Happy holidays, friends. The Detroit Lions are on a short week, and I'm writing from the comfort of an Amtrak train (without Internet) between Chicago and Flint, so this week's "Things of that nature" will be a little shorter than usual.
Let's get right to the point. I can't stand the Chicago Bears. I've developed the specific brand of loathing that comes from being embedded in a divisional rival's city for a decade. As of my writing this, the Lions are around 6.5-point favorites going into Thursday's game. A one-score victory will not sate my Thanksgiving hunger. I want the Lions to cover that spread like I cover my plate with gravy -- in horrifying excess. Good, decent folk should be appalled to witness it.
Because of the short week, I needed a topic that could be quickly watched, and because of my mood after the Lions' last two games, I needed a topic that could be easily enjoyed. I went with the obvious solution: I watched every one of Jay Cutler's turnovers this season.
Some of Cutler's turnovers reflect what we've all come to expect from Smokin' Jay. His tendency to force throws into tight windows certainly hasn't gone away, even if it does seem to have lessened. But, if there's one non-Cutler issue leading to interceptions, it's the Bears' protection against added pressure.
The Minnesota Vikings send Anthony Barr (No. 55) on a blitz through the A-gap and Captain Munnerlyn (No. 24) through the opposite-side B-gap. Meanwhile, both tackles slant left.
Tom Johnson (No. 92) never gets blocked coming through the line. He doesn't even get touched. Brian de la Puente (he of "Exploiting their weaknesses" fame) and Matt Forte both move to pick up Munnerlyn's blitz. Facing pressure, Cutler chucks up a horrific throw off his back foot for an interception.
This miscommunication between Forte and the Bears' interior line has shown up a couple times.
Here's a shot from the Bears' victory over the New York Jets. (Apologies for the quality, but the All-22 film cuts out on this play, for some reason.) The Jets bring seven on the blitz at the snap, twisting with each 3-tech/5-tech combo and bringing David Harris through the A-gap. Despite the overwhelming pressure, the Bears have seven blockers available to protect Cutler between the six offensive linemen and Forte.
Once again, there is some clear confusion about protection assignments, as Forte moves to block the edge rusher, and de la Puente, playing center in this game, moves to block... nobody. Unless de la Puente believes the play will be blown dead if he allows Harris to run unabated to the quarterback, I have to assume he believes Forte is picking up the A-gap blitz. That obviously doesn't happen, and Harris gets the easiest strip-sack of his career.
Although I had no intention of it happening, apparently Brian de la Puente week is now a thing on Pride Of Detroit. But, the Bears' protection can be beaten even without taking advantage of their much-maligned center/guard, believe it or not. So again, we go to the A-gap.
The New England Patriots bring Dont'a Hightower (No. 54) around the 3-technique on the left side, who engages with the right guard before driving left into the right tackle. Engaging with both linemen creates a wide avenue for Hightower's rush, as the left side of the offensive line worries itself with Vince Wilfork (underneath No. 91 in this image).
Forte is left alone to pick up Hightower coming through the gap, and fails to do so. As Hightower blows past Forte, Zach Moore (No. 90) comes free to combine for a strip-sack that leads to a touchdown.
Teryl Austin's willingness to bring added pressure is critical for the Lions in this game. We've talked about his ability to leverage the talent in the Lions' front seven and create favorable looks, and that seems more important than ever going into Thursday's game. The Lions haven't recorded a sack in two games; making it three would not bode well for their chances. They should get their opportunities. Ndamukong Suh will draw more attention than usual --leaving de la Puente matched up on him alone, or even with the aid of a running back, would qualify as criminally insane. At some point in this game, Austin is going to send DeAndre Levy, Tahir Whitehead or Josh Bynes through the A-gap. A Lions victory could come with it.
Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, everybody.