Bears-Lions LB Viewers' Guide: Unit can't afford a repeat

Bears-Lions LB Viewers' Guide: Unit can't afford a repeat
November 9, 2013, 12:00 pm
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Reggie Bush had exactly one 100-yard rushing game through his first five NFL seasons. He had two last season, against the woeful (4-12) Oakland Raiders and even more dismal (2-14) Jacksonville Jaguars. His game against the Bears (139 yards, one touchdown) in September is his only 100-yard outing in 2013.

The nightmare started early and was team-wide, although many of the very visible missed tackles in the secondary came after linebackers completely failed in their responsibilities — ominously similar to what transpired last Monday in Green Bay when Packers running backs gashed the Bears for 190 combined yards.

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The Detroit game was James Anderson’s worst this season, according to evaluations by ProFootballFocus.com. But the Green Bay game was marked by two of his most egregious errors of the year, a wrong fill that opened the defense to a 32-yard touchdown run by James Starks and a drop of an interception that was in his hands.

And Anderson is the only of the linebackers this weekend with any experience against Bush, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, tight end Brandon Pettigrew and quarterback Matthew Stafford.

It was Pettigrew who gave the defense serious problems, with a team-leading seven catches that netted just 54 yards but repeatedly sustained drives through high-percentage throws into areas of linebacker responsibility.

The return of cornerback Charles Tillman to something close to good knee health with help the secondary deal with Johnson and allow the linebackers to take away Bush and the underneath game that did so much damage in Ford Field.

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“When teams devote too many resources to stopping Calvin Johnson, Reggie can create some big plays and that’s the role that we had in mind [for Bush],” said Detroit coach Jim Schwartz. “It’s been a very good dynamic between him and Calvin. You’ve seen Calvin make a lot of big plays as a result also.”

What to watch for: Finishing. Besides the obvious need to execute fundamentals and techniques involved in run fills and pass drops, one focus of the week in the linebackers’ meeting room was “finishing,” meaning both completing the stop and also getting the football out and forcing turnovers, which has not happened sufficiently with a group that was among the NFL’s best as recently as last year with Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher at its core.

The one thing that the group including Bostic and Greene have in abundance is speed. They are being tasked with using that speed in the normal performing of their jobs and, vitally important, in delivering impact support when Bush is being slowed by the defensive line in particular.