At 3-0, the Bears have control of the NFC North, have had their way with the Lions for the most part in recent years, and the week after the Lions they return to Soldier Field for what could prove to be their toughest test of the season, a potential battle of the undefeated with the New Orleans Saints.
The Bears’ trip to Detroit on Sunday has all the ingredients of the classic NFL trap game.
Matt Stafford is a Pro Bowl quarterback who, after a poor 2012, is playing at a high level again. His 99.9 passer rating is 5.5 points better than Jay Cutler’s. Both have six touchdown passes, and Stafford has thrown two interceptions, while Cutler has thrown three. Cutler has been slightly more accurate at a 67.3 percent completion rate to Stafford’s 63.6, but the big difference is production.
Stafford has thrown for more than 100 yards a game more than Cutler with 1,020 passing yards to Cutler’s 693. Stafford is averaging 1.5 yards a pass more than Cutler, and Cutler has completed passes to just five different receivers, while Stafford has found 11. The Lions offense’s multiple weapons make them much tougher to defend than the Bears’.
Of course, Calvin Johnson is the man you fear the most, and he’s off to a nice start with 17 catches for 268 yards and three touchdowns. But he’s missed on 13 of the 30 balls Stafford’s targeted him with.
Nate Burleson actually has two more catches than Megatron with 19 for 239 yards, but he’ll be out after breaking his arm in a single-car accident Tuesday. Still, there are those nine other targets, including wide receiver Ryan Broyles and tight end Brandon Pettigrew, both back from serious knee injuries that ended their 2012 seasons, and rookie Joseph Fauria, who already has two touchdowns backing up Pettigrew.
A huge part of Stafford’s success is the Lions are finally getting production from their running backs. Reggie Bush had 30 rushes for 115 yards and seven catches for 145 yards and a touchdown in the Lions first two games. Joique Bell has been almost as good in relief of Bush with 34 carries and 119 rushing yards, three touchdowns rushing, and 14 catches for 177 yards.
Similar to the Bears, the Lions have three new starters on the offensive line and they’re also playing very well, in fact ranking No. 1 in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed per pass. The Lions easily will be the stiffest test the Bears’ defense has faced.
Defense is where the Lions are a bit sketchy, but not up front, where Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are the best defensive tackle duo in the league. Of course, the Lions hope Suh won’t do anything stupid, making him as big a liability as an asset.
Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, the fifth choice overall in the 2013 draft, already has 2 1/2 sacks, and an old friend, Izzy Idonije, along with Willie Young will all try to bring heat off the ends.
The back seven is where teams attack the Lions. While DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch are two of the top three tacklers on the club, they are undersized at linebacker, and Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte could create some mismatches.
With Chris Houston on the corner and Louis Delmas and Glover Quin at the safeties, the Lions’ secondary is better but not great. What will play to their favor, though, is the Bears’ lack of weapons beyond Marshall, Jeffery, Forte and the Bennett boys, Martellus and Earl. No one else has caught a pass from Cutler.
Make no mistake – the Bears are the better of these two teams. But if the Bears don’t bring their A game, they could wake up after 60 minutes without knowing what hit them.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.