Lions Beat Down Bears, Show Ability to Light Up Scoreboard

It was the 75th Thanksgiving game in Lions’ history, but perhaps the first time since Week 1 that the Lions manhandled their opponent.

With a 34-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in front of a sold out Detroit crowd, the Lions have now propelled themselves to 8-4 and showed significant offensive life for the first time in a while. Following a two week road slip in Phoenix and Boston, the Lions will surely take their third divisional win of the season and prepare for a cushion game against Tampa Bay next week. On the whole, the Lions played their most complete game of the season. In all, Detroit showed hot potent its air game can actually be with the right conditions in place. Defensively, the Lions were phenomenal and rode off the litany of curses and bad luck that Jay Cutler carries with him in the NFC North. Through 60 minutes, the Lions dominated possession, controlling the ball for nearly 7 minutes more than Chicago. With three sacks from Ziggy Ansah, Jason Jones, and Andre Fluellon in addition to 8 QB hits and another 10 passes deflected, the Lions virtually shut down Cutler in every possible way. No, we didn’t see Brandon Marshall fight an innocuous Twitter heckler from Detroit, but in a classic NFC North fight with wild card implications on the line, the Lions authentically beat down the Bears in holistic fashion.

Yes, 8-4 is a great place to be for Detroit and a game against Tampa Bay will be favorable, but truthfully the Lions don’t actually have much cushion at all. CBS commentator Phil Simms ended yesterday’s broadcast saying that the Lions could beat any team in the NFC in the playoffs. Although Phil Simms is a greater football authority than I, the fact is that the Lions can’t really rely on that sort of hubris right now. Detroit beat Chicago in grand fashion, but still remains behind Green Bay in the division and is in a marathon with Philadelphia, Seattle, and San Francisco for a wild card birth. Granted, the Lions won a good game yesterday and everyone feels great in the Detroit camp following an inconsistent November. But the Lions must now prepare to move forward and heed just how fragile their position is. With such a strong performance yesterday, the Lions must now celebrate their win and quickly turn it into a strong end-of-season resolve.

What We Learned: Offense

Any number of things could be said about what the offense did yesterday, but what we now know more than anything is that this offense really still has scoring potential in it. From Matthew Stafford’s performance to dropped passes and injuries to Joe Lombardi’s job security, issues have been ubiquitous this season for Detroit. And granted the Bears’ defense has been poor this year, but yesterday the Lions looked deadly and amazing.

The aggregate numbers are quite telling for the Lions. With 474 yards, the Lions had their most productive day of the season and topped 400 for only the second time all year. Through the air, the Lions netted 383 yards which marks the best performance of the season on the front. For the third straight week, Detroit ran for over 90 yards, which is far from excellent but still great after three prior weeks of less than 65 yards. Detroit’s 28 first downs against Chicago was also the best of the season in that category while the Lions also nearly went .500 on third down and had just 5 penalties. Again, the Bears aren’t a formidable defensive opponent; only a blinkard person would contend that. But in a season fraught with offensive miscues and shortcomings, a performance of this caliber could be a great warm up for the eventual Week 17 showdown in Green Bay.

On an individual level, significant props are owed to a lot of players. Starting (uncharacteristically of me) on the line, significant credit is owed to the front five. Despite being hampered by injuries throughout the season, Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims led a fantastic effort yesterday and kept Chicago out of the pocket throughout the day. Matthew Stafford was only sacked twice and hit just 5 times- and it showed. As a result, the Lions not only looked comfortable on third down situations but were also more composed than eve in long yardage situations; all starting with good protection. For me, though, Matthew Stafford’s day was the most laudable. The numbers simply don’t lie: Stafford went 34 of 45 for 390 yards, two touchdowns, and a 116 QB rating. If Phil Simms is right about his assertion, then it will surely require for Stafford to play more like he did yesterday than week’s past. With Calvin Johnson’s huge day (11 catches, 146 yards, two touchdowns), Golden Tate’s consistency (8 catches for 89 yards) , and Joique Bell’s efficiency (23 carries for 91 yards and 2 touchdowns), Stafford now looks poised to string a few great games together. In a conference that has been dominated by Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford’s ability to put up 300 yard games could be very important down the stretch. Fortunately for fans, we now know that he still has it in his DNA.

What We Learned: Defense

The Lions put together their fifth best defensive performance of the system, allowing the Bears just 269 net yards. After being severely exposed by the Cardinals and Patriots the last two weeks, the Lions played with grit and pace we haven’t seen in a while. And after being brutally torched by Drew Stanton and Tom Brady through the air recently, the Lions limited Jay Cutler to one of his lesser games of the season. Through four quarters, Cutler went 31 of 48 for 280 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions, three sacks, and a 77 QB rating; decent numbers by most defensive standards. As Alshon Jeffery quickly became Cutler’s most reliable target with 7 catches for 2 touchdowns, the Lions still managed to compensate and limited Jeffery to only 71 yards. And just for perspective’s sake, the Lions held the Bears to 13 rush yards throughout the entire game. With an inconsistent Cutler, dead running game, facile performance by Jeffery, and a quiet performance from Marshall, the Lions defense simply took care of business and gave Chicago it’s only substantial yardage in garbage time.

With ten tackles, two for loss, and a pass deflected, LB DeAndre Levy continued his amazing campaign and now has 116 tackles for the season. Other special recognition goes to CB Darius Slay who hung in against Jeffery despite his notable height disadvantage. As we mentioned early in the week, the key for Detroit was to keep the Bears out of the red zone. Inside the 20, Chicago went 2 of 4 (which could’ve been worse), but more importantly the Lions eventually kept the Bears farther and farther from the end zone.

The reason for Detroit’s insidious domination came from the same place it has come all season: the defensive line. Despite a quiet game from Ndamukong Suh, the Lions’ defensive front played extremely elusive and harassed Cutler all day. With a very strong outer presence from Ansah (sack, two tackles for loss, three QB hits) and a handful of the team’s 10 deflected passes f=coming from the front four, the Lions showed that their success starts with pressure. Against the Bears, the Lions thrived off pressure and will now look to keep that momentum rolling in December.

 What We Still Want to Know

I’d normally say there are a few things I still want to know from the Lions. However, in the words upon words I’ve written and hours upon hours of games I’ve seen of Detroit this season, there’s just one thing I want to see the Lions do:

 

Finish.

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