Kent Lee Platte, DLD Writer
It’s edging closer to two weeks since Matthew Stafford’s franchise defining fake spike TD against the Cowboys to win in regulation, but the team still seems to be riding high. Facing the easiest schedule in the league (If you haven’t heard it 7,000 times by now), and with the Bears and Packers both tied…but very dinged up…the Lions are facing their best chance to win the NFCN since the last time they won it. *Note: They’ve never won the NFCN, so I meant in ever*
Despite how everything seems to be working in their favor at the moment, the Lions still need to execute on game days, and no game more encompasses that ideal than this week against the Chicago Bears. A win and the Lions are sitting alone atop the NFCN, putting one more nail in the Bears’ season. A loss, and the Lions lose their tiebreaker with the Bears and could potentially be third in the division with a Packers victory. It’s an important game, and the Lions are treating it that way while simultaneously claiming it’s just 1 in 16. So what matchups are flying under the radar this week?
The Bears Safeties vs. Literally Anyone with a Pulse
The Lions have their best Safety tandem that they’ve had in recent memory in Glover Quin and Louis Delmas, both of which have remained healthy and relatively (though not completely) mistake free. The Bears, however, are fielding a pair that could rival the days when C.C. “Can’t Cover” Brown was roaming midfield aimlessly, targeting which offensive player he could fail to tackle next. The Lions were tentative with their deep ball a few weeks ago, but seemed more eager (And successful) against the Cowboys. This is just too good to be true, and the Lions will have to exploit this matchup early and often. If Chris Conte and Major Wright aren’t seeking therapy after facing Calvin Johnson, Kris Durham, and anyone else they can on deep routes, the Lions have failed this week.
Darius Slay vs. the Rookie Jitters
The Lions 2013 2nd round pick made his season debut in disastrous fashion, failing at nearly everything and getting benched twice. Since that time, he has gotten better and better, and even had a couple of TDs against him where you just shrug and note that you can only do so much in coverage (A la Dez). He’s improved in every aspect of the game, and while his contribution in the Cowboys game will likely be defined by a long TD to Terrance Williams, it should be noted he had played the rest of that game in the good to superb range. There’s still a lot of growing for the young corner, but he matches up well athletically against Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. I’ll be disappointed if the Lions try to use him to press often (Not so good there, poor match up), but getting him on the big guys and playing the ball and we could see his first interception. Or, he could be completely outmatched and have a long, long night.
Jonte Green vs. the Bench
Remember him? Jonte Green was drafted in the 6th round of 2012, and while he started off pretty poorly that season, he started to really come into his own as the season progressed and gave up only 3 TDs on the season. If you’ve missed him this season, that’s because he’s been a healthy scratch nearly every week, despite injury concerns with almost everyone in front of him. The Lions even brought in Nickelbacks DJ Moore and Joselio Hanson this week for tryouts due to Bill Bentley’s knee injury. It’s interesting and a bit confusing that he’s seen such a fall off in the eyes of the coaches after improving so much last season, but it will be interesting to see if he is pressed into action against the Bears.
LaAdrian Waddle vs. Expectations
Everyone knew the kind of physical specimen Waddle was, his undrafted status was due almost entirely to the offense at Texas Tech. What we DIDN’T know was that he would come on fast and come on strong, and his performance against the Cowboys was nothing short of dominant and inched close to perfection. That said, like I mentioned in my last “Six Matchups” post, he was doing so against a bunch of scrubs. It’s a little different this week going against a hot Shea McClellin and “The Freak” Julius Peppers. Both of which have performed lukewarm compared to expectations, along with the Bears pass rush in general due in large part to losing their starting DTs, but it’s a much better test of Waddle’s abilities going against these two than he faced against Dallas. Will he continue to perform at a high level, or drop off?
The Bears LBs vs. the Coming Storm
To say the Bears’ Linebacking corps was reeling after the loss of Lance Briggs would be as much of an understatement as saying the Packers ‘might’ miss Aaron Rodgers. Jon Bostic has big hit written on every play, but his consistency has been lacking to say the least. Fellow rookie Khaseem Greene hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations many draft analysts placed on him as a big steal in the 4th round, but has only seen limited action prior to Briggs’ injury. The LBs were ran all over by Eddie Lacey and James Starks, and they have spent the last week preparing for more speed than they saw last week in Reggie Bush and better elusiveness in Joique Bell. The Lions LOVE to get their RBs in space, and this will be a massive mismatch if the Lions are able to exploit it. Bush ran for 7.7 YPC the last time he faced the Bears, and their defense was playing better then than it has been recently.
Sam Martin vs. Devin Hester
Prior to this season, many analysts thought that Devin Hester had seen his last days. He’s proven them wrong for the most part this season, and remains a dangerous weapon in the Bears arsenal. The Lions coverage units got a boost this week when Montell Owens returned from injury, and matching Owens up along with Wendling and Gomes this becomes a very interesting complement to Martin’s big leg. Martin may try to boot it out the end zone every time, and he’s surely capable of that, but Hester will try to take one out if given the opportunity. If this game becomes hard fought, as it was late the last time these two teams faced off, Martin’s ability to put the ball in the air long enough for coverage to develop coupled with his ability to get it as deep as possible could break the game wide open…if he fails. It will be an interesting matchup, no doubt.
You can follow Kent on Twitter @RestoreRoarMan