Defense faces bigger challenge vs. Matt Stafford at Ford Field

SHARE Defense faces bigger challenge vs. Matt Stafford at Ford Field
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Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is sacked by Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks in the Bears’ 17-14 victory on Oct. 2 at Soldier Field. (Jeff Haynes/AP)

When the Lions came to Soldier Field in October, quarterback Matthew Stafford was on a roll —with a 105.0 passer rating through three games, including a 385-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Packers the previous week.

But a Bears defense missing Pernell McPhee, Eddie Goldman and Danny Trevathan shut him down. Stafford threw for just 213 yards. His longest pass play was 22 yards to fullback Zach Zenner. His longest pass play to a wide receivers was 19 yards to Marvin Jones. He was intercepted twice, both on plays that appeared to be miscommunications. Two reserve cornerbacks, Jacoby Glenn and rookie Deiondre Hall, were in the right place at the right time for the picks. Stafford’s 56.8 passer rating against the Bears is his lowest of the season.

“We worked a lot on our disguises in that game,” cornerback Bryce Callahan said. “Stafford, he likes to sit at the line and kind of wait to see what the defense is doing. We held our disguises pretty good. I don’t think he knew what we were in and that kind of threw off his game a little bit.”

It’s the only game this season the Lions have not scored an offensive touchdown.

“They were extremely physical with us,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “They’ve got a real good scheme. Vic Fangio does as fine a job as anybody in preparing a team to disrupt some of the things that you do well.”

The Bears’ defensive performance against Stafford looks better every week. He threw three touchdowns against the Eagles the following week and four against the Rams the week after that. Since losing to the Bears, Stafford has thrown 14 touchdowns, just one interception for a 104.2 passer rating.

Therein lies a new challenge for the Bears — to defend Stafford and the Lions’ offense as effectively at Ford Field, where Stafford almost always is better. In his career against the Bears, Stafford has s 73.6 passer rating (nine touchdowns, 11 interceptions) at Soldier Field, but a 103.6 rating (12 touchdowns, four interceptions) at home.

McPhee and Goldman are back, but Trevathan is out for the season with a ruptured right patellar tendon and Jerrell Freeman is serving the third game of a four-game suspension. The Bears are playing well defensively — they rank seventh in the NFL in yards allowed, sixth in net passing yards and fifth in sacks per pass play.

They’re coming off their best game of the season statistically —147 net yards, six net passing yards and five sacks against the 49ers in the snow at Soldier Field. But the degree-of-difficulty will much higher against Stafford on the fast track of Ford Field on Sunday.

“It’s a big challenge,” Bears coach John Fox said. “Going back to even my days in Carolina, New Orleans was known for winging it around pretty good, and they were a lot better dome team than outside team. I think that’s true of most dome teams.”

The Bears are concerned with Stafford’s mobility. though Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson have gained more yards on the ground, Stafford’s ability to buy time is a constant threat.

“He’s playing more efficient,” Fangio said. “He’s using his legs a lot more. He’s scrambling to create plays, — both create and throw after a scramble; pulling it down and running for critical first down that have really helped them and hurt people.”

Being fundamentally sound and disciplined is a key for any defense, but especially for the Bears. They are tied for 30th in the NFL with eight takeaways. The Lions are tied for first with eight giveaways. Still, the Bears present a challenge for Stafford as well.

“They’re unique in how they play, but they’re playing really well on defense,” Stafford said. “They’re doing a nice job of keeping everything in front of them, making teams drive it multiple plays to score — not giving up big plays over the top and stopping the run well. We’ll have to play well to give ourselves a chance.”

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