FanPost

On Paper: Lions at Bears

Veteran Pride of Detroiters may recognize my "On Paper" previews from last year, but for those that do not, let me provide a quick introduction.  The purpose of these previews is to look at Detroit's weekly opponent and compare their prior performances to season averages.  For example, let's say its week 6 and I'm scouting the New York Giants' pass defense.  I could simply look at how many YPG they are giving up or their opponent's QB rating, but that leaves out an important factor: strength of opponent.  So if the Giants give up 270 passing yards against the Colts in week two, that could actually be a positive performance, assuming Peyton Manning is averaging more than that on the season. 

After coming to a conclusion of each unit's (pass offense, pass defense, run offense, run defense, etc.) performance on the year, I will analyze what this means for Detroit.  Instead of giving a boring, overused and frankly unimportant "who has the better passing offense?" comparison, I match opposing units.  So, if the Giants have a good passing defense, what does this mean for Detroit's passing offense?  Not exactly rocket science.  After concluding which team has the advantage, I also award a point value (range from 1-5) based on how big of an edge that team has, and how likely it is to determine the final result of the game.  At the very end of the preview, I add up all the advantages and make a prediction, because you can't have a preview without embarrassing yourself with a prediction.

Obviously, it's the first week of the year and there isn't a lot of data to go through yet.  I will try to put only slight emphasis on the preseason, while focusing more on offseason moves and last season.  But as the season rolls on and more relevant data becomes available, these posts are going to get longer and longer.  Hardcore fans are welcome to read every last word, but the good thing about these previews (pat myself on the back) is that they are easy to skim through. 

Anyways, after that not-so-brief introduction, onto the numbers!

Lions Pass Offense (21st) vs. Bears Pass Defense (13th)

(Team Rankings based on 2009 season, yards per game)

Here's how the Bears have fared against starting quarterbacks in the preseason (if the number is in red, the Bears did worse than season averages.  If the number is green, the Bears performed better than season averages).  All stats are for the first teamers only.  The last preseason game was not included because neither the Browns nor the Bears played key starters.

Bears

Opponent

Opponent's

Preseason QB Rating

QB Rating vs. Bears

Chargers

91.8

140.3

Raiders

70.4

58.3

Cardinals

73.1

111.1

The first-string Bears gave up touchdowns to all three of their opponents in the preseason, giving up pretty impressive stats to each.  This should be taken with a grain of salt, however, because...well, because it's the preseason. 

Last year, the Bears ranked 13th in overall pass defense.  This year, they introduce Julius Peppers to their defensive line.  While Peppers' better days are likely behind him, he has still reached the 10 sack mark four times in the past five seasons.  He could definitely be a menace to Jeff Backus, especially when the other linemen are going to have their hands full with Tommie Harris and Mark Anderson (two preseason sacks).

However, Detroit's protection has been fairly consistent over the preseason.  Stafford was sacked only once, and it was mostly his fault for holding on too long.  In fact, Detroit quarterbacks were only sacked three times during the entire preseason, showing some impressive depth.  The Lions are hoping the addition of left guard Rob Sims will solve their previous protection woes.  The outlook so far indeed looks promising, but I am not convinced yet.  I'm still bloated with all of the Daniel Loper Kool-aid I drank last year and I don't want to get burned again.  Still, I feel the Lions offense has looked good enough in protection, that I think they should be able to avoid Peppers for the majority of the game. 

The Bears' secondary is very much in question.  Gone are the days of Nathan Vasher and Al Afalava.  Their corners are still strong with Charles Tillman (2 INTs and 6 FF last year) and Zack Bowman (6 INTs), but their safeties are suspect.  Specifically, Chris Harris has been inconsistent, and will likely lose his job to Major Wright by the time the two teams play later in the season. 

Of course, the Lions counter with an offense full of new, exciting weapons.  Jahvid Best, Tony Scheffler, Nate Burleson and a healthy Brandon Pettigrew are all new weapons likely to make this offense explosive.  Add that to the perceived growth that Matthew Stafford has already made, oh man.  Watching them in the preseason has been hypnotizing.  Stafford must feel like he's in a Willy Wonka-esque factory of talent.  Everywhere he looks on the field, there's rivers made of tight ends and trees that are actually 6'5" receivers with freakish hands.  Matthew Stafford, if you want to view Paradise, simply look around and view it.  Want to change the world?  Just convert in the red zone.  Lions +3.

Lions Run Offense (24th) vs. Bears Run Defense (23rd)

Bears

Opponent

Opponent's Preseason Avg YPC

YPC vs. Bears

Chargers (Matthews)

4.3

5.5

Raiders

(Bush)

3.6

3.25

Cardinals

(Hightower)

4.2

7.75

Surprisingly, Chicago's run defense has not been all that impressive this preseason.  Rookie Ryan Matthews put up 50 yards in nine carries in his NFL debut and Tim Hightower had 62 yards on his eight carries against the Bears. 

Though they struggled last season, the Bears run defense promises to be better this year.  If Brian Urlacher can stay healthy for a season, this unit could actually return to the glory of five years ago.  Also, the addition of Peppers may free up Tommie Harris to create all sorts of trouble for the interior line. 

Lions' fans have been abuzz over rookie Jahvid Best.  Though we have only been treated to a limited look of him, Best seemed to make the most of every opportunity he was given, averaging a ridiculous 8.6 per carry in the preseason.

Kevin Smith is also likely to see the ball a number of times, and despite the recent negativity towards him, Smith is still a young guy who is getting better and healthier as time progresses.  He's certainly not as explosive as Best, but he has enough talent to contribute significantly to this team. 

As for this week, I don't see the Lions' run game being a significant factor.  This is going to be a pass-first team to open up the running game.  Ideally, success through the air would open up lanes on the ground later in the game, but the Bears' front seven are too experienced to let that happen.  Bears +1.

Bears Pass Offense (17th) vs. Lions Pass Defense (32nd)

Bears

Opponent

Opponent's QB rating allowed

(against starters)

Cutler's QB rating

Chargers

99.7

118.8

Raiders

94.9

90.7

Cardinals

76.3

31.0

Fans in Chicago are already equipped with their pitchforks and torches after how bad this offense has performed in the preseason.  Cutler has been sacked 10 times, threw two interceptions against Arizona and has only completed 51% of his passes.  His one impressive game against the Chargers was actually only a 2/2 for 47 yards performance. 

But I'm not buying it.  Lions' fans should know firsthand that Mike Martz has the potential to make a less-talented offense quite explosive.  Remember in 2006 when Jon Kitna threw for 4200 yards (4th in the league)?  Point is, Cutler and the Bears will eventually start moving the ball with some serious success.  With a pack of speedy young receivers, comparisons to the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" are inevitable. 

Of course with Martz, you have to take the bad with the good.  Although Kitna was in the top 10 each year in passing yards under Martz, he also was 1st and 2nd in interceptions in 2006 and 2007 respectively.  Kitna was also sacked the most of any quarterback each of those years.  Unfortunately for Bears fans, Cutler seems to be prone to throw a lot of interceptions as is (led the league last year without Martz's help), and Chicago's offensive line is shaky with Orlando Pace now on his way to retirement.

This is easily the key matchup of the game for the Lions.  For the billionth season in a row, the secondary is a major concern, and for the second season in a row it has gone through some major retooling.  Louis Delmas returns as the only member of the 2009 secondary.  Everyone else is a question mark.  Chris Houston and Jonathan Wade have big upsides, but their inconsistencies deny any real reason to be optimistic.  In the past two seasons, Detroit has easily had the least amount of interceptions of any team in the NFL with a measly 13. Also, Detroit has had only two games in which they've recorded more than one interception since 2007.  I don't really see those numbers skyrocketing this year.

I fear that the biggest strength of this Lions defense (DL, obviously) can be easily circumvented with Martz's offense.  Though pass-protection is key in this style of offense, quick receivers (see: Devin Hester, Johnny Knox) can exploit poor linebacker and secondary play with plenty of yards after the catch.  It will take some adjustments from Martz's typical 5/7-step drops, but I don't think it will be all that difficult with the roster he has.

Overall, there isn't a doubt in my mind that the Bears move the ball through the air.  I would be shocked if Cutler doesn't have at least 250 yards.  But the key here for the Lions isn't limiting yards.  The Lions basically need to do three things: create turnovers, limit Chicago to field goals and get sacks to stall drives.  Their ability to do all three will determine this game.  Bears +2.

Bears Run Offense (29th) vs. Lions Run Defense (25th)

Bears

Opponent

Opponent's Avg YPC Allowed (against starters)

YPC Allowed vs. Bears

Chargers

4.1

1.8

Raiders

14.9

21.8

Cardinals

4.5

2.0

Matt Forte hopes to improve on what fantasy football players would call a disappointing season, but normal football fans would call a pretty decent one.   Though his yards per carry took a dip to 3.6, he still managed 1400 yards from scrimmage and was a big part of the Chicago offense.  His role will likely be diminished a bit with Martz at the helm, but Forte is still a threat.  This preseason, he hasn't shown too much outside of one 89-yard touchdown run against the Raiders.  But that's exactly the point.  Forte won't do much on the majority of his carries, but he can still be a threat to break a long one or catch a pass out of the backfield. 

Still, with how improved the Lions' defensive line is and how shaky the Bears' offensive line is, I don't expect much out of Forte this week.  The one thing that scares me is our linebackers.  It'll be their responsibility to jump into the holes that the line creates and make one-on-one tackles.  Outside of Julian Peterson, Detroit's linebackers have literally no experience at their positions as starters.  Still, I have blind faith that the d-line will put the linebackers in situations where they can't fail.  The Bears' addition of Chester Taylor is worth mentioning, but he shouldn't be a game-changer.  I don't see this matchup favoring either team.   Push.

Overall

I was afraid this was going to happen.  Tallying up all the points leaves us with a dead tie.  Not surprisingly, this is the conundrum I've been dealing with all offseason.  Since the schedule came out in April, I've been mulling over who was going to win this game.  It's often overstated how important the first game of the season is for a team, but with Philadelphia, Green Bay, and Minnesota waiting for them, Detroit really needs this game.

Given that I see these two teams so evenly, I was pretty shocked to see that Chicago is favored by 7.  But seeing as I think this will be a shootout type of game, a high margin of victory isn't all that improbable.  I'm actually leaning a bit towards picking the Bears in this game, but since it is still the offseason, I'm allowed to be irrationally optimistic.  Also, by adding that disclaimer, I technically picked both teams to win this game, so I'm bound to be right.  Lions 31 Bears 30. 

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Pride Of Detroit or its writers.

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