LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler calls it merely “circumstance” that he seems to light up the Detroit Lions every time the teams meet, but a look at the numbers suggest otherwise.
Having come out victorious in five of his past six games against Detroit dating to 2010, Cutler has completed 63.4 percent of his passes against the Lions for six touchdowns and one interception and a passer rating of 96.1.
“I don’t think we can pin it down or anything,” Cutler said of his success against Detroit. “They’re getting better and better on defense and offensively. So they’re becoming a team that you’ve got to take seriously. Where we’re at in our season, especially offensively, we’ve got to get to work this week. We’ve just got to finish up tomorrow and be ready for a pretty big challenge, because offensively, they’re capable of scoring a lot of points. Defensively, they’re playing well, especially on third down.”
Detroit’s defense currently ranks first in third-down efficiency, allowing opponents to convert just 26.5 percent (9 of 34) on third downs. The Lions also rank No. 12 in defensive drive kills, where they hold opponents to three-and-out drives, or force a takeaway (7).
With five interceptions, the Lions are also tied for third in the NFL in that category, and tied for second with the lowest touchdown-to-interception margin allowed (2 TDs, 5 INTs).
But Detroit’s defensive line receives most of the recognition because of its duo at defensive tackle in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. In 2012, the Lions forced 123 negative plays (sacks, tackles for lost yardage on running plays, and tackles for lost yardage on pass completions), and the front four played a huge role in that.
“Each week we’re facing a different style of front,” Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “This one will be different with the wide-nine technique that the Detroit Lions choose to play, and their two first-round tackles inside. They put an extra safety inside the defensive ends, which is a little unusual; so another challenge for a new group of linemen and a fullback.”
But Cutler thinks his revamped offensive line can handle it. In his past six games against the Lions, Cutler suffered 20 sacks, including 7 in two games in 2012.
With better protection and a playbook more conducive to getting the ball out of his hands quicker, Cutler thinks his comfort level should only improve, and Detroit’s front four might provide the perfect test.
“I feel good about the guys we have up front,” Cutler said. “They have some really good players, (Suh) and Fairley both. The ends are playing well, too. We’re gonna have to be mindful of them. We’ve been really good operating before the snap of the ball, the first three games. We’ve got to continue that. We’re probably not going to see as many blitzes as we saw last week. That being said, those front four are good. So we have to take care of that. I’ve got to be on time. The receivers got to get to their spots. Everyone collectively, we can’t let down this week. We’ve got to stay on it. We’ve got to stay focused.”
But Detroit’s wide-nine alignment presents a challenge, according to Bears coach Marc Trestman, who mentioned that on occasion guards Kyle Long and Matt Slauson will be “on an island a little bit more at times because the tackles are going to have to leave them early,” which basically means they’ll see several one-on-one snaps against Suh and Fairley.
Cutler is comfortable with that, though, because he knows players such as Long have his back.
“Yeah, you want a guy like that,” Cutler said of Long. “I’m not saying those other four (Bears offensive linemen) wouldn’t come to bat, but they’d have to beat Kyle because he’s going to be the first one in line.”