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6.) Bears front 7 played pretty well
Led by DT Stephen Paea with a season high +7.9 grade from PFF and Jay Ratliff (+1.9), the defense sacked Stafford 4 times, hit him 9 times, and had 12 QB hurries as well. The front seven forced Stafford to make quick decisions and it resulted in 2 INTs, a worse completion percentage than Jimmy Clausen and a QB rating of just 53.7. It wasn’t enough to lead the Bears to victory and they did seem to tire in the 4th quarter but overall the front 7 played one of it’s best games of the season. Even Shea McClellin got 2 QB hits!
The front seven’s performance was even more impressive considering that sack leader Willie Young missed most of the 2nd half. His replacement, 2nd-year DE David Bass, had one of the 4 sacks of Stafford. Bass will get another chance to play next week because Willie Young was diagnosed with a torn achilles tendon and is out for week 17. As long as rehab goes well, Young should be ready to go by training camp. The Bears mix of developing young talent and returning veterans could actually be the strength of the team next year.
6.) Despite the stats, Kyle Fuller has a solid game
Every week rookie Kyle Fuller gets matched up against the opposing team’s #1 WR and it doesn’t get more difficult than the Lions Calvin Johnson. Fuller didn’t exactly shut Johnson down as he finished the game with 6 catches for 103 yards, but Stafford targeted Johnson 12 times and only completed half of them. Fuller also kept Johnson out of the end zone and held him to just 1 catch in the 4th quarter when the game was still in doubt. Overall it was a pretty good performance for the rookie corner.
7.) The special teams unit was actually decent, except for punter Pat O’Donnell
The special teams unit just can’t put a complete game together. It was a pretty solid day for the coverage unit as they didn’t allow a return longer than 16 yards and Sherick McManus recovered a fumble that led to a Bears TD. Kick returned Marc Mariani had his 2nd solid game in a row with a 24.7 yard return average on three attempts. There were no blocked punts or field goals which is a win for this group. The only blight on the day was the inconsistent punting of rookie Pat O’Donnell. For most of the year, O’Donnell has been the bright spot on a dismal ST unit, but it figures that when the rest of the unit finally plays well O’Donnell would struggle.
O’Donnell did have two nice punts of his five on the day. One that would have pinned the Lions at the 11 yard, but the Lions returner allowed the ball to hit him and the Bears recovered. The other was a 48 yarder with good hang time that wasn’t returnable. His long punt of the day (51 yards) had no hang time which allowed a 14 yard return for a net of only 37 yards. O’Donnell also shanked a 37 yarder from deep in Bears territory that gave the Lions the ball near mid-field. He’s been playing well lately, but Sunday wasn’t one of his better efforts.
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10.) Young LBs improving
Rookie Christian Jones led the Bears with 11 tackles, including 6 stops near the line of scrimmage, had his first NFL sack and was around the ball all game. Jones has filled in for Lance Briggs at the starting weak-side LB position the last two weeks and has shown flashes of being a potential difference maker. Jones has all the athletic tools you look for in a linebacker and has shown surprisingly good instincts this year. He still makes his share of mistakes as most rookies do, but played his best game of the season on Sunday and should be the front-runner for the starting WLB spot next year. 2013 4th-round pick Khaseem Greene didn’t even see the field on Sunday and his future with the Bears looks bleak.
2nd-year LB Jon Bostic has been criticized often in the local media and in this space occasionally, but in his defense the Bears have moved him all over the field and he has played all three LB spots at times this season. His best games have come at the MLB position (where he played in college) and for the last two games the Bears have started him there. Bostic makes more mental errors than you want to see in a 2nd year player, but he is improving and has played well against the run this year. His coverage against tight ends will need to improve, but he is one of the most athletic players on the team and a combo of Bostic and Jones could significantly improve the Bears team speed next season.
11.) Get Michael Ola off the field
Lions DT Ndamukong Suh is a tough match-up for any NFL guard, but Ola was destroyed on Sunday. He gave up 2 sacks, a QB hit, and 2 hurries on the day, had a crucial false start on 4th & 2 that forced a punt, and whiffed on a block during a screen play that resulted in a loss of yards. If it were just one bad game against a top DT it wouldn’t be a big deal, but Ola has had three sub-par games in a row and has struggled in 8 of his last 10 appearances. He looked like a steal the first few weeks of the season, but has regressed badly. Maybe it’s just the rookie wall, but Ola has proved that he can’t get the job done right now. The Bears should try 7th round pick Charles Leno or practice squad G Conor Bofeli to see if either can contribute next year. They can’t do any worse than Ola did this week.
12.) Same old Lions
I thought that maybe bringing in a new head coach like Jim Caldwell would clean up the Lions play a little, but I guess not. For years they have been known as the dirtiest team in the NFC North and one of leaders in dumb penalties. On Sunday Lions center Dominic Raiola pulled one of the dirtiest moves I have seen all season. Raiola was struggling all game to contain Stephen Paea and after getting pushed back into the pocket, Raiola went out of his way to stomp on Ego Ferguson’s ankle as he was laying prone on the field. In his NFL career Raola has been fined five times previously for safety-related rule violations and teammate Ndamukong Suh has been fined twice for similar stomping incidents. It’s a standard Lions maneuver.
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If that wasn’t bad enough, DE Ziggy Ansah hit QB Jimmy Clausen with a helmet to helmet shot after Clausen had slid at the end of a run. The play happened in the 4th quarter with the Bears driving for a potential game winning TD, so I don’t think the penalty was on purpose. More likely it was a remnant of how Ansah was coached to hit last year under the notoriously dirty Jim Schwartz.
As usual, I will be rooting for the Lions to lose the rest of the way and it would be fitting if it’s a penalty for a late hit or cheap shot that costs them the game.