3TFO: Lions @ Bears, Week 10
In their Week 4 meeting, the Lions jumped out to a 30-13 lead at halftime over the Bears. Chicago stormed back in the fourth quarter but ultimately came up short in the 40-32 loss. Although the allowance of 40 points looks bad for the Bears, the self-inflicted wounds on offense and special teams certainly did not make it any easier for the defense. With multiple turnovers and poor punt coverage, the Bears allowed the Lions to start in or within a yard of the Bears’ territory five times. Credit goes to the Lions though, because they took full advantage of those opportunities. They scored 24 points with the good field position and also added a defensive touchdown. But when faced with a longer field, the Bears were able to hold Detroit to three field goals on eight possessions.
Both teams enter the game with momentum. The Bears come into the game fresh off a win against rival Green Bay. The Lions had a bye last week after a last-second, one-point win against the Cowboys the week before. Tied atop the NFC North standings, this matchup certainly has playoff implications. Here are three key areas of the game to focus on in their second matchup of the season.
Lions’ Running Backs Versus Bears’ Linebackers and Safeties
With Nate Burleson missing most of the season thus far and Ryan Broyles now out for the year, the Lions are still looking for a wide receiver to establish himself as a threat opposite Calvin Johnson. Fortunately their running back duo has made up for the lack of production. Reggie Bush is well on his way to a career year while Joique Bell, the Lions’ Secret Superstar entering the season, has been just as effective when spelling Bush. The production from the Lions’ running backs has been instrumental to the team’s success. In the Lions’ five wins, Bush and Bell are averaging 194.5 total yards per game compared to 137 yards per game in three losses. Most impressive regarding Bush has been his ability to do something that many thought he could not succeed at—running between the tackles. Bush is averaging 4.9 yards per rush attempt (YPA) between the tackles, while just 3.0 YPA outside the tackles. With nearly one-quarter of Bush’s snaps being lined up outside of the backfield, the Lions have not been shy about moving him around to create mismatches in the pass game either. Both Bush (2.02) and Bell (2.16) rank in the top five running backs in Yards Per Route Run, demonstrating their importance to the pass offense. They have combined in forcing 61 missed tackles, including Bush’s nine forced tackles against the Bears in Week 4.
It is no secret that at times the Bears struggled to stop the Lions’ offense in their first matchup. The Bears allowed 215 total yards to Bush and Bell, who accounted for 13 of the Lions’ 23 combined first downs and scoring plays. Bush exhibited his ability with eight of his 21 touches going for ten or more yards. This time around they will be without starting linebackers Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams. In their first full game without Briggs, the defense allowed 190 rushing yards to Eddie Lacy and James Starks. While the Packers’ success on the ground can also be attributed to the five missed tackles by Major Wright and Chris Conte, the Bears’ front seven allowed running backs to get through to the secondary all too often. The safeties’ struggles against the Packers were not an outlier either. Both Conte and Wright rank in the bottom five of 85 safeties in run defense grades and the bottom third of safeties in overall Tackle Efficiency. For the most part the Bears used linebackers to cover the Lions’ running backs last time, but it remains to be seen if they will continue that trend with their available personnel. James Anderson has been their best cover linebacker and Jon Bostic has not been tested much in his limited playing time.
The Bears’ Receivers Versus the Lions’ Secondary
While the Bears’ defense has had its ups and downs, the offense has played fairly consistent all season. Even when Jay Cutler went down due to injury, Josh McCown excelled while filling in for him. With several talented skill players on offense, it’s no wonder they rank second in scoring at 30 points per game. Coach Marc Trestman has utilized Matt Forte well, particularly in the passing game. Martellus Bennett has been a valuable addition, especially in the red zone where he has scored four touchdowns. Brandon Marshall continues to be one of the best all-around receivers in the league. His +16.1 overall grade is the second-highest among wide receivers. What might be the biggest reason for the improvement is the growth of Alshon Jeffery. He is still inconsistent with a career high 218 receiving yards against the Saints while also posting three games of less than 50 yards. He has played well enough to receive more attention from opposing secondaries, thus benefiting his teammates. If Jeffery continues to improve, his pairing with Marshall could put them as one of the better wide receiver combinations in the league in the near future. One of the two has eclipsed 100 yards receiving in four of the last five games. Even when they do not get the ball, Marshall and Jeffery still manage to make a significant impact. They are the first- and fifth-ranked wide receivers in blocking, respectively.
The Lions’ secondary has played well at times, including their first game against the Bears. Louis Delmas came away with two interceptions after Cutler forced one pass to Marshall and had an errant throw to Jeffery, and Glover Quin added another interception of his own. Rashean Mathis, their top cornerback this year, played just nine plays against the Bears due to injury. He has only allowed 55.3% of passes to be completed and just one touchdown on the season though. The rest of Detroit’s corners have not played quite as well. Chris Houston’s 534 receiving yards allowed is the third-most by a cornerback this year. Meanwhile, Darius Slay and Dwight Bentley have split time as the nickel cornerback. Quarterbacks have a QB Rating of 120.2 with three touchdowns when targeting Slay during his limited playing time. Bentley has allowed 73.8% of passes to be completed while missing six tackles after the catch. Opportunity is available to exploit the secondary, as Cutler proved when completing 16 of 23 passes and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter during their first faceoff.
Jordan Mills Versus the Lions’ Defensive Line
Rookie right tackle Jordan Mills looked promising at the start of the season. In the first game he did not allow a pressure on 35 dropbacks and blocked well in the run game. He continues to block well for Forte but his pass blocking success was short lived. He has graded -2.1 or lower in the seven games since and is easily our lowest-graded tackle. Mills’s league high 46 total pressures have him on pace for 92 for the season, surpassing PFF’s record of 70 since 2008. To his credit, he has only allowed one sack on the season, but he consistently allows Cutler and McCown to be pressured. Cutler has completed 20.5% fewer passes when under pressure while McCown’s completion percentage dropped 18%. Mills allowed nine hurries in the first meeting and will have his hands full once again.
The Lions boast one of the best pass rushing fronts in the league. Ndamukong Suh leads the way with 40 total pressures and his 11.0+ Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) ranks second among defensive tackles. The emergence of Willie Young has been a pleasant surprise for the Lions. Young ranks in the top ten in PRP for 4-3 defensive ends and has 34 total pressures. The Lions blitzed just five times on 51 dropbacks against the Bears in Week 4 but were still able to pressure Cutler on 22 dropbacks. Defensive lineman accounted for all but one of the Detroit’s 33 pressures in that game. The Lions’ like to move around and stunt their linemen, especially on passing downs. With Mills as the weak link on the Bears’ offensive line, it won’t be surprising if they target him by attempting to get Suh one-on-one with Mills a few times. Since Cutler likely is not fully healthy, it will be even more important for Mills to hold his own.