Monday, October 24, 2011

Lions and Bears: Get your "Oh, My"'s Elsewhere

The Bears win; you know that. It’s like watching a movie with the Rock. There is a 100 percent probability that when things really get down to the stove bolts the Rock will cold-cock Charlemagne with a short, sweet right, sweep Nefertiti in his arms without dislodging a single sacred hair of that funky Kid ‘n’ Play ‘do of hers, and vine-swing from tree to tree until he reaches the battlestar. It’s inevitable. Moviegoers expect the Rock to save Timmy from the well and toss June Lockhart over his shoulder (okay, and pet Lassie) and they’re going to go all Arab Spring on you if he doesn’t.

So for the Lions to somehow beat the Bears? My God, it would be like Shirley Temple taking down the Rock, flipping his batteries and getting him to play house and have tea parties, like Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 2. In an alternate universe maybe, where the sun orbits the earth and Herman Cain makes sense, but not here.

Fine, but let’s run the matchup anyway. Quarterback is a nonfactor with these teams. You could stick a lump of pot cheese back there and the result would be about the same. The Bears haven’t had a truly great quarterback since Sid Luckman, and the Lions haven’t had one since Dutch Clark, which means they haven’t had a quarterback since a quarterback was a quarterback and not a running back playing a position called quarterback. (see Tebow, Tim.) The Bears have the greatest running back ever and so do the Lions, only the Bears have Gale Sayers too and the Lions have … well, they have Dutch Clark again, or Doak Walker, who was Dutch Clark 2.1.1.

Both teams also trot out meh-level receivers – Harlon Hill and Bill Hewitt for the Bears, and Herman Moore and Calvin Johnson for the Lions. The Lions have the more productive receivers no doubt, and you can’t even draw the Bears wideouts into the what-if-he-played-today game you can play with a Don Hutson. Too many variables. Too many bad quarterbacks. And Harlon Hill? However, both teams have HOF tight ends -- blocking tight ends, naturally -- of roughly the same vintage.

So far so good on the matchups, so let’s move to the lines. The Lions have three HOFers (assuming Dick Stanfel gets in) and a couple of borderline guys. The Bears have nine.

Nine? Oh.

On the other side of the ball, the Lions have one HOFer in the front seven and a couple of maybes. The Bears have eight to 10, depending on how many guys you want to play both ways.

Cue the ominous Emimem music from the Chrysler ad, but leave the Baptist choir out of it.

It would matter that the Lions have an all-HOF secondary if the Bears threw the ball, but they have four HOF running backs and nine HOF O-linemen, and Harlon Hill as their best deep threat. You really think they’re gonna throw?

And herein lies the problem with the Lions against the Bears. The Lions are strong where it doesn't count against a team built to live by a lake, chew mud and spit snowflakes and pound the ball between the tackles. Lions-Colts would be fascinating. Bears-Lions not so much. Bears-Colts would – (spoiler alert) will – be interesting. It would also make a difference in this game if the Lions could do things that the Bears might have trouble stopping – throwing the ball, for instance. Once out of the hotel bar, Bobby Layne never scared no one as a passer.

In fact, this is one of those football games that makes you wonder why football is the titular American pastime. The only stat worth keeping is how many horsecollar tackles Night Train Lane makes. (Answer: nine.) The only person breaking off yardage in adult-size chunks is Gale Sayers, and most of those come on punt returns. And there are plenty of punt returns.

There are 13 punts all told in this game, seven by the Lions, who never seem to be on the side of the 50-yard line where the touchdowns are.

So you can figure out how it goes. Punt-punt-punt-punt-field goal-punt-punt-punt-touchdown pretty much sums up the first half. The touchdown comes after a 43-yard Sayers punt return took the ball inside the 20, setting up seven brutal plays (including a fourth-and-one conversion) culminating in a four-yard Walter Payton TD. The field goal comes after a 37-yard Sayers return and an eight-yard drive.

Up 10-0, the Bears come out in the second half and do the unthinkable: They throw a pass... and naturally it’s intercepted by Lem Barney, who returns it 19 yards to the Chicago 16. Three plays later Layne throws an end-over-end jump ball in the direction of Calvin Johnson, who comes down with the ball in the back corner of the end zone.

After that it's punt-punt-field goal-interception-fumble-punt-punt-interception-missed field goal-punt-ballgame. Sayers sets up the field goal with another 30-plus-yard scamper off of a punt  (and even the presence of all those great D-backs on special teams does little to take the edge off of Sayers' mad dashes), putting the capper on a day spent lazing in an offense as poorly suited to his skills as the current Bears' desired game is to modern-day Sayers Matt Forte.

Layne's day is mean, nasty, brutish, and not nearly short enough: 13-for-31, 174 yards, a touchdown and two picks. Barry Sanders runs for a subpar (for Barry Sanders) 113 yards on 21 carries, but 174 plus 113 doesn't equal victory.

Luckman's numbers are virtually identical to Layne's save for the highs and lows: 15-for-24 for 187, null and zed. Running back is strictly by committee; Payton runs for 82, Sayers 63, McAfee 51, Grange 44, and Nagurski 39. More rushing yards don't always equal victory, but it's a good start. Especially if you have a D-line full of HOFers backed by the game's definitive linebackers.

So the Bears move on, completely unsurprisingly and without a caveat in the world save for this: If the Bears would ever play a hotshot passing team this all might be different.

Not now, but soon ...