Watchtower Review: Bears vs. Lions

>> 10.12.2011

Reviewing the Watchtower after wins is always fun; reviewing The Watchtower after THIS win is going to be especially delicious. Let’s look at what we came up with for the Bears offense:

I project the Bears to score 20-23 points, passing for 5.75–6.25 YpA, and rushing for 4.85–5.15 YpC. I have high confidence in this projection.

If there’s anything we learned from the dirty cheating Vikings, it’s that crowd noise can give a huge advantage to a pass rush. The Bears have struggled to protect Cutler this year, allowing 15 sacks—more than any other team except the Rams. As I wrote for Bleacher Report, the Lions have played much, much better at home than on the road in 2011, and if that trend continues the Bears won’t score anywhere near this many. Unless Forte rolls for 200 yards again, I don’t see a situation where the Bears score significantly more than 23 points on the Lions.

What the Bears actually did was score 13 points, pass for 6.55 YpA, and run for 4.88 YpC. Jay Cutler—who, as I said in Three Cups Deep, was phenomenal—was a little be better at moving the ball than I’d projected, but the Lions held Forte’s effectiveness to the bottom end of my expectations.

The crowd noise and pass rush did the trick, preventing the Bears from converting 371 yards of offense into any more than 13 points. The “Mitigating/Aggravating Factors” paragraph explained that I saw 23 as a hard cap, but if everything broke the Lions’ way, 20 was far above the floor. Commenter Imperical Evidence was bold enough to predict the Bears wouldn’t top 14, and I doff my cap to him.

Besides the ridiculous amount of penalties on both sides, which slowed the pace of the game to a crawl, the Bears managed to string together a lot of long drives. The time of possession favored Chicago by a nearly two-to-one margin. Forte and Cutler kept magically converting third downs—but the defensive backs kept all the Bears well in front of them. Fleeing the relentless front four, into the smothering horde of the back seven, Chicago’s offense was trapped. Slate’s Tom Scocca said it best:

Cutler had crossed over into the same waking nightmare state that Donovan McNabb was in during Super Bowl XXXIX, as the Eagles offense dawdled away any hopes of a comeback. Cutler's intentions no longer had anything to do with winning, or even scoring—his world had shrunk down to the space between finding the next dumpoff receiver and getting clobbered by the Lions again. Checkdown, crawl to his feet, checkdown once more. That was the only thing he could do, so he did it.

The Lions’ offense fared a little better against Chicago’s defense.

If we leave schematic interplay out of it, we’d expect the Lions to score quite a bit more than their season average on the year, throw a little better than usual, and have a nice game running the ball. However, if we apply what might be the most tried-and-true schematic effect I’ve ever identified, the scoring should be less high because of turnovers, but the passing and running games should have banner days.

Therefore, I project the Lions to score 33-36 points, while passing for 8.50—9.00 YpA, and rushing for 3.50—4.00 YpC. I have high confidence in this projection.

The Lions only scored 24 points, though they did pass for 8.43 YpA. Of course, Jahvid Best’s ridiculous night ballooned the rushing average to 9.05 YpC. On a night the Lions were moving the ball quite well, they beat themselves when trying to convert those yards into points.

Matthew Stafford killed the Lions chances to reclaim the lead before halftime with an interception that was entirely his fault. In the fourth quarter, a Willie Young sack ultimately forced the Bears to punt from their own 4. Stefan Logan got the ball to the Bears’ 44, but Keiland Williams got called for a block in the back on the return. On the ensuing 3rd-and-4, a Dominic Raiola penalty negated a brilliant Jahvid Best 14-yard reception, and the Lions had to punt away a great scoring opportunity.

The Lions also took their foot off the gas late in the fourth. Throughout the game, the Bears had shown a “cover one” look with safety Brandon Meriweather playing deep centerfield, with press man coverage on every Lions target. It looked like this:

The Chicago Bears showing a deep cover one look against the Detroit Lions. Calvin Johnson is single covered. Brandon Meriweather is off frame to the right. Trust me.

Meriweather is off-frame, playing that deep deep centerfield. The Bears showed this look several times throughout the game, and the Lions consistently fed it to Megatron. It’s true: if Johnson is single covered, it’s automatically going to him. In fact, Stafford took his only sack of the game on this play waiting for Johnson to get open. He stared Johnson down, reared back to throw, then felt heat and pulled it back down. Israel Idonije had pushed Cherilus back with a bullrush, and Stafford didn’t feel Johnson was open enough to let fly.

Once inside four minutes, though, the Lions went from hitting Johnson every time the Bears showed this look to running every time the Bears showed this look. They were indisputably trying to put it in the cooler. Now, they chewed two full minutes off the clock and made it a two-possession game at the end, but the opportunity for more points was there.

On the whole, the defense did an amazing job of containing the Bears offense on a day when Cutler did no wrong. The offense missed some opportunities, but made the plays the opponent couldn’t make. In the end, it was clear who the better team was—and as the stats projected, the better team won.

Next week might be a different story.


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