Bears much different since lackluster loss to Lions
Adjustments have paid off so much they will be favored Sunday
Mike Mulligan November 9, 2011
Now that Lovie Smith has exacted sweet revenge on bookmakers and prognosticators bold enough to make his team an eight-point underdog in Philadelphia, it's time for the Bears to wreak vengeance on the upstart Lions, a team foolish enough to beat the Bears by 11 points a mere month ago.
The Lions didn't just beat the Bears, mind you, they taunted and teased them on national television. It was a coming-out party for the Lions, who matched the Packers' 5-0 start and left the Bears with a 2-3 record and stuck on a treadmill to oblivion in the NFC North.
It was not so much a football game as a cry for help.
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz, ever defiant and unswerving, insisted on a game plan that simply couldn't work. Players seemed to be protesting it when they stacked up nine pre-snap penalties, including an NFL-record six false starts in the first half.
The defense was broken too, with the Cover-2 unable to cover and players failing to stay in their run gaps with Jahvid Best running 88 yards untouched on one play en route to a career night.
Radical measures were needed. The Bears scrapped the deep drops on offense. They protected Jay Cutler. They dropped safeties deeper, changed their offensive line and replaced underachievers.
There was a new accountability. Real coaching. A season reboot.
Just 180 minutes of football later, the tables have turned. The Bears are looking for a coming-back party in Sunday's rematch at Soldier Field to match the Lions' debutant ball. The Bears are riding a three-game winning streak and will be favored over the Lions, who stumbled in back-to-back games before beating the Broncos. They were off last week but aren't expected to have Best, who has missed two games after suffering his second concussion of the year.
If the Bears want to be the fifth seed in the NFC, as opposed to the sixth, a victory over the Lions is of utmost importance. It's unlikely the Bears can win the NFC North, not with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers firing on all cylinders as the league's only unbeaten team. Rodgers' passer rating of 129.1 is not only the best in the NFL, it's miles better than anybody else. The Saints' Drew Brees is next at 100.6, and the Patriots' Tom Brady checks in at 100.0. The Lions' Matthew Stafford is fourth at 99.1, significantly better than Jay Cutler's 85.6, which is good for 14th.
But an NFC scout who has watched both players closely said Cutler is playing much better than Stafford "since the Bears reinvented themselves'' on offense.
Indeed, the Bears have concentrated on getting the ball out quicker, have run more often and more effectively and have used play-action to keep opponents off balance. They are assisting their line with tight ends and chipping running backs. If they could just get Cutler on the run more, the overhaul would be complete.
Kudos to offensive coordinator Mike Martz and line coach Mike Tice for the improvement.
"If my feet are clean, and I have a good pocket and I can see what's happening downfield, I'm probably going to have a good day,'' Cutler said of the improved pass protection. "We can do whatever we want. We can throw downfield, we can throw quick, we can roll out. It's an array of things that we have in this offense, and when that front five is comfortable and they're picking things up, and the pocket's clean, it's going to be hard to stop us."
The defense is playing better too. Having extra time with young safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte during their off week translated into artful disguises in coverage Monday night.
Defensive backs coach Jon Hoke added some window dressing to the defense last year but was handcuffed by a lack of cohesion at safety earlier this season. Wright's interception on Monday came off a Cover-2 look that turned into a Cover-1 and confused Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.
The Bears played a very physical brand of football against the Eagles and probably can match that against the Lions' finesse offense. It will be more difficult to beat up on the Lions' defense because they have a stouter front line than most teams, including the Eagles. But in the newfound spirit of comeuppance, the Bears owe the Lions more than just thanks for revealing the error of their ways.
Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.
A couple of things are much different about the Bears since there last meet up with Detroit so let's hope that, just like the Eagles, the Lions aren't quite prepared for what we can do either.
The first and most obvious is the overhaul of the OLine and a major change in both the blocking scheme and the pass plays Martz is now calling. It would be nice if he'd get rid of those 5 WR, empty backfield calls too but at least we've gotten away from the 7 step drops and providing Cutler with more protection. And in turn he's providing the kind of quarterbacking and leadership we've been looking for over the past two years. Play action, planned rollouts, and the return of Earl Bennett are all factors in his success. Martz is finally getting through his skull that he needs to let Jay be Jay.
That change up in our coverage strategy is what really through Philly for a loop IMO. We played press coverage with a single deep Safety for a lot of the game. Conte stayed back to provide a deep cover shell and they brought Wright up into the short zones to help cover the TE and backstop the DLine and LB's covering McCoy on his runs and it worked beautifully. Let's hope we see more of it now that we finally have to true centerfielder type FS. Conte may well be the 3rd gem we've pulled out of this last draft.
Whatever the motivation it's good to see Lovie and Martz lose their stubborn adherence to what isn't working and begin to make those adjustments. Without that we'd probably be sitting about where the Eagles are right now and out of the playoff picture entirely.
I'm getting to that age where a lifetime warranty just doesn't mean as much to me anymore as an afternoon nap.
Honey Badger Don't Care. Honey Badger Don't Give a Shit.