MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS ON OFFENSE
C Olin Kreutz vs. DT Ndamukong Suh
Can the vet put the brakes on the rookie standout? He'll need to if Chicago wants to maintain any kind of a viable pocket for Jay Cutler. Suh was already getting double teams in the preseason, and that allowed fellow tackle Corey Williams and the ends to attack a compromised offensive line. Since Chicago already has a question mark hovering over that group, Kreutz's ability to neutralize Suh will invariably affect this game.
RBs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor vs. Lions Linebackers
Forte only had two 100-yard games in 2009, but the Bears are fortunate that both of them were against the Lions and a defense that ranked dead last in points allowed. But if Suh is as good as advertised, and he's supposed to be the best defensive tackle prospect to come along in a decade, then perhaps Forte and Taylor need to do the majority of their damage out of the backfield. Aside from Pro Bowler Julian Peterson, the Lions don't look very strong at linebacker with DeAndre Levy listed as doubtful on the injury report, meaning Forte and Taylor should have the ability to cash in on some catch-and-run chances.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS ON DEFENSE
Bears Linebackers vs. TE Tony Scheffler
Scheffler has made a living out of finding soft spots in opposing defenses, and Chicago's Tampa-2 style will give the veteran tight end his opportunities, especially if Detroit's Jahvid Best can keep Brian Urlacher's eyes occupied. Scheffler prefers to operate in the middle of the field, and Matthew Stafford doesn't mind roping passes in there should it be available. If Detroit's offense can be productive without having to rely upon its talented receiving corps, Chicago will be in trouble.
DE Julius Peppers vs. OTs Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus
General manager Jerry Angelo paid Peppers a king's ransom to ramp up what has been a dormant pass rush in recent years, and Sunday will be his first opportunity to prove he was worth the record-setting investment. The hope was that the five-time Pro Bowler's presence would pay dividends for the likes of fellow end Mark Anderson and three technique Tommie Harris, but while Peppers looked to be good as advertised during the exhibition slate, there has been no osmosis effect for the other defensive linemen. If coach Lovie Smith is true to his word, Peppers will be switching back and forth between the right and left side, meaning he'll face both Backus and Cherilus over the course of the game.
DT Ndamukong Suh
THE LIONS WIN IF...
... Stafford's targets give him opportunities on the field. If it comes down to a shootout, the Lions offense is more explosive and capable than Cutler and Co. Whether it's Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Scheffler or utilizing Best out of the backfield, the weapons in Detroit's arsenal have a very capable trigger man. Of course, that doesn't mean much if they're unable to gain separation or establish rhythm, which puts the onus directly on Chicago's defense.
THE BEARS WIN IF...
... Cutler gets the time to take all those seven-step drops required of him to run Mike Martz's system properly. While the Lions appear to have a very dangerous defensive front, the back seven is riddled with injuries and lacking in talent. If the Bears can keep Suh from dominating the middle and neutralize Kyle Vanden Bosch off the edge, Cutler should be able to find holes in the Detroit secondary and spread the ball around liberally to his backs, tight ends and receivers.
THE LIONS LOSE IF...
... The offense grows stagnant, and the Suh-led defensive line cannot pressure Cutler. If the Chicago quarterback has time, he will eat Detroit's secondary alive and remind everyone of just why the world is skeptical of any Lions ballclub. The fact that Detroit's secondary has shown little improvement from last year's disastrous results isn't lost on Martz and Cutler, so expect them to attempt to take full advantage of any opportunities they have.
THE BEARS LOSE IF...
... They lose the turnover battle as often as they did a season ago. Bears fans have to accept the fact that Martz's scheme allots for a fair amount of sacks and interceptions, as that's the price you pay running a timing-based passing attack designed to push the ball downfield early and often, so it's up to the Chicago defense to take the ball away from the opponent as much as possible. Year after year in this league, winning team have positive turnover ratios and losing teams have negative turnover ratios, and since it would take a minor miracle for Cutler to keep his INTs under a dozen or so in 2010, Urlacher and Co. need to pick the ball off and punch the ball out every chance they get.
Nate Caminata: Not a bad litmus test for Detroit's young ballclub. Chicago certainly isn't a division favorite, but the Lions haven't won a road game in two years, and a road victory against an NFC North foe wouldn't be a bad way to start the 2010 season. Talk is cheap, and Detroit has been privy to a lot of it. Although they seemed to back up some of it during the preseason, an away tilt at a raucous Soldier Field is a completely different ball game. Can Suh expose Chicago's offensive line? Can Stafford live up to the hype? Considering the matchup advantages, yes – at least for this week. The Lions pull out an impressive road win and begin the head-turning process quite early. ... LIONS 24, BEARS 16.
John Crist: No question about it, the Lions are better on each side of the football and won't be the twice-a-year pushover they were in both 2008 and 2009. In particular, the skill-position talent this team is fielding on offense is rather impressive, and Detroit is hoping the front four can wreak enough havoc in the trenches to cover any perceived weaknesses it has in the back seven. Nevertheless, I have to believe the Bears are still the superior squad in all three phases, not to mention that the Motor City Kitties have lost 20 straight games away from Ford Field. ... BEARS 27, LIONS 20.
To go back and read Part I of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Nate answered five questions from John, Click Here. To read Part II, where John answered five questions from Nate, Click Here.
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John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Nate Caminata is the publisher of RoarReport.com.