LIONS INSIDER

Sunday's finale will feature two of the best in the game: Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall

Posted Dec 30, 2012

The two best receivers in the NFC, and conference starters in the Pro Bowl, will be on display Sunday at Ford Field.

Calvin Johnson is aiming to become the first 2,000-yard receiver in the history of the league with 108 yards on Sunday.

Chicago’s Brandon Marshall, who trails Johnson by four catches for the most in the NFL (117-113), has 1,466 yards and 11 touchdowns and is trying to keep the Bears in the playoff hunt with a win.

Both Johnson (6-5, 235) and Marshall (6-4, 230) use their big bodies to their advantage and cause serious matchup problems for defenses.

Johnson is the more physically gifted receiver with better speed and a better vertical jump. He can go up over any defender to make the catch and can take the roof off a go route.

Marshall is a better route runner and is more likely to make a big play running after the catch. He uses his body to get position on defenders and can separate from them as a precise route runner.

“They both use their bodies well,” said Lions cornerback Chris Houston, who typically draws the assignment of covering Marshall and also matches up against Johnson in practice every day.

“They use their height to an advantage down in the red zone and it’s about body presence and body position.

“I think Calvin is kind of more of a jump ball (receiver). Brandon Marshall gets the ball more on the back shoulder.”

Houston said one of Marshall’s better tricks is that he’s late catching the ball on fade routes and doesn’t show the defender when the ball is in the air.

Johnson is chasing history and Marshall is fighting for the playoffs. That should make for must-see TV.

HISTORY
The series dates back to Oct. 22, 1930 when the Lions began as the Portsmouth Spartans. The Lions are 65-95-2 all time in the regular season vs. Chicago. The Lions won the last matchup at Ford Field, 24-13, last year. The Bears beat the Lions 13-7 in an earlier meeting this season.

2012 REGULAR SEASON STATISTICS (Rank)

 LionsBears
Record 4-11 9-6
Points per game 23.2 (16) 23.3 (15)
Total yards per game 414.2 (2) 305.3 (28)
Rushing yards 102.7 (23) 121.7 (9)
Passing yards 311.5 (1) 183.6 (29)
Points allowed 27.4 (29) 16.9 (2)
Total yards allowed 337.9 (13) 314.9 (5)
Rushing yards allowed 116.3 (18) 103.7 (9)
Passing yards allowed 221.6 (14) 211.2 (6t)
Turnover ratio -12 (26) +16 (2)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Lions

Calvin Johnson, WR:

A 2,000-yard receiving season is within reach for Johnson, who needs 108 yards to reach the historic mark.

Standing in his way is a Bears defense that held him to only three catches for 34 yards earlier this season and ranks No. 6 against the pass through 15 games.

Matthew Stafford, QB:

Stafford needs 305 yards to become the first player with back-to-back 5,000-yard seasons (Drew Brees can also do it with 229 yards this weekend) in league history.

Stafford would probably give up a getting to 5,000 for a couple touchdowns and a win, though. Stafford hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass over his last 10 quarters.

Mike Thomas, WR/KR:

The Lions have moved beyond Stefan Logan as their primary returner and are going to give Thomas a try.

Thomas, whom the team traded for midseason, averaged 10.5 yards per punt return and a touchdown in 2010 with Jacksonville.

Bears

Jay Cutler, QB:

Bears have won six of their past seven games against the Lions with Cutler throwing 11 touchdowns and one interception in those games. Against the rest of the NFC North, Cutler has lost eight of 14 starts, with 23 touchdown passes and 25 interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Cutler has not played particularly well over his last six games since missing Week 10 with a concussion. He has six touchdowns and six interceptions over that span.

Charles Tillman, CB:

Speaking to Chicago Sun-Times reporter Sean Jensen this week, Tillman said he doesn't want Johnson to top 2,000 yards on him. His goal against Johnson is to hold him under 100.

Tillman has three defensive touchdowns this season, which set the Bears’ all-time franchise record with nine.

The Pro Bowl corner has done the best job of any defender this season on Johnson.

Julius Peppers, DE:

Peppers, who was voted to his eighth Pro Bowl on Wednesday, is coming off a monster game last week in a victory over Arizona.

He had three sacks; four tackles-for-loss, two quarterback hits and a pass break-up in the Bears 28-13 win.

Peppers now has 11.5 sacks on the year and is the first Bear since Rosevelt Colvin (2001-02) to have back-to-back double-digit sack seasons.

5 KEYS FOR LIONS

TURNOVERS
The number that made the biggest difference in the Lions’ 13-7 loss to the Bears back in October was four -- as in four Lions turnovers. The Lions lost the turnover differential 4-0, with two of them coming in the Bears’ red zone.

The Lions haven’t been on the right side of the turnover battle in many games this season and their 4-11 record is a result.

The Bears excel at punching the ball away from ball carriers with 17 fumble recoveries on the year. They also have 23 interceptions, making for a plus-16 turnover ratio.

The Lions outplayed and out-gained the Bears the first time around, but turnovers proved too much to overcome.

They hang onto the football and they have a chance.

GET TO CUTLER
It’s a key for the Lions every week, but especially this week, and especially against a quarterback like Jay Cutler who has shown that he can get rattled by pressure.

Unfortunately, the Lions haven’t quite figured out how to apply the appropriate pressure to Cutler over the years. He is 6-1 vs. Detroit with the Bears with 11 touchdowns, one interception and has a 101.2 rating.

Cutler is a better athlete than he gets credit for and the does a good job stepping up in the pocket to avoid pressure. The Lions defensive line hasn't been consistent enough applying pressure this season and have only one more shot to make up for it.

NO FREEBIES
The Bears scored five defensive touchdowns during their 7-1 start. But they've scored just twice since, both coming last week in a 28-18 win over Arizona. They’ve scored a total of nine times on defense this season and need one more to tie the NFL record.

The Bears have averaged just 11.4 points per game in their last five losses and has had a tough time generating anything on offense.

They rely heavily on their defense to help win them games. The key for the Lions is to make the Bears earn all the points they get by making them drive the football.

FLIP THE SCRIPT
The Lions haven’t scored once on defense this season. When they won 10 games last season, the defense scored five times.

The ball hasn’t bounced the Lions way very much and when it has the defense has either failed to catch it or pick it up.

With the offense depleted by injury – especially in the receiving corps – they could use a return touchdown and some free points.

The Lions are the only team in the NFL without a return touchdown of any kind (interception, fumble, punt or kickoff) this season.

FEED THE BEAST
Johnson already broke the single-season receiving record and has 1,892 receiving yards and five touchdowns on the season. Him getting to 2,000 yards would be one of the few positives to take out of season filled with disappointments.

Ford Field was electric at the end of last week’s game vs. Atlanta because of Johnson’s pursuit of Jerry Rice’s record. The fans were into it until the very end despite the Lions not being in the game late.

Stafford needs to feed the beast and give the Ford Field crowd what it came to see.