Can Ndamukong Suh mean so much? And the way things are going for both since their divorce, might they want to turn back the clock, take their chances, and continue the relationship?
It would be unwise for the Bears, after two hard-fought, undermanned victories, to think they can walk into Motown, simply throw their pads on the field and beat the 0-5 Lions. The playoff team from last year is beaten down, and probably angry as the Bears eye their bye week with a potential (and improbable) 3-3 record. You can bet John Fox and his coaching staff will be emphasizing the need to be ready, and fight as hard as they have the past two weeks to avoid a two-week-long bad taste. We'll see if the pupils follow those orders in a game there for the taking, but one they'll need to earn — especially early against a desperate Detroit team. Things were just fine for the first quarter-and-a-half of their opener in San Diego, exploding to a 21-3 lead. Then they lost, 33-28. More recently, it's a team that played like the stunning disappointment of their Monday night loss-from-the-jaws-of-victory at Seattle a little more than a week ago lingered six days later.
The "Hot Mess" starts with an offense that's averaging 49 yards rushing per game. That's 20 yards fewer than the NFL's second-worst unit on the ground, Suh's Dolphins. Over the past four drafts, the Lions have used two first-round picks and two third-rounders on their offensive line. The results on the ground thus far certainly haven't warranted the investment. After running for 860 yards and catching 34 passes last season, it seemed as if all Joique Bell needed was a change-of-pace sub. They seemingly got that in the second round last April in Ameer Abdullah. Bell has missed the last two games with an ankle injury after "gaining" 22 yards on 20 carries the first three weeks, and they haven't committed to Abdullah (40 carries, 132 yards). It got to the point in Sunday's blowout home loss to Arizona that they handed off ten times to undrafted free agent Zach Zenner of South Dakota State, compared to six for Abdullah.
One of the problems with finishing 0-16 (in 2008) without a franchise quarterback is whether you "reach" for one with the top overall pick. Detroit may have done that with Matthew Stafford. Things looked good in 2011, when he threw for over 5,000 yards. But that bar has been difficult to reach since, and has declined each of the past three years, to the point it seems Stafford's been standing in place since. This year's been a step back, for several reasons. But his eight interceptions (against six touchdown passes) leads the NFL, and his 74.8 passer rating ranks 33rd (albeit a notch above Andrew Luck). Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi thought his first year with Stafford was too conservative, and vowed to be more risky, taking shots downfield. It's shot them in the foot so far.
Calvin Johnson isn't battling the ankle problems that plagued him all of last season, but just one of his 32 catches have gone for a touchdown. Golden Tate caught 99 balls a year ago while Megatron limped around, and has 26 through five games (with no TD's) this season. 2014 first-round pick Eric Ebron disappointed as a rookie (25-248, TD in 13 games), and had 15 grabs through the first four games this season, but injured his knee two weeks ago at Seattle and that kept him out of the Cardinals game.
Here's The Suh Factor: They've sunk from 2nd to 22nd in overall defense from a year ago. The top run defense (69 yards a game) is now 27th (126.6). The pass defense has dipped five spots to 18th so far this season.
Making matters worse, the unsung hero, weakside linebacker DeAndre Levy could be done for the year. Head coach Jim Caldwell said Monday he'd leave that in doctors' hands after last season's second-leading tackler in the NFL (first in solos) missed the first four games with a hip injury. He tried coming back Sunday, then left after 17 snaps when he re-aggravated it. Josh Bynes has done his best attempting to fill Levy's shoes.
Suh wasn't the lone departure up front. Nick Fairley joined St. Louis' deep D-Line, while rotation guys C.J. Mosely and George Johnson were also allowed to leave. One of the replacements, former Saint Tyrunn Walker, is already done for the year due to injury. The bright spot up front has been 2013 first-rounder Ziggy Ansah (who concussed Jimmy Clausen in Week 16 last December), who's tied for the league lead with five sacks. He'll be Charles Leno Jr.'s next challenge. But Haloti Ngata (the five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle acquired from Baltimore to replace Suh), has had trouble staying on the field at age 31. After missing all of training camp with a hamstring pull, he sat out last weekend with a calf injury sustained six days earlier in Seattle.
The safety tandem of Pro Bowler Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo certainly benefited a year ago from that up-front dominance, combining for 11 interceptions. The entire secondary has three thus far (including a Quin pick-six), and, with the help of Sunday's six turnovers, is minus-five in that ratio.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
While the Bears units settled down Sunday in Kansas City versus one of the elite overall units in the league run by Dave Toub (and actually "won," considering Pernell McPhee's blocked field goal), they'll need to be spot-on in kickoff coverage. That's where Abdullah's been his most dangerous thus far, ranking second with a 31.6 average. Amazingly, through five games, the Lions have attempted just three field goals, with Matt Prater connecting each time, the longest from 41 yards.
*Get the latest from Bears practice during the week with Dan Jiggetts and Chris Boden. Tune in Wednesday's at 4:30 p.m. for "Bears Huddle," when you'll hear from John Fox, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers and several players. Then come back Thursday at 4 p.m. this week for "Bears Blitz," with the latest from Fox, offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Jay Cutler and a handful of other players, previewing Sunday's matchup in Detroit*