Free Press writers Dave Birkett, Carlos Monarrez discuss surprises, disappointments in first half of Lions season, preview Bears game Nov. 8, 2018.
Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press
Free Press writer Dave Birkett breaks down Sunday’s game between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears and offers his prediction:
Lions run offense vs. Bears run defense
The Lions have been a different team when they’ve been able to run the ball this year, but unfortunately for them they haven’t gotten much going on the ground the last two weeks. Kerryon Johnson averaged less than 3 yards per carry in losses to the Seahawks and Vikings, down from 5.7 ypc for the season, as those teams dominated at the line of scrimmage.
The Bears have a similar physical edge in this game. They’ve allowed just two teams to reach 100 yards rushing this year, the Dolphins and Patriots, and they rank third against the run overall (85 ypg). Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks are having nice years on the defensive line, and Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathian are tackling machines at linebacker.
Johnson should continue to get the bulk of the carries for the Lions, though LeGarrette Blount remains in the mix as the big back. The Lions used more two- and even three-back sets last week (with Theo Riddick sometimes split out wide in the slot), and that could continue Sunday.
Lions pass offense vs. Bears pass defense
With no running game to speak of, the Lions have become one-dimensional on offense the last two weeks and that’s had a negative impact on Matthew Stafford’s play at quarterback. Stafford was sacked a career-high 10 times by the Vikings, and the Lions struggled with their quick passing game and on third downs in their first game without Golden Tate.
The Lions still do have two good receivers in Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay, though Golladay’s production has dipped of late (just seven targets in the last three games). The Lions would be wise to get Golladay involved early, but they’ll have to protect up to take deep shots as they’ll be facing another fearless pass rush.
Khalil Mack is expected back after a two-game absence for the Bears. He and Akiem Hicks are a lethal 1-2 punch on the left side, and their job will be easier if T.J. Lang doesn’t play because of a neck injury for the Lions. Kyle Fuller is tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions, and Adrian Amos is one of the league’s emerging young safeties.
Bears run offense vs. Lions run defense
The Bears are fourth in the NFL in rushing attempts (28.9) and seventh in rushing yards (128.4) per game as they’ve made a successful transition from the outside zone scheme they used under former coach John Fox to more of an inside zone scheme now.
Jordan Howard gets the bulk of the carries. He’s far from the fastest back in the NFL, but like Kerryon Johnson he has excellent vision. Tarik Cohen is a bundle of dynamite whose biggest contributions come in the passing game, and Mitchell Trubisky is second among NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards he picks up both on designed plays and scrambles.
The Lions have one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL at 142.5 yards per game allowed. Damon Harrison has been a difference-maker at nose tackle, but the Lions are still giving up too many big plays as their front seven has both struggled to get off blocks and missed tackles.
Bears pass offense vs. Lions pass defense
Trubisky is much improved as a passer, but still not the kind of quarterback you entrust to win games. He’s completed more than 60 percent of his passes just once since September, and six of his 17 touchdown passes came in a blowout win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4.
The Bears run a Kansas City Chiefs-style passing game, where they do a good job creating mismatches with motions and formations, but don’t have quite the same big-play ability. Top receiver Allen Robinson is expected back after missing two games with a groin injury, Cohen is second behind the elusive Taylor Gabriel with 31 catches, tight end Trey Burton (five TDs) is a red-zone threat and rookie Anthony Miller mans the slot.
Darius Slay won’t play Sunday because of a knee injury, and that’s a huge loss for a Lions defense that ranks fourth against the pass at 214.6 ypg. DeShawn Shead should play as the Lions’ No. 2 cornerback over Teez Tabor, and the Lions could give safety Tavon Wilson a longer look in the nickel role. Ziggy Ansah has two sacks in two games this year, and the Lions need big contributions from their pass rush with their secondary short-handed.
The Lions fired special-teams coordinator Joe Marciano this week after an abysmal first half of the season. The Lions have 15 special-teams penalties, are last in the league in punt-return average allowed and haven’t gotten much from their return game. New addition Bruce Ellington could handle return duties, and the lone saving grace on special teams has been kicker Matt Prater, who’s made his last seven field-goal attempts and is 16 for 19 on the year.
The Bears haven’t been great on special teams, either, though Cohen averages a hearty 12.4 yards per punt return. Given their coverage issues, the Lions would be wise to kick away from Cohen on Sunday. The Bears gave up a kick-return touchdown and had a blocked punt returned for a score by the Patriots earlier this year, and Cody Parkey has missed three of nine field-goal attempts beyond 40 yards.
The Lions have scored a total of 23 points in their last two games, both losses, and they face one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL on Sunday. The Bears rank second in turnover margin, third in point differential and in the top 10 in most other defensive categories. This is not a good matchup for a Lions team that’s struggled to run the ball of late and can’t stop the run on defense. To win, the Lions need Stafford to play his first turnover-free game since Oct. 21 and they need to shut down Chicago’s running game. Trubisky can be erratic at times, and Chicago is a much better team when it gets out to an early lead. The Bears have outscored opponents 120-51 in the first half of their games this year. If they get out fast against the Lions, it’ll be goodnight.
Pick: Bears 23, Lions 17
Lions midseason grades: A bunch of C’s and one F
Contact Dave Birkett: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.