MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S FINAL THOUGHTS: Putting pressure on Jay Cutler will be key for a Lions' win today

Posted Nov 10, 2013

Close doesn’t count when it comes to sacking the quarterback, and the performance of the defense in the first Bears-Lions game was evidence of that

CHICAGO -- Final thoughts awaiting kickoff of the Lions-Bears game at Soldier Field:

Sack time: Regardless of what condition Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is – full strength, half strength or somewhere in between – the Lions can make their defensive chore easier by getting him on the ground.

The Lions have been getting pressure on quarterbacks the last few games, but the sacks haven’t been there.

Close doesn’t count when it comes to sacking the quarterback, and the performance of the defense in the first Bears-Lions game was evidence of that.

The Lions sacked Cutler three times and had six quarterback hits in a 40-32 victory at Ford Field. Ndamukong Suh led the way for the Lions with two sacks, two hits on Cutler and a forced fumble. He also had two tackles-for-loss.

As a result of the pressure, Cutler had his worst game against the Lions. He had three interceptions, and his two TD passes didn’t come until the last four minutes, when the Bears made the final score look respectable.

A sack by Suh jarred the ball  loose from Cutler, and Nick Fairley ran it in for a touchdown and a 37-16 lead with 20 seconds left in the half.

Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham talked during the week about the effect of pressure on the quarterback and how it disrupts the quarterback’s rhythm.

"So many people see the play, so many people see the home run," Cunningham said during the week. "What  they don’t see is the disruption of the quarterback. The idea is to make him move off of his spot. He takes a three step drop and his back foot hits, don’t let him stay there, and that’s what our guys do a good job of.

"All in all, I can’t answer the question about the sacks other than I would like to see them on the ground, too."

The Lions have only 13 sacks, and they rank 31st in the league in sacks per play.

A breakdown of the Lions’ 13 sacks shows the value of getting the quarterback on the ground because of its impact in terms of lost yardage and potential turnovers.

In the first eight games, the Lions did not give up a touchdown on a possession when they sacked the quarterback.

Twice they forced teams to settle for field goals by sacking the quarterback. In a Game 5 loss at Green Bay, the Packers had first and goal at the four-yard line. A sack forced the Packers to settle for a field goal in an eventual 22-9 victory.

Sweep dreams: A sweep would give the Lions a big advantage over the Bears in the NFC North race because of their earlier victory. It would make the Lions’ record 6-3 compared to 5-4 for the Bears, but it actually would be a two-game advantage because of its impact on tiebreaker formula.

The Lions time the Lions swept the Bears was 2007 – 37-27 at Ford Field and 16-7 in Chicago.

Lion to watch: Rookie Devin Taylor, a fourth-round draft pick from South Carolina, will make his first pro start at right defensive end in place of Ziggy Ansah, the Lions’ first-round pick. Ansah was inactive because of an ankle injury.

Taylor gets more leverage than one would expect from a 6-foot-7 lineman. He has one sack and has improved steadily.

Taylor and the rest of the linemen will have their hands full, though, in breaking through with a big game. The Bears have allowed only 12 sacks.

Bears’ defense: The Lions won’t see the defense that the Bears expected to have on the field at this point. They’ve been hit hard by injuries.

Pro Bowl nose tackle Henry Melton went out for the season with a knee injury in Game 3. Outside linebacker Lance Briggs, a seven-time Pro Bowler, is still out with a shoulder injury.

Defensive end Shea McClellin, who made the hit on Monday night that put Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers out with a broken collarbone, is out. And cornerback Charles Tillman, who’s had more success covering Calvin Johnson than most other quarterbacks, has been subpar because of injuries.

Stafford milestones: Today’s start will be Matthew Stafford’s 41st in a row in the regular season, tying the franchise record for consecutive starts by a quarterback. Greg Landry set the record, from 1970-73. Landry and Stafford both have started one postseason game, giving them 42 straight starts in all games.

Stafford has 15,424 yards passing and needs 287 to pass Bobby Layne for the franchise career record. Layne passed for 15,710 yards as a Lion from 1950-58. Layne was traded to Pittsburgh early in the 1958 season.

Receiver support: Kris Durham has taken advantage of increased playing time since Nate Burleson went out with a broken arm after the Lions’ victory at Washington in Game 3.

Durham had two catches in the first three games and was targeted only five times. Since then, he’s been a frequent target of Stafford.

Durham has been targeted 39 times in the last five games – an average of almost eight per game – and has 23 catches for 266 yards and a touchdown.

Durham’s biggest catch was the 40-yarder in the comeback victory over the Cowboys. Stafford rolled to the right hash mark and fired a laser that Durham caught down the left sideline. The drive ended in Stafford’s leap over the line for the winning touchdown.

Everyone expected Stafford to look for Johnson on the play, but Durham remained alert. Stafford’s instructions to him on the player were "keep running," Durham said.

Sizing up: It would be hard to overthrow the receivers in today’s game. Their size makes them look like the front court of a Division II basketball team.

The Bears’ feel good about the side of their top trip – wide receivers Brandon Marshall (6-4) and Alshon Jeffery (6-3), and tight end Martellus Bennett (6-6.)

The Lions’ are even bigger – Durham (6-6),  Johnson (6-5), and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew (6-5) and Joseph Fauria (6-7).