In crushing the Bills last weekend, the Chicago Bears matched their win total for 2017 and go into Sunday’s clash with the Detroit Lions as a 6-point favorite. The Bears may have lost nine of their ten match-ups against the Lions but, in a rare moment of agreement, fans of both teams believe that the tide is turning.
The 3-5 Detroit Lions will limp into Soldier Field on the back of a toothless performance against the Minnesota Vikings. They only managed to generate 209 yards of total Offense, averaging 3 yards per play – their worst efficiency since 2010. They also failed to find the end zone for the first time this year.
The thin line
The Lions Offensive problems started up-front. The Line failed to open up running lanes and was shambolic in the passing game. They allowed constant pressure off both edges and penetration up the middle. The game appeared to be too much to handle for (2016 first-round Left Tackle) Taylor Decker as Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter consistently breezed passed him.
Matthew Stafford was sacked 10 times (a Vikings franchise record). He repeatedly ran out of time and space as the fragile pocket collapsed around him from all sides. Stafford didn’t help matters as he appeared to hold on to the ball for far too long on several occasions. Whilst several of sacks could be credited to the secondary, Stafford could equally be accused of making bad decisions.
To make matters worse for the beleaguered line, Pro Bowl Guard T.J. Lang has been confirmed as “out” for this weekend. His replacement, Kenny Wiggins does not look like an NFL caliber player – he will face off against Akiem Hicks. It would be sporting to wish Wiggins good luck – He’s going to need it…
Without freshly-traded star-receiver Golden Tate, Matthew Stafford couldn’t get anything going with his shallow pool of receiving talent. The Lions front office clearly believes in second-year receiver Kenny Golladay and he’s well on the road to a 1,000-yard, 6 TD season. However, the only other established receiver is Marvin Jones and neither player could get open against the Vikings. If the Bears secondary can continue the intensity they showed in the Bills game, they will win the aerial battle.
Stopping the run
The Lions haven’t had a 1,000-yard running back since 2013 when Reggie Bush scraped past the mark with 1,006. Rookie, Kerryon Johnson has 503 yards at the halfway point of the season. He has also already broken one Lions rushing streak when he ended a 70-game stretch without a 100-yard rusher.
However, when Johnson is shut down, the Lions lose. In their losses this season, he has recorded 17, 43, 55, 22 and 37 yards. In their wins, he has 101, 70 and 158. Johnson and “finisher” LeGarrette Blount combined for just 45 rushing yards against the Vikings. The Bears run defense (despite allowing their first rushing TD of the season) allowed LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory only 46 yards in week 8. On current form, it would be difficult to bet against the Bears in this category.
For some great insight into the Lions Offense, you can read Charlie Smith’s report here.
The Lions three wins have all come against teams the Bears have lost to this season as they won away in Miami and took down Green Bay and New England at Ford Field.
Their Defense, like their Offense, has shown flashes but has lacked consistency. First year Head Coach, Matt Patricia, was the long-time Patriots Defensive Coordinator and has brought a lot of variety to Detroit. The Bears Offense will see; numerous Defensive formations, personnel groupings, and players lining up at multiple spots.
All-Pro Cornerback, Darius Slay, led the NFL with 8 interceptions in 2017. He has also accounted for two-thirds of all Detroit’s interceptions in 2018. Unfortunately for the Lions, this is two of their total three. Doubly unfortunate for the Lions, Slay has injured his knee and will not play against on Sunday.
The Bears and Lions secondaries seem to have had a role reversal this season:
- The Bears currently lead the NFL with 14 interceptions – Last season they were 29th with 8.
- The Lions are currently 29th with 3 interceptions – Last season they were 4th in the NFL with 19
Effective Pass Rush
The Defense also ties the Bears for 8th in the NFL with 24 sacks. Leading the charge are defensive end Romeo Okwara and Linebacker Devon Kennard with five sacks apiece. Kennard is having a breakout year. After arriving from the Giants in the summer, he has quickly set personal bests for both sacks and QB hits. The linebacker corps is a strength of the team and also features versatile former-bear, Christian Jones and (2017 first round pick) Jarrad Davis. Davis leads the team in tackles and is violent, hard-hitting and extremely mobile. He will generate his share of highlight-reel tackles, but his aggression can lead to him over-pursuing plays. The Bears will look to exploit this trait.
The Lions run defense was twice in the first half by the Vikings. After good initial penetration, A’Shawn Robinson got embarrassed by a slow motion, Latavius Murray, spin move. Robinson then failed to observe his gap responsibility resulting in a 70-yard burst for Dalvin Cook. The run defense was given a boost when the Lions traded for former Jet and Giant, Damon Harrison. Harrison is a real difference maker on the interior of the line but, at 355 lb, will not be able to spend all day on the field. The Bears will look to wear him down and also avoid him by getting to the edge.
For an outstanding breakdown of the Lions Defense, you can read Jack Soble’s report here.
Bears Keys to victory:
The second half of the season features a heavy dose of divisional games (5 of 8 remaining games) and the Bears will look to get off on the right foot in this one. With a rested Khalil Mack ready to return to an already fearsome Bears front 7, things are not looking good for the Lions offense. To win, the Bears will need to:
- Stop the run – hold Kerryon Johnson to less than 70 yards.
- Get after Matthew Stafford early and try to rattle him. He will lose confidence and makes bad decisions.
- Exploit the aggressive of the Lions linebackers with misdirection – this should play to Matt Nagy’s play calling strengths.
- Mitch can afford to manage the game and take what the defense gives him.
Playoff prospects look a lot better at 6-3 than at 5-4. The Bears have a great opportunity to further secure their place at the top of NFC North whilst Minnesota are on their bye week.
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Image: USA Today