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.

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(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.

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Pro Football Focus has more than its share of both supporters and detractors of how it goes about grading NFL players. They break down every snap for every player, and while there are general agreements on what's seen by naked, untrained eyes who don't put the time and investment into its system that PFF does, there are other evaluations that seem to come out of the blue. While there's occasional guesswork on a player's particular assignment on a given play within its scheme, those of us who've watched and studied nuances of the game, or those who've played it, can usually identify how many jobs were done correctly.

Tuesday, PFF released its rankings of all 32 NFL rosters but in essence focused on the quality of each team's starting lineup, listing the Bears — are you sitting down? — 18th in the league. That's ahead of the likes of the Ravens, Saints, Texans, Dolphins, a Jaguars franchise that's had tons of high draft picks in recent years, as well as the Broncos and Lions (whom they rank 28th). The top five are the Falcons, Patriots, Titans, Packers and Steelers (the Bears play three of those teams in September alone). Among other Bears opponents, they rank the Panthers 10th, Vikings 12th, Buccaneers 13th and Eagles 15th.

[BEARS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Their evaluation is based on each player's final score from last season, "elite" and "good" being the top two levels, followed by "average" and "below average" to "poor." The only Bear earning elite status was inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman. Another nine Bears finished with good grades: Jordan Howard, Zach Miller, Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Adrian Amos and Quintin Demps (who earned his grade in Houston).

Those earning average grades were Cam Meredith, Kendall Wright, Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Jr., Pernell McPhee and Prince Amukamara. Below average: Mike Glennon (in mop-up duty in Tampa Bay), Kevin White, Bobby Massie, Leonard Floyd and Jaye Howard. The only Bear earning a poor grade among projected starters was tight end Dion Sims (with Miami). The other potential flaw is that PFF lists Kyle Fuller (no grade) and Bryce Callahan (average) as starters when Marcus Cooper and Cre'Von LeBlanc likely have the inside track to start at cornerback and nickel back, respectively.

How did the Bears get to 18th, above three playoff teams and another that won the Super Bowl two years ago? Well, all of those other teams have more elite players at certain positions, but it's offset by a number of spots occupied by more players with poor or below average grades. The Broncos (25th) for instance, had four elite players, just another four falling under the good grade, but five players listed as poor.

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

So Jordan Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing in his rookie season, despite just a dozen carries in the first three games. The fifth-round pick joined the man who beat him out for the rushing title, Ezekiel Elliott, as one of just five rookies in history to average five or more yards per carry on over 250 carries. And he set the Bears' rookie rushing record with his 1,313 yards while becoming just the fourth in franchise history to rush for that many yards in a season.

Sounds pretty hard to top, like we might be set up for the dreaded sophomore slump.

But...

"Things are a lot different this year because I know what to expect," Howard said during the team's minicamp two weeks ago. "I know all the plays and things like that. I’m not out there thinking, so I can just play free and fast.

"I definitely feel like a veteran 'cause I know what to expect and can help the young guys on the plays that they're not understanding. I’m just more comfortable and want to be a leader."

One of the other things we learned about Howard last year is he's low-key, a man of few words. So the Indiana product by way of UAB will make his points verbally when needed, but his actions will speak louder.

"He was a rookie a year ago and didn't even go in trying to be a leader, telling a five-year guy what was up," said head coach John Fox. "I think with time, and obviously with production like he had, I think it's a role he can fall in to. We're in a performance-based business and even in that locker room, what they do on Sundays gives them some credibility."

One of the concerns about Howard coming out of college was durability, but he answered the bell once he became the starter in week four against Detroit. And he probably wasn't used nearly as much as he should have. The good news about that is he was subject to less wear and tear, averaging just 18 carries per game from that Lions game on.

But besides taking more of a leadership role, Howard wanted to work on his speed without sacrificing the strong base that, paired with keen vision and work by the offensive line, allowed him to hit holes quickly and charge toward the second level of opposing defenses.

"Just improving on the little things – my conditioning, my weight, catching passes. And looking for ways to finish runs better," says Howard. "I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up."

"It's just training," said Fox. "When you get to that it's more like track speed than football speed and I think he proved pretty worthy of that a year ago as a rookie. Y'know we all can improve on things, and that's the expectation. He's trained hard.

"This time of year last year he wasn’t even practicing," Fox remembered. "I like where we are, we’ve brought in more competition, and he’s better for it. He’s kind of gotten used to an NFL season, he’s come back ready to roll, but he still has work to do before we get to training camp."  

Oh, and the 22-year-old has a couple of other goals he didn't mind sharing, besides being a leader and getting a little faster.

"First off, make the playoffs. Be the leading rusher, and just help the team in any way I can and stay consistent."