Complementary Football a Huge Key for Bears

Gene Chamberlain

Former Bears coach Marc Trestman used to talk incessantly about playing complementary football.

This is what it has come to with the 3-5 Bears in this four-game losing streak: Quoting from the book of Trestman.

Complementary football is the offense helping the defense by producing points and preferably some possession time, while the defense does its part by getting the ball back on three-and-outs or with turnovers.

Special teams fill in the space between by providing field position and points.

When it all works together it's a well-tuned symphony, and when one aspect of the team flops then there is trouble.

The Bears and their opponents Sunday, the Detroit Lions, both have operated all year with one side of the football in complete disarray.

The Lions have a passing game so good Matthew Stafford ranks No. 1 in yards passing per game, while the rest of the Lions attack is mundane and their defense is near the bottom of the league against both the run and pass.

This is a good matchup because the Bears offense is as bad as the Lions defense.

For the Bears, getting to 4-5 comes down to making enough plays in pass defense or rushing Stafford to limit the Lions on offense. Meanwhile, they need Mitchell Trubisky and their own offense to do what they did when matched up against a bad Redskins defense. They need to produce enough scoring to offset the plays Detroit's passing game will inevitably make.

There are three keys for the Bears to create a symphonic melody of complementary football, or at least enough of it to climb past the Lions and out of last place in the NFC North.

3. Early Down Defensive Dominance

Stopping Lions running back Kerryon Johnson is an essential for the Bears if they hope to limit Stafford. They're not going to completely shut down Stafford's passing, but he isn't going to scramble to escape their pass rush and if they can stop Johnson on first or second down, they can force third-and-long and give their pass rush a chance to create havoc. They were able to do this twice last year for wins and Khalil Mack had one big game and another solid effort. It's also the best way to get a turnover by taking advantage of Stafford's knack for taking gambles.

2. Work the Safeties

Starter Tracy Walker is out due to injury and backup Miles Killebrew has a concussion and is out. The best way for the Bears to take advantage is to run intermediate range pass plays with conflict of assignment, or to throw screens at the Lions and get the safeties moving around. Trubisky isn't going to stand deep in the pocket and throw downfield against a zone defense, but if they get the safeties to move they can take advantage of this flaw in the pass coverage.

1. Possess the Football

The Lions have lost three straight and failed to stop the run in each game. This was supposed to be a strength of their defense with Snacks Harrison in the middle, but it hasn't worked out this way. The Bears need to take advantage of the 27th-ranked run defense by gaining consistent, steady yardage on early downs without penalties or tackles for losses. The best way is with David Montgomery in the running game or as a receiver. It's probably they'll have Cody Whitehair back at center and James Daniels at left guard. The Bears need to execute the inside zone blocking scheme well, and even use some I-formation runs to get their blockers to the second level against a suspect group of Lions linebackers. If they make the steady yardage on early downs, it makes it easier for Trubisky to pick up third downs and keep the ball. In that way they can play complementary football, help their defense by keeping Stafford off the field and essentially be a more physical team.

The line: Bears by 2 1/2.

The call: Bears 23, Lions 21

Elsewhere This Week

The Line
The Pick

Chiefs -6 at Titans

Chiefs 33, Titans 24

Bills +3 at Browns

Browns 17, Bills 13

Cardinals +4 1/2 at Bucs

Bucs 31, Cardinals 24

Giants -3 at Jets

Jets 17, Giants 14

Falcons +13 1/2 at Saints

Saints 27, Falcons 16

Ravens -10 at Bengals

Ravens 24, Bengals 13

Pathers +5 1/2 at Packers

Packers 24, Panthers 20

Dolphins +11 1/2 at Colts

Colts 31, Dolphins 17

Rams -4 at Steelers

Steelers 24, Rams 19

Vikings +3 at Cowboys 

Cowboys 21, Vikings 17

Seahawks +6 1/2 at 49ers

Seahawks 20, 49ers 16