Free safety Glover Quin had one of the best views in Soldier Field Week 11 to watch Chciago Bears running back Jordan Howard run up and down the field against his defense.
Howard, who last week became the first Bears running back to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, finished with 125 yards and a score that chilly afternoon in November.
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky rushed six times for 53 yards, and backup running back Tarik Cohen got in on the action with 44 yards. All in all, Detroit’s defense gave up 222 rushing yards to the Bears in that first matchup. It nearly cost them the game.
“We definitely weren’t good enough,” Quin said this week, when asked about Detroit’s rush defense the first time around vs. the Bears. “We were fortunate to come out of the game with a win because any time you can run the ball like that, it’s really tough to win football games. We definitely can’t allow that to happen again.”
Quin was Detroit’s third-leading tackler in that first game, which is never a good sign for a safety.
Stopping the run has been a problem for the Lions of late, but really their woes were magnified after losing run-stopping defensive tackle Haloti Ngata Week 5. Over the first five weeks of the season, the Lions allowed an opponent to rush for 100 yards as a team just once. Over their past eight games without Ngata, they’ve allowed six such performances, including two 200-yard efforts by opponents.
“They run the ball as well as anybody that we’ve seen to date,” Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said of the Bears.
“What they were able to do against us, what they were able to do last week (232 yards vs. Cincinnati), they’re blocking extremely well up front. The backs are running extremely hard and with that, they’re doing a nice job in terms of mixing that with their play actions and so it keeps a lot of teams off balance when you got to be concerned about the run.”
In three career games vs. the Lions, Howard is averaging more than 100 yards per contest (107) on 17 carries.
“I mean, we’ve had trouble stopping (Jordan) Howard since he’s been here the last three games,” Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said this week. “He’s had good games against us, he’s a good runner, he’s got really good vision, runs behinds his pads.”
Cohen has given the Bears a lightning element to complement the thunder Howard provides them. Cohen is electric, evident by his highlight-reel 61-yard punt return touchdown a couple weeks back vs. San Francisco. Austin knows his defeners have to be gap sound and sure tacklers Saturday as to not allow Chicago’s run game to be as much of a factor as it was the first go around.
“You got to make sure you know which guys in the game and they’re doing a good job of putting them both in the game, but you got to try to figure out, ‘Hey how do we get these guys corralled;’ make sure you have the edge, and make sure that you’re taking proper angles in the tackle,” Austin said.
“(If) we have guys jumping out of their gaps, or jumping around their gaps, that’s going to give us problems. So, we’ve got to be really disciplined in what we do, and how we attack these guys.”
TRUBISKY ON THIRD DOWN
Defensive coordinators often times lick their chops creating a game plan the week they know they’re facing a rookie quarterback. Coordinators like Austin usually come up with a wrinkle or two, whether it's an exotic blitz here or a new coverage look they haven’t shown on film.
When it comes to third down, and especially third and long, defenses can make it very hard on inexperienced rookie quarterbacks.
Take a look at five key matchups for the Lions-Bears game Saturday at Ford Field.
But third down has been where Trubisky has set himself apart from most rookie signal callers. Among all 31 qualified quarterbacks with enough attempts on third down, Trubisky is the only one who hasn’t thrown an interception this season.
His passer rating of 97.3 on third down is the fifth best in the NFL, ahead Drew Brees (95.6), Matt Ryan (95.2) and Tom Brady (89.4).
“He does play with a lot of poise,” Caldwell said of Trubisky. “I just think he does a nice job of taking care of the ball I think on any down and distance.”
The Lions have been very good at taking the football away from opponents this season. Their 24 takeaways are third most in the NFL.
Can they get another one off Trubisky Saturday, maybe one on a big third down?
JOE DAHL’S TURN?
The Lions have started eight different combinations along their offensive line this season, and it’s looking like Saturday could be No. 9.
Center Travis Swanson sat out the open portion of practice Thursday, and isn’t expected to play Saturday due to the concussion he suffered last week in Tampa Bay.
That means Graham Glasgow will likely shift over to center. With Corey Robinson probably needing to play right tackle because Rick Wagner (ankle) remains out of practice, we could see a new starter at left guard Saturday.
The two most likely candidates are second-year player Joe Dahl and veteran Don Barclay.
Dahl, Detroit’s fifth-round draft pick last year, played in three games earlier this year before going on IR with a leg injury. He came into the year figuring to be a key reserve at guard. He was designated to return from IR a couple weeks back, and was activated to the 53-man roster last week.
“Yeah, he’s been in the system a while, and Joe’s progressed physically,” Caldwell said Thursday. “Obviously, the mental growth that comes along with being here over time, and I think Joe will perform well.”
If it is Dahl, he'll have his hands full with the likes of Akiem Hicks and the stout Bears defensive front.
Detroit has selected tight end Eric Ebron (offense), defensive end Ziggy Ansah (defense) and kicker Matt Prater (special teams) as captains for Saturday’s game.