By Bryan Dietzler
The 3-9 Chicago Bears will travel to Ford Field in Detroit to take on the 8-4 Detroit Lions this Sunday. The Bears earned their third win of this season following a 26-6 drubbing of the San Francisco 49ers at home. Detroit took on the New Orleans Saints and beat them 28-13 last Sunday for victory number eight. The Lions lead the NFC North right now and appear poised to earn a playoff berth.
These two teams met back early October and the Bears squeaked out a 17-14 win at Soldier Field. Since then, the Lions have been on a streak while the Bears have stumbled. It would appear that this game is a mismatch on paper but when these two division rivals get together, you can pretty much throw stats and rankings out the window. They play each other tough and either can win this game no matter what their record is or who the hot team is.
The Bears have a lot of question marks and issues heading into this game to go along with the many injuries they have suffered this season. It appears that, for now, the players who are playing right now are just auditioning for next year. But this team had a fighting spirit in their game against the 49ers and should be poised to try to win this game, not to just try not to lose it. Will the coaching staff have them prepared for that this Sunday?
Let’s look at the game closely and see who has the advantage and which team will come out on top in this division clash on Sunday.
The Bears quarterback situation has been in a state of flux all season. Actually, you can call it a mess. The team has gone from Jay Cutler, to Brian Hoyer, to Matt Barkley, back to Cutler and then finally back to Barkley. It appears they will stay with Barkley for the rest of the season. Barkley earned his first win of the year last Sunday against the 49ers but had a solid game against the Titans. Granted, his start against the 49ers wasn’t great but he ended up playing well.
Like we have done in the past, we aren’t going to look at the Bears passing numbers and rankings through the 12 games so far, this season. It’s a whole different game with a new quarterback and we don’t have a good gauge on Barkley just yet. We can look at the Lions pass defense numbers however and see how they are doing. Overall, Detroit is allowing teams an average of 256.6 yards per game through the air which is ranked 20th in the NFL. So, the Lions are allowing a decent number of yards but not an overwhelming amount. But with a third string quarterback at the helm, just what can the Bears do in the passing game?
Barkley had proven himself capable in the second half of last week’s game. He utilized the weapons he had and when his receivers are doing well, he does well. We did see some of the aches and pains that had plagued the receivers in their game against the Titans the previous week. Yes, dropped passes came back to haunt the Bears again but for every dropped pass there was a great catch. Granted, life would have been lot easier with catches made but the Bears got by and won.
The wide receivers need to catch the balls that are thrown at them and get open. They do get open rather easily which is nice but when they are open they need to catch those critical passes. Now if Barkley can see them and connect then the Bears could have a good day passing the ball. They will need it on order to have a shot at winning this game.
Chicago’s rushing attack was huge last week and needs to be just as big or bigger this week. Keeping the ball out of Detroit’s hands, in particularly Matthew Stafford’s hands, will be big. Jordan Howard is certainly up to the task and has been one of the best running backs in the NFL this year. He comes in second in yards for rookie running backs to Ezekiel Elliot of Dallas who is sitting at 1285 yards right now. Howard is currently at 883 yards. You can also say that Howard is one of the better running backs, overall, in the league.
A good dose of Howard would do the Bears some good. But just how many yards can we anticipate the Lions allowing the Bears to gain on the ground? Right now, the Lions are allowing teams to rush for an average of 98.2 yards per game which is 13th in the NFL. The Bears are gaining 102.1 yards per game which is good for 19th in the NFL. That is a little deceptive because the Bears have done a lot of good work on the ground this season and have seemingly done a lot of damage rushing the football
It looks like the Lion’s defense and the Bears offense will present an interesting matchup in the running game this Sunday. It could either be a big day for Chicago running backs or they might not see many yards at all.
The tight end position was rocked when Zach Miller went out with an injury two weeks ago. However, Daniel Brown has been filling in nicely and has become a reliable target for Barkley. He had a strong performance against the Titans two weeks ago, and could be used often against the Lions this Sunday.
Hopefully things can get back to normal on the offensive line. Last week Josh Sitton sat out a better part of the game but had to come in when injuries took hold. Cody Whitehair, who hurt his ankle last week, has not been on the injury report all week which points to the fact he is going to play. The line may be close to 100% this Sunday and that would be great for the Bear’s offense. They would just be missing starter Kyle Long. Look for them to have a good game on Sunday.
Chicago’s defense had a monster game against San Francisco. The defensive line, with Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks leading the way were a big reason why the Bears won that game. Hicks is coming off a performance in that game which earned him Defensive Player of the Week honors in the NFC. He has had a strong, steady season and has proven to be a valuable free agent acquisition.
But Hicks is not the biggest star of this defense. The biggest star of the defense (with Jerrell Freeman suspended) is Eddie Goldman. Since returning from his ankle injury (the second time) Goldman has stepped up and played very well making a lot of plays on the defensive line. He is also influencing a lot of plays and his presence has made the defensive line better. It has made Hicks better.
On the injury front, it would appear as if the defensive line is going to be 100% for this game and that is good news.
Looking at some of the numbers, the Bears defense is allowing teams to gain an average of 220.3 yards per game through the air which is good for 6th in the NFL. You can see that this team isn’t allowing their opponents to gain a lot yards passing the ball. Detroit is a “middle of the road” type of passing team meaning that they are averaging 256.1 yards per game which is good for 15th. But Stafford can throw extremely accurately and put up a lot of yards. He is one of the toughest quarterbacks that the Bears have faced (and will face again) this season.
Chicago’s pass rush was a little off for a couple weeks prior to the game against the 49ers but ended up being huge last Sunday. They may not be able to have the same success that they had against San Francisco against Detroit but if they can get after Stafford they will have an excellent shot at winning this game. So, look for guys like Hicks and Goldman to potentially have a big game against the Lions and at least make this game interesting.
The Bear’s linebackers have suffered some injuries and a suspension over the past few weeks but somehow, they just keep going strong. They got Leonard Floyd back after his missing two games with a concussion and he had a monster game last weekend. Rookie linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski had a great game as well. Overall this unit keeps on proving that it is the best on the team. They are strong on the edge and play the pass well and can also stop the run. They are a complete unit.
Speaking of going up against the run, the Bears defense has been deceptively good against the run this season. They allow 106.5 yards per game, which is ranked 18th. They don’t allow opponents to get into the end zone too much running the ball. In going up against Detroit, they face a team that is gaining and average of 81.2 yards per game so the Bears can stop the run here and they need to to control the ball as well as the clock.
Jumping back to rushing the passer from the outside linebacker position, look for the Bears to get a good rush on Stafford out of Floyd and hopefully Pernell McPhee this weekend. Floyd has been lights out when he’s not hurt but McPhee has struggled. Hopefully he will get back to the way he played in Baltimore and not look like a bust in Chicago. There are a lot of people crossing their fingers for something positive to come from McPhee. This writer is one of them.
Chicago’s secondary has had a lot of difficulty performing well this season. They have easily cost the Bears some points and wins. They may see Kyle Fuller back this week which would help. It would be nice to get a look at him before the season is over. It is a mystery why it took him so long to get back from his knee scope but hopefully he can show the team something before the end of the season.
While Tracy Porter is probably the best player in the secondary, the others that have come in opposite him haven’t done so well. With Porter often injured (even ever so slightly) and nothing happening opposite him, the secondary has struggled. The nickel situation has been a little rocky as well. Bryce Callahan spent some time on the injury report this season but has returned. His play, since he has come back, hasn’t been that solid. Cre’Von LeBlanc may be one of the worst players on the team but the Bears keep sending him in to play. This is one of the biggest mysteries on the team.
The safety position continues to be an issue for the Bears and has been for years. Adrian Amos missed last week’s game with an injury. Perhaps that didn’t matter because he has regressed in his play after having a decent season last year. The rest of the group is weak and doesn’t have too many players that are of starter quality. The Bears should do with what they have for now, which isn’t overly impressive, and make some changes in the offseason.
Special teams have been up and down all season. The kicking game can be on one game and off the next. The punt and kick coverage units are solid but the return units aren’t that great. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with Eddie Royal this week. Will he or won’t he play? The decision is always last minute and he is never a sure thing. One thing can be said about the Lions’ special teams and that is theirs is good, especially their punt return game. The Bears need to lock that down this Sunday.
Hopefully the Bears’ coaching staff can make this game one that the team will think they can win instead of one they just go out and try not to lose. It was clear that the coaching staff coaching the team up very well last week and instilled a fighting spirit in them. If they can do that this week, they have an excellent chance of winning this game.
The Lions have gotten to a better place since losing to the Bears in October. They are winning games and are competing for the top spot in the NFC North. The Bears are pretty much just competing for a better draft pick. Chicago needs to show that they want to win. The coaching staff needs to have them ready to at least try to win this game. They need to turn this team into a group fighters and not let them lie down and quit.
This will be a close game but the Bears will be on the short end of it when it is all said and done. The Lions are good, not great but they are better now than they were in the first game and will be able to overtake the Bears. There are too many issues for the Bears going into this game such as an inexperienced quarterback at the helm, a lack of a number one wide receivers and the injuries on both sides of the ball. Those issues, along with others, are just too much for the Bears to overcome.
But I don’t think it will be a blowout.
Prediction: Detroit 24 Chicago 17
News Update: I just wanted to share a little bit of Chicago Bears’ related news. This past Tuesday, former Chicago Bears’ running back Rashaan Salaam passed away. The Heisman winner was a first round selection by the Bears in the 1995 NFL Draft. He had a great rookie season but his play declined and soon he was out of Chicago. He attempted a return to the NFL through the Cleveland Browns but it didn’t work out.
A funeral was held for Salaam this past Friday. Foul play is not suspected in Salaam’s death.