By Tom Pollin
Cold, Hard Football Facts Motown Mover
The Detroit Lions stormed back onto the Monday Night Football stage for the first time in 10 years with a 24-13 mauling of the Chicago Bears. A Detroit Lions Ford Field record crowd of 67,861 filled the building with noise and confused the patchwork Chicago offensive line into nine false start penalties while celebrating their team’s ‘coming out’ party with the national audience.
Here are five things we will learn once everyone deals with the Tuesday morning hangover:
1. Time for a Detroit Lions adjective transplant.
Except for brief periods since the Bobby Layne glory years back in the 1950s, the sports media has been taught the word hapless when put on the Lions beat. During the Matt Millen “gory years” the adjectives wretched, pathetic and miserable were added to the list.
So far this season Detroit has insisted that the media world lift their heads off the bar long enough (it's called exercise, people) to create a new list. Among the nominees so far are persistent, smart and opportunistic. They proved in Weeks 3 and 4 that if you don’t drive a stake through their heart and finish the game, they won’t stop believing they can come back.
In the second quarter Matthew Stafford watched Julius Peppers limp off the field, knew what it meant and took full advantage.
Stafford dropped back, planted and waited with no pass rush worries while Johnson waved at cornerback Charles Tillman, sold a fake to strong safety Chris Harris and caught a perfectly thrown pass for a 73-yard touchdown.
2. Big play ability wins games.
Say it again and keep saying it.
Some say that running more plays than your opponent offers more opportunities to move the ball and score. The Bears ran 19 more plays than the Lions.
Wait, it’s not just plays. They need to prove they’re moving the ball. The Bears tallied seven more first downs than the Lions.
Wow, the Bears must have held on to the ball a lot longer and kept that dangerous Lions offense off the field. Well yes, they did, by over a full quarter of time. 18:06 to be exact (39:03 to 20:57).
The Bears have Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. Two very effective weapons who manage to make plays in spite of being the focus of every opponent’s defensive game plan. Even while running for his life Cutler managed a quality 99.56 passer rating. Every defensive player on the field has a "Wanted" poster of Forte taped to their lockers and Forte still managed 5.2 yards per carry. For all their effectiveness though, it was the equivalent of carrying a flintlock rifle into a battle against heavy artillery.
While running fewer plays in less time, Detroit was far more efficient with their opportunities. Stafford put together a 107.69 passer rating to gain the advantage in Passer Rating Differential and Detroit converted 45 percent of third downs to Chicago’s 30 percent.
The real game domination took place in Rushing Yards per Attempt and Real Passing Yards per Attempt. Detroit averaged 9.0 yards per carry thanks to Jahvid Best’s 88 yard touchdown run. Stafford passed for a 2.1 yard advantage in Real Passing Yards per Attempt, 7.9 to Cutler’s 5.8.
In other words, the Lions were more efficient up and down the line. And, as Cold, Hard Football Facts has proven over the years, efficiency, not big gaudy stats, is what wins NFL games.
3. Jay Cutler has the cojones of a bull elephant.
Fox can compose all the fake headlines they want. Cutler continues to get hit. Cutler continues to get up. The Chicago Marathon was run this past Sunday without the opportunity for Jay Cutler to participate. Cutler made up for missing that event by running 26 miles in the Chicago backfield. The Chicago offensive line is a throwback. Not to the glory years of Bears history but to the 1920s silent movie era. Their slapstick act has had Cutler running for his life since Week 1 (and all through 2010, too, when the Bears fielded the 32nd-ranked unit on our Offensive Hog Index).
The Detroit pass rush was tough enough on Cutler during the first two-and-a-half quarters that the Lions were still in the game. Once Jahvid Best ran the score to 21-10, Cutler got hit on and ended up in more arms than a stripper at a bachelor party. The Bears need to address the line problems quick before Caleb Hanie or Nathan Enderle becomes the last man standing.
4. The season hasn’t reached the halfway point but it may not be too early for Detroit to start printing playoff tickets.
The Lions still have two matchups with an experienced, playoff tested Packers team but even if they find they can’t quite keep up with Green Bay yet, who’s going to beat them for a wild card slot? Tampa Bay won't be on the plus side of the Quality Standings much longer. The New York Giants just got embarrassed at home against Seattle. The Cowboys can’t seem to deal with their quarterback’s Romo and Hyde personality.
As for the Bears, they’ve fallen quite a ways from the NFC championship game team of a year ago but again, there are a few strong teams leading their divisions and a lot of what-ifs vying for the final wild card spot. Chicago takes a second turn under the spotlight next Sunday night against Minnesota and a trip across the pond to London to play Tampa Bay. A record of 4-3 heading into their bye week can open a lot of doors to the playoffs.
5. Expect the Lions to make another visit to prime time later in the season.
As long as Matthew Stafford stays healthy Detroit is a very attractive team for NBC to flex into a Sunday night spot later in the season. In Week 13 on December 4th, the Sunday night game was set to be another Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady showdown in Foxboro. Without Manning this game is a playoff tune-up for the Patriots.
A match-up that NBC likely already has their eyes on will have Detroit visiting New Orleans with the possibility of a multitude of playoff scenarios spinning off from the result. Don’t be surprised if Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth end up in the Superdome that evening.