I hate to call a game must win in Week 7, but for all intents and purposes, it is.
If they drop this game the world won't end, but their climb back into the division race goes from "difficult" to "holy cow that's steep."
The Chicago Bears have a ferocious defense and an offense which has started to really jell.
What can Detroit do to overcome that combination?
Let's take a look.
When the Lions Are on Offense
Teams who fail against the Bears defense—and the list is getting long—just never find an answer to the front seven, especially the defensive line.
The biggest issue is trying to block everyone at once. If you double Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, Henry Melton or rookie Shea McClellin will slip in.
Once the pass rush is on you, that's when you make the mistakes that the secondary prey on.
So the offensive line has to be careful about protecting Stafford.
They did a great job against the Eagles who were unable to sack Stafford even once. They hit him a few times, and they certainly pressured him, but they never sacked him.
It's going to be a darn tough job to do that against the Bears, and in order to achieve it, not only will they need A-games from the line, but more than a little help from the tight ends and running backs. Mikel Leshoure will be tested early and often while protecting Stafford as well—they will have to have him on the field in order to have any chance of him establishing the run (we'll get there in a minute).
Every second will help Stafford make the right read and hit his receiver.
He'll need to do that quick, so especially early on, he might want to work the short field—hit Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew on short slants across the middle.
Of course, that opens you up to mischief by Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, whom the Lions would rather not make it three pick-sixes in a row.
The key here will be spreading the ball out, moving the targets around as often as possible to pull the linebackers (as well as the secondary) every way possible and keep them jumping.
I mentioned Leshoure a moment ago and firmly believe the Lions would be well served by running the ball here early on.
The second-year back had a decent day against the Eagles, helped out by some solid blocking.
If you look at how the Lions blocked for Leshoure, you'll see the tight end (yellow lines) shift over to block off the gap and a defensive lineman. The tackle and a guard double-team a lineman, while the center shoots out forward post-snap.
The left guard pulls to seal off another defender, hopefully walling off a gap for Leshoure.
Leshoure was able to gain five yards with this play—the only downside was that he ran straight into the pile, instead of shooting the gap where the tight end had opened up a lane.
That will come with time.
Establishing the run will do a few things. First, it will help slow down the Bears fierce pass rush and make the play-action pass more effective. Secondly, it will burn clock and keep the Bears offense on the sidelines.
It will also start wearing down the defensive front, something which could pay off later in the game when tacklers are getting tired.
It might also draw some safety attention, increasing the chance that Calvin Johnson might see single coverage.
Above all else, the offense needs to protect the ball. The Bears defense thrives on turnovers. Even if they don't run those turnovers back for touchdowns, losing possession is a no-no.
Whatever else the Lions do, they have to hold onto that ball.
When the Lions Are on Defense
The book on Jay Cutler—fair or not—is he folds under intense pressure. If he gets hit enough, he will make mistakes.
That's not as easy to force as it used to be. While he has been sacked regularly, he's not getting hit as often as he did early in the season.
The offensive line has played better and better each week.
The Lions have to turn that around.
Against the Eagles, Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh were the force the Lions hoped for when they drafted them in the first round in back-to-back drafts.
Last week Fairley got a pair of sacks, while Suh added another one—both players had numerous hurry-ups, pressures and QB hits as well.
The Lions were talking about moving both defensive tackles around a bunch preseason—now would be a good time. Overload J'Marcus Webb on the left side and see how quickly you can break him.
Attack him with more than just Suh and Fairley, though. Bring heat from multiple directions with different looks.
Be as varied and shifting as you possibly can.
Meanwhile, the secondary has to do everything it can to throw the timing of the offense off.
Hit Brandon Marshall at the line; knock Earl Bennett (if he plays) off his routes.
Oh, and watch out for Devin Hester—especially Chris Houston who got fooled on a deep route by DeSean Jackson last week.
Hester has shown a nice double move over the last few games, and it's tripped up coverage when he does it. Houston has to stay close and not let Hester speed past him for a big catch.
On top of helping keep Marshall and Co. contained, the safeties will need to move up and support the run. You can bank on seeing a lot of Matt Forte and Michael Bush, so the Lions had better be up to playing aggressive run defense.
They've also got to avoid the tight end and fullback traps which plagued them earlier in the season, and they have to control their aggressive tendencies.
It's going to be hard to overcome this Bears team, but if it has a weakness, it's the offensive line.
Take that apart and you have a shot of throwing the rhythm of the offense off.
There's one thing which fits in both categories but neither specifically—they need to stop with the penalties. Last week Detroit had 16 flags for 132 yards—and while they won, they can't do that every game.
In fact, it's hurt them before and not just last week.
The Lions need to stop with the penalties and they need to do that yesterday.
Another spot which fits in neither category above is special teams. One hopes a big focus in the past week was special teams, as this group has not been good.
Put aside the touchdowns on both punt and kick returns—they're giving up too much good field position.
Aside from flags, it's one of the bigger things killing them.
And for the love of all that is football, don't kick it to Hester.
The Lions have to turn it around this week, but as I said, it's no easy task.
However, if they can get to Jay Cutler and are able to protect the ball when they have it on offense, they can make a big statement to the rest of the division this Monday night.
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