the ball well but he catches the ball well. He runs well in space. He knows how to make defenders miss. He's a tough guy to also bring down. He's good.
“He can create mismatches if you split him out and put him against some linebackers. But he's someone that you need to be aware of and know where he is on the field.”
Briggs’ reference to “some linebackers” was intriguing. Because he clearly was not referring to a certain Bears weak-side linebacker.
“’Some,’ yeah,” said Briggs, smiling, still possessed of the speed and savvy to be on the field in nickel situations. "Because there are others that are good at locking down running backs.”
The Bears have only seen Bush twice, beating his New Orleans Saints team both times: once in the 2008 regular season (six carries, 30 yards, two catches, 16 yards) and once in the NFC Championship game for 2006, when Bush caught seven passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.
Bears linebackers have been instrumental in the defense ranking eighth against the run (88.7 yards per game). But the Detroit offense is more than 60-percent pass behind Matthew Stafford, making the underneath coverage by Briggs and strong-side linebacker James Anderson particularly significant.
Their ability, plus that of middle linebacker D.J. Williams, to defend the middle of the field is perhaps the one key to coping with Stafford, Bush and the rest of an offense that already has piled up more than 1,000 passing yards.
When throwing to the middle of the field, Stafford has 859 yards, which is over 100 more than any other quarterback, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He has done this by completing nearly 75 percent of his passes. In comparison, he only has 161 when throwing to the left or right, completing just 17 of 35.
Blitzing is one way to put added pressure on Stafford, and the Bears got two Williams’ and one Briggs’ sack of Ben Roethlisberger by blitzing the Pittsburgh Steelers. The defense blitzed approximately one-third of the time.
But the Lions are not the Steelers, and blitzing takes a linebacker or defensive back out of defending Bush and the rest of one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.
“We just play the game that we need to play within the game plan, have a plan, work the plan,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “Plan for the unexpected. Be ready to adjust. ... In our package, it’s comprehensive enough where we can play the game that we feel like we need to play that week.”