|QB Matthew Stafford and the Detroit offense were grounded Monday at Soldier Field, costing the Lions a golden opportunity to close the gap in the NFC North standings. (US Presswire)|
After starting the season 1-3 and suffering unexpected losses to Tennessee and Minnesota, Detroit had a shot at redemption Monday night at Soldier Field. All the Lions had to do was find a way -- and they said they could -- to limit Chicago’s scoring, and put their first-half offensive woes behind them.
The defense did its job. Chicago was held to 13 points, and the unit got several stops to keep Detroit in the game. But the offense didn’t come close to doing what it needed to do in the 13-7 loss.
The Lions were shut out in the first half and still have just one first-half touchdown this season. Four turnovers and continued poor performance from the passing game led to the Lions squandering every possible opportunity to put pressure on the Bears and make Monday’s game competitive.
A win would have put the Lions back in the thick of the NFC North title race, given Jim Schwartz his first win in Chicago, and provided the team with the momentum that could have carried it to wins against beatable Seattle and Jacksonville teams in the next two weeks.
Instead, the loss leaves Detroit with a 2-4 record, more questions than answers about the offensive problems, and an Everest-sized uphill battle to contend for a playoff place.
WR Calvin Johnson’s big-play ability could have changed the tenor of the game had he been able to catch a pass in space on third down during Detroit’s opening drive. Johnson dropped the pass, however, and the Bears' score on the ensuing possession gave them a lead they never relinquished. Johnson’s drop was symbolic of the Lions’ entire offensive effort. Bears CB Charles Tillman dominated Johnson for most of the game, holding him to just three catches from 11 targets. Still, the Lions moved the ball -- they had 340 yards of total offense -- but failed to capitalize when it counted.
Red-zone efficiency continues to be an issue. Detroit scored on just one of four trips inside the Bears’ 20 yard line. Fumbles by RBs Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell ruined what was an otherwise promising rushing effort. Bell and Leshoure averaged more than five yards per carry, but their turnovers at costly times proved to be Detroit's undoing.
QB Matthew Stafford continues to struggle when he’s asked to find receivers in key situations, and he wasn’t helped by drops from his receivers.
Detroit lost an emotional leader when WR Nate Burleson suffered a season-ending injury (broken leg). His replacement, Ryan Broyles, proved to be the bright spot of the offense. He caught three passes, including Detroit’s only score. Broyles appeared to be fully healthy after tearing his ACL last season, which is a positive sign for the franchise’s future. Previous game’s grade: C
Detroit’s defensive line turned in a solid effort for the second-straight game. DT Ndamukong Suh made the unit’s only sack, but the violent nature of the hit provided an exclamation point for the line’s performance. The front four limited RB Matt Forte’s effectiveness, holding him to an average of three yards per carry on 21 of his 22 carries. Forte did have a 39-yard run early in the game, but he wasn’t much of a factor after halftime.
The linebacking corps provided one of its best performances of the year. Outside linebackers DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant did an outstanding job of maintaining containment and pursuing the ball, and Stephen Tulloch was solid against Chicago’s slot receivers.
The secondary continues to struggle against elite wide receivers -- the Bears' Brandon Marshall had six catches for 81 yards -- but its biggest problem was an inability to stop Chicago on key third downs. The Bears extended all three of their scoring drives by converting third-and-long situations. Newly signed corners Justin Miller and Alphonso Smith were clearly comfortable in the defensive scheme after spending time in Detroit during training camp, but both players were beaten for big plays. Previous game’s grade: B
Special Teams: C
Coordinator Danny Crossman’s coverage teams have improved dramatically since giving up four return touchdowns in two games earlier this season. Bears PR Devin Hester was a non-factor in the return game. Chicago didn’t have a punt return longer than five yards all evening, and Suh was able to block a field goal to keep the Lions within two scores. For all of the positive growth, however, Stefan Logan’s struggles in the return game continue to hurt Detroit. Logan’s muffed punt led to the Bears’ final scoring drive. Previous game’s grade: B
The issue for Schwartz’s staff isn’t the game plan. If Detroit had executed better early in the game, it’s fair to say that the results could have been vastly different. The way the coaches struggled to adjust to Chicago’s defensive game plan, however, left a lot to be desired. Schwartz says that a coach’s job is to put players in situations where they can succeed. Detroit’s coaches didn’t do that Monday night. Previous game’s grade: B-
Follow Lions reporter John Kreger on Twitter at @CBSLions and @JohnKreger