Injuries for both teams put a different complexion on the Thanksgiving clash between the Bears and the Lions at Ford Field. Despite potentially being without their starting quarterback, Chicago is still a four point favorite to win on the road.
The Bears will be hoping that Mitchell Trubisky’s throwing shoulder is good to go, but the second-year quarterback appears to be trending towards not playing on Thursday. Career backup Chase Daniel has a strong command of Matt Nagy’s offense but does not have Trubisky’s arm strength or athletic skills. Aside for a couple of snaps in Nagy’s 2 QB, “Willy Wonka” formation, Daniel is yet to see the field this season.
Reviewing tape from preseason games is never the best gauge of a player’s potential, but Daniel appears accurate and decisive, releasing the ball quickly and allowing the offense to stay in front of the chains. He is not in Trubisky’s league in terms of overall talent, but the Bears can win with him. Especially with this defense.
Detroit’s Ground Game
The defense’s job against the Lions became a lot easier with the news that star running back, Kerryon Johnson, has sprained his ACL and will miss multiple weeks. Without Johnson, the Lions will attempt to run the ball on Chicago’s number one ranked run defense with the trio of LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner.
Reports out of Detroit suggest that Zenner will pick up the majority of Johnson’s snaps. He has been sparsely used (five offensive snaps this season) since starting four games at the end of the 2016 season when he contributed 334 yards and 4 touchdowns. Zenner knows the Lions offense and can be efficient but has nowhere near the home run threat offered by Johnson. The Lions struggled to move the ball against the dominant Bears front last time the teams met, don’t expect that script to change this time around.
Also injured for the Lions is starting receiver, Marvin Jones. This puts the focus of their passing offense on Kenny Golladay. Golladay is having a breakout season and he had an impressive outing last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, catching eight of his fourteen targets for 113 yards and a touchdown. Golladay has size, speed, and an impressive ability to high-point the ball and make contested catches. Vic Fangio doesn’t typically shadow number one receivers with his number one corner back Kyle Fuller, but that might not be a bad strategy for Thursday.
Change in Offensive strategy
The Lions managed to beat the Panthers by using a ball-control approach that they have not shown in previous weeks. Matthew Stafford had taken sixteen sacks in his previous two outings (Vikings and Bears), holding the ball too long and waiting for plays that never developed. Against the Panthers, he got the ball out noticeably faster, completing short passes to keep the chains moving. He spread the ball around to seven different pass catchers, but never really tried to stretch the field apart from one highlight-reel, finger-tip grab on a 36 yarder to Golladay. The Bears can expect to see more of the same this week and linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith will be asked to cover a lot of ground in coverage.
The Lions defense also has several key players battling injuries. Star cornerback Darius Slay, and defensive linemen Ezekiel Ansah, A’Shawn Robinson and Damon Harrison are all listed as questionable. The banged up defensive line plays to the Bears favor as they’ll want to establish the run game playing away from home and with a backup QB.
Keys to the win for the Bears:
To beat the Lions the Bears will need to address the following points:
- If Chase Daniel starts, don’t ask him to do too much. Let the scheme work and have Daniel manage the game.
- Shut down Kenny Golladay. Without him, the Lions have no real offensive weapons.
- Get Jordan Howard rolling against the Lions depleted front seven. It will make Daniel’s job easier and shorten the game.
The Bears are expected to take care of business again against a Lions team that is currently propping up the NFC North. A win would move them to 8-3 and improve their odds of making the playoffs to 92% – that would make the turkey taste so much sweeter. Happy Thanksgiving from all at The Loop Sports.
Follow Matt on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune