For Lions' O, something missing - just like Bears'

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For Lions' O, something missing - just like Bears'

Forgive the members of the Bears defense if, while they watch tape of the Detroit Lions, they wonder if someone inadvertently put on film of the Chicago offense.

The dysfunctional Bears offense as run through wide receiver Brandon Marshall this season and slipped down among the leagues worst despite the presence of a Pro Bowl receiver and quarterback (Jay Cutler was one once, in 2008).

The Lions have tilted all season toward Calvin Johnson, the consensus best wideout in the NFL, with Pro Bowl alternate quarterback Matthew Stafford channeling passes Johnsons direction the way that Cutler does to Marshall.

MORE Bears know wounded Lions are still dangerous

(Almost. Marshall has accounted for 32 percent of Chicagos offensive yardage this season; Johnsons 1,892 yards represent 30.4 of Detroits.)

Stafford is throwing it well, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Theyve lost a few guys and theyre still playing at such a high level. Obviously theres Calvin and the guy Stafford is a heck of a quarterback. Theyve got that thing clicking.

Not truly clicking

But for all of the QB-WR firepower, something is not working for the Lions, just as for the Bears.

Johnson has struggled to get into the end zone, with just five touchdowns from his NFL-leading 117 catches. Marshall has scored 11 times.

Stafford is 305 yards short of throwing for 5,000 yards for a second straight season but has a passer rating (79.2) worse than Cutler (80.2).

Charles Tillman effectively earned his way to a second Pro Bowl with his shutdown of Johnson in the first Bears-Lions game, allowing just three catches for 34 total yards. But the defense held the Lions scoreless until 30 seconds to play.

SICK BAY Urlacher back at practice...sort of

That has been the tipping point for Detroit. The gaudy Johnson and Stafford numbers have obscured the fact that the Lions are 16th in scoring with 23.2 points per game.

The only thing people care about is whether youre scoring or not, admitted Lions coach Jim Schwartz. We need to do a better job of getting the ball to other people other than Calvin.

What works, what doesnt

The Bears are 12-5 against the Lions under Lovie Smith, with one obvious thread running through those seasons: The Lions have scored more than 24 points against the Bears just once under Smith (game one, 2007). The Detroit point production increased with the arrival of Stafford in 2009, with four games of 20-24 points but only one of those a victory (game one, 2011) but while the Lions talent ostensibly has improved, the results have not.

The Lions drafted Iowas Riley Reiff with the 23rd-overall pick of the 2012 draft but Reiff has started just seven games, and six of those as a second tight end. He has not been able to unseat 12-year veteran Jeff Backus or right tackle Gosder Cherilus.

Efforts to find a running back to complement Staffords passing netted nothing from a first-round pick in 2010 when Jahvid Best suffered career-threatening concussions, and 2011 second-rounder Mikel Leshoure has not been a true force.

Leshoure has scored nine touchdowns this season despite a mediocre 741 rushing yards and average of 3.7 per carry. But the Lions have vacillated between Leshoure and Joique Bell and failed to achieve anything resembling a challenging run game.

The Lions are 23rd in rushing yards and 17th in average per carry and rushed for 100 yards just once in the past three games (vs. Green Bay, Arizona, Atlanta,), all losses by an average of 16 points to teams ranked 23rd, 22nd and 29th stopping the run.

But for Johnson, Stafford and others on both sides of the ball, beating the Bears might serve as some sort of exit validation for lost season.

They have some records, said linebacker Lance Briggs. The Lions have some records that they can achieve here. There is always winning, ending with a W, ending one of their rivals chances of getting in the playoffs. Thats always big.

You want to leave the season with a good taste in your mouth. So they definitely have things to play for.

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Eric Kush was in some pain after the Bears win over the San Francisco 49ers. But it was a “good” pain, particularly since part of it was inflicted by a teammate.

The teammate was running back Jordan Howard, and the Bears left guard was learning along with his linemates that when Howard is coming, “he’s a-comin’,” Kush said.

“Oh man, sometimes you’re, ‘[groan-groan-groan], and he’ll hit you right in the back, you fall and try to take your guy down with you and stick him in the snow so you’re not the only one getting soaking wet and cold. But Jordan’s a lot fun and we try to kick some butt for him.”

The rookie running back has become more than simply a draft nugget from the fifth round of this year’s draft. Howard has established himself as an integral part of a winning formula of complimentary football, the concept long favored by John Fox, Lovie Smith and coaches who operate from the foundation of a premier running game, impact defense and solid special teams.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ three wins have come this season in the only games in which Howard has been given 20-plus carries: 23 vs. Detroit, 26 vs. Minnesota, 32 vs. San Francisco. Add to those the 3 pass receptions against the Lions and the 4 against the Vikings and the true centerpiece of the 2016 Bears offense is more than a little apparent.

For obvious reasons beyond simply the rushing numbers.

“Especially pass protection,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “I think he's taken a big jump that way. When you're young in this league, those are the things that can get grey for you. You run the football, he's obviously a talented player there, but in pass pro, he's made his biggest growth.”

As a corollary to Howard, San Francisco was only the second game this season in which the Bears called fewer than 30 pass plays (the only other time was at Green Bay, when the Bears only ran a total of 45 plays, 27 of them pass plays). In that respect, the snow was viewed as an ally by some in the locker room who have been unhappy at the run:pass balance, which was just 36-percent-run coming into the 49ers game.

“It was one of these games where, with the weather, we couldn’t pass the ball like we normally do —  30 times — so we had to keep it on the ground,” said one member of the offense.

Howard’s breakout game as an NFL ball carrier came against the Lions (23 carries, 111 rushing yards, 3 receptions). The Bears, looking for a breakout of their own in the form of a first two-game win streak in more than a year, are expected to keep it simple — and in Howard’s hands.

“I always expected a lot out of myself,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think that things would happen maybe this soon or this fast. I’m definitely grateful for it.”

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

The adage “play the man, not the board” seems somehow appropriate for what the Bears are doing to prepare for the Detroit Lions behind quarterback Matt Barkley.

“The man” is Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and the Bears have been scouting him as well as his defenses, beyond just Bears games, beyond this season and last, taking in his 2014 Detroit season when Austin prepared defenses for Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen.

How did Austin scheme for rookie Carson Wentz when the Lions played (and beat) the Philadelphia Eagles? How did he structure is defense to stop a rookie Teddy Bridgewater when Detroit played Minnesota? (Not very well, apparently, since the Vikings won both games and scored 54 points combined in the two games).

While the John Fox Bears staff went against Austin’s Lions defense twice last year, Cutler was the Bears quarterback. When the Bears beat Austin and the Lions two months ago, it was with Brian Hoyer.

Now the Bears quarterback is Matt Barkley, who has fewer NFL games played (seven) than Cutler has NFL seasons (11), Hoyer (eight), too, for that matter.

“Different defensive coordinators attack young quarterbacks differently,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “Some guys blitz, some guys play a bunch of zone. This group on defense there, they have a really good defensive coordinator, they're really smart, they do a bunch of stuff. On the back end, they run all the coverages.

“As a game, we'll have to make adjustments as the game goes and see what their plan to come out is early.”

Coaches and players may talk about how they prepare for a scheme irrespective of which opposing quarterback, running back, linebacker or whatever they will be facing. But in fact, preparations start with who is orchestrating the opponent’s offense or defense – play the man, not the board.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

A risk can be out-thinking yourself trying to anticipate what a coordinator will do. The first point, Loggains said, is to start with your own strengths.

“We definitely look at that,” Loggains said. “As you go in the league long and longer, you face these guys, you see them in crossover games. We always know how a guy attacks a rookie quarterback or attacks a young quarterback, a veteran, or, in Matt's case, a guy who hasn't played as much.”

Evaluations of Barkley’s performance will broaden, particularly now that he is on tape for defensive coordinators to scheme for and scout. And while they are watching Barkley, the Bears are watching them.