Forgive the members of the Bears defense if, while they watch tape of the Detroit Lions, they wonder if someone inadvertently put on film of the Chicago offense.
The dysfunctional Bears offense as run through wide receiver Brandon Marshall this season and slipped down among the leagues worst despite the presence of a Pro Bowl receiver and quarterback (Jay Cutler was one once, in 2008).
The Lions have tilted all season toward Calvin Johnson, the consensus best wideout in the NFL, with Pro Bowl alternate quarterback Matthew Stafford channeling passes Johnsons direction the way that Cutler does to Marshall.
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(Almost. Marshall has accounted for 32 percent of Chicagos offensive yardage this season; Johnsons 1,892 yards represent 30.4 of Detroits.)
Stafford is throwing it well, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Theyve lost a few guys and theyre still playing at such a high level. Obviously theres Calvin and the guy Stafford is a heck of a quarterback. Theyve got that thing clicking.
Not truly clicking
But for all of the QB-WR firepower, something is not working for the Lions, just as for the Bears.
Johnson has struggled to get into the end zone, with just five touchdowns from his NFL-leading 117 catches. Marshall has scored 11 times.
Stafford is 305 yards short of throwing for 5,000 yards for a second straight season but has a passer rating (79.2) worse than Cutler (80.2).
Charles Tillman effectively earned his way to a second Pro Bowl with his shutdown of Johnson in the first Bears-Lions game, allowing just three catches for 34 total yards. But the defense held the Lions scoreless until 30 seconds to play.
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That has been the tipping point for Detroit. The gaudy Johnson and Stafford numbers have obscured the fact that the Lions are 16th in scoring with 23.2 points per game.
The only thing people care about is whether youre scoring or not, admitted Lions coach Jim Schwartz. We need to do a better job of getting the ball to other people other than Calvin.
What works, what doesnt
The Bears are 12-5 against the Lions under Lovie Smith, with one obvious thread running through those seasons: The Lions have scored more than 24 points against the Bears just once under Smith (game one, 2007). The Detroit point production increased with the arrival of Stafford in 2009, with four games of 20-24 points but only one of those a victory (game one, 2011) but while the Lions talent ostensibly has improved, the results have not.
The Lions drafted Iowas Riley Reiff with the 23rd-overall pick of the 2012 draft but Reiff has started just seven games, and six of those as a second tight end. He has not been able to unseat 12-year veteran Jeff Backus or right tackle Gosder Cherilus.
Efforts to find a running back to complement Staffords passing netted nothing from a first-round pick in 2010 when Jahvid Best suffered career-threatening concussions, and 2011 second-rounder Mikel Leshoure has not been a true force.
Leshoure has scored nine touchdowns this season despite a mediocre 741 rushing yards and average of 3.7 per carry. But the Lions have vacillated between Leshoure and Joique Bell and failed to achieve anything resembling a challenging run game.
The Lions are 23rd in rushing yards and 17th in average per carry and rushed for 100 yards just once in the past three games (vs. Green Bay, Arizona, Atlanta,), all losses by an average of 16 points to teams ranked 23rd, 22nd and 29th stopping the run.
But for Johnson, Stafford and others on both sides of the ball, beating the Bears might serve as some sort of exit validation for lost season.
They have some records, said linebacker Lance Briggs. The Lions have some records that they can achieve here. There is always winning, ending with a W, ending one of their rivals chances of getting in the playoffs. Thats always big.
You want to leave the season with a good taste in your mouth. So they definitely have things to play for.