Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010
Posted: 10:40 a.m.
By John Mullin
This time a year ago, the Bears were standing at 4-7 after a humiliation at the hands of Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings, the fourth in a string of losses that buried their season. The talk at that time was about playing for pride, because there wasn't much else to play for at that point.
Now they stand 8-3 after the fourth in a string of wins and, even if they don't want to utter the words, they are playing for a Super Bowl.
And they have been truly playing for one a lot longer than most outsiders were aware. Now they are being asked about games with Roman numerals and no one is laughing when they answer honestly.
"We've bottled up a lot of our emotions for a long time, and some of us get real excited -- we're 8-3 right now -- when people ask us questions about how we feel about ourselves," said linebacker Lance Briggs. "We want to jump out and tell you how we feel.
"But at the same time, you want to stay humble and you want to stay the course because we could get into the playoffs and have home-field advantage all the way through and lose the championship and never make it to the Super Bowl, you know. Then, to me, all would be lost."
What should concern the Bears
If the Bears are going to "lose" their 2010 Super Bowl, losing to the Detroit Lions would be a precipitous first step. And they know it.
"We've got to get past the Lions first and I think everyone in the locker room understands that," said quarterback Jay Cutler, going through one of the best stretches of his career.
While critics have continued to point to the first Detroit game as one the Bears were handed via a dubious call by an official, the Bears see a game that they dominated and could done so even more thoroughly.
"You look at the film and we left a lot of stuff out there," Cutler said. "We left a lot of points on the board, missed some big opportunities. We did really good things, did third downs well, red zone, limited the turnovers. If we do those things and keep improving on the little things, we're going to be in good shape."
The requisite cliche for division-rival games is that you can throw out the records. In this case, however, you might be better served to just push them a little off to the side and not entirely ignore them.
The win-loss record is one thing. Bears 8-3, Lions 2-9 and losers of 18 straight division games. The last time they won an NFC North game was in Chicago in 2007.
But while the Bears' offense has begun to look both competent and cohesive over the past four weeks, the Detroit one has been suspiciously more productive over this season as a whole than the Bears'.
The Lions have more substantially more passing first downs than the Bears (142-115); they complete a higher percentage of their passes (60.3-59.8); their quarterbacks have been sacked less than half as many times (20) as the Bears' (41).
Those numbers have not been put up for the most part by franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford but by backup Shaun Hill. Now both are injured and Drew Stanton will start, and Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli saw things in Stanton while Marinelli was Lions head coach that he would prefer not to see this Sunday.
"I know him," Marinelli said. "He's highly competitive. He's a great competitor. You treat him a little bit like No. 7 Michael Vick in Philly, in terms of, he can run. Once he gets out of the pocket, his accuracy goes up. Very impressed, because he's really developing as a pocket passer.
"You watch the New York Giant game, in the second half. He did a really nice job. And we know what he can do with his legs. He can extend plays."
The Lions return kickoffs on average (27.5 yards) farther than the Bears (26.5) and have a KOR TD, which the Bears do not. They have a rookie defensive tackle (Ndamukong Suh) with more sacks (eight) than any Bears defensive lineman.
No team scores touchdowns on a higher percentage (71) of their red-zone possessions than the Lions, who have come away with points on 87.4 of their red-zone opportunities.
The Bears have had four more red-zone possessions (35-31) than the Lions but score touchdowns only 45.7 percent of the time (24th). Simply put, if the Lions get close, they can be expected to draw blood.
What the Lions do not do, however, is stop many people and they have, in fact, allowed more than 100 more points (282) than the Bears (172). They also allow 4.6 yards per rush vs. the Bears' 3.6.
Detroit allows an average of 128.6 rushing yards per game (26th) and the Bears have righted their season by rushing for more than 100 yards in each of the last four games, all wins, and averaged 34 carries and 125 yards per game.
The Lions' difficulties on defense are mildly surprising because of the upgrades Detroit made in an aggressive offseason of rebuilding the defensive line in particular: trading for tackle Cory Redding, signing free agent end Kyle Vanden Bosch and drafted Ndamukong Suh, a leading candidate for defensive rookie of the year with 8 sacks already, including one of Cutler in the opener.
"The thing that's impressive about these guys is they're relentless," said offensive coordinator Mike Martz. "The front is very impressive. The interior two guys are playing better than they have all year. They just get better. It's an impressive group to watch. It really is. They're better now obviously than what we played in the opener."
And one more thing ...
This is the NFL where "any given Sunday" lives. If the Cleveland Browns can ambush and annihilate the New England Patriots; if the Cincinnati Bengals can beat the Baltimore Ravens; then the Detroit Lions can ruin a Sunday afternoon for the Bears.
But not this one.
If the Lions are allowed to stay in this game into halftime and begin to believe they can win, the danger quotient for the Bears increases exponentially. But the Bears of the last four games have played with a purpose on offense behind a viable running game that has built confidence in their offensive line and quarterback.
A fifth straight game for Mike Martz calling more than 25 running plays will be a fifth straight Bears win.
Bears 30, Lions 10
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.