Statistically speaking, when breaking down the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions' fight for NFC North supremacy this week, it's been tough to find a stat more even than quarterback protection.
Both Detroit and Chicago are tops this season in protecting the passer. The Lions have allowed only two sacks and 15 quarterback hits while rating first overall in offensive line efficiency. Stunningly, after years of not being able to protect Jay Cutler, the Bears finally are this season, only allowing three sacks and 13 quarterback hits. They're just behind Detroit, second overall in offensive line efficiency, one year after finishing 25th.
So, two teams with dominant defensive lines will battle this week, yet both also protect their quarterback extraordinarily. Something's got to give somewhere. From Chicago's standpoint (and The MMQB's Peter King) the key matchup will be Ndamukong Suh against Kyle Long. The two have exchanged pleasantries this week, but if Long, a rookie, is not up to the task, it could be a long day for Cutler. Otherwise, Ziggy Ansah, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley are also capable of bringing heat and pressuring the line.
Detroit, meanwhile, will look to exploit the Bears' notable loss of Henry Melton. They'll certainly try to run in the middle of the line and test his replacement Nate Collins. Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers will still test tackles Riley Reiff and either Jason Fox or Corey Hilliard, whomever plays. All have played well, though, and rookie Larry Warford has made a seamless transition to the NFL at guard, boosting the interior.
Knowing such tough sledding will exist up front for both defenses, it might be wise to watch the secondariness, especially with players like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Reggie Bush and Martellus Bennett on the field. The Bears rank 24th in the league in pass defense compared to Detroit's 18th (the one major statistical disparity between the teams) and have Charles Tillman fighting several ailments. Even with the loss of Nate Burleson and the expected loss of Patrick Edwards for a second week, both Johnson and Bush will be a handful, meaning Chicago could be vulnerable, despite the fact they're tied with the Lions, having five interceptions on the year.
Obviously, if any line is able to find the ability to create constant pressure, it will help either secondary's effectiveness. This week, given Tillman's problems, it's most important for the Bears to pressure Matthew Stafford into bad decisions, and hope Stafford doesn't rebound after an early interception last week. Behind Tillman, there isn't excellent depth, and the Lions could clearly exploit Chicago here. Detroit, meanwhile, could probably get by with a minimal effort from the defensive line given how well Chris Houston has played.
The statistical parallels between the Bears and the Lions are unavoidable in several offensive and defensive categories. The game could be decided by the smallest of margins, meaning precision will be key on both sides of the ball Sunday afternoon for each team, and every mistake could prove huge.
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