The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears meet, once again, on Monday night. Last year, Detroit hosted and dominated en route to a 24-13 win. This week, the Lions head into Soldier Field where the 4-1 Bears await. The last time the Lions were in Chicago, things did not go so well. Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions, got in a fight and lost 37-13. The stage is huge, once again, and Vegas is predicting another decisive victory by Chicago. The Bears come in as 6.5-point favorites, but let's see what the numbers say.
In every game this season, the Lions have outgained their opposition's passing yardage allowed average. However, the passing offense has not been as efficient as hoped. They've only surpassed passer rating averages in one game this season. Overall, they rank just 17th in passer rating (84.4), 19th in yards per attempt (7.2) and 13th in completion percentage (63.2 percent). The one consistent part of the passing offense has been protection. The Lions are only giving up 1.8 sacks per game (tied for sixth).
But the real struggles of the offense have been at the hands of Matthew Stafford's inconsistencies and drops. Stafford has been missing open receivers, and receivers have responded with the most drops in the league (17).
*does not include Kyle Orton's garbage-time performance
The Bears have been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks this year. It must be noted that, outside of Aaron Rodgers, the Bears have not faced an elite quarterback. Still, the stats are impressive: first in passer rating allowed (60.0), fourth in yards per attempt allowed (6.3), first in interceptions (13) and tied for fifth in sacks (18). This is a top five pass defense, at the very least.
Players to watch: Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. Amazingly, both defenders are riding two-game touchdown streaks. Both are proven playmakers and are playing their best football right now.
Advantage: Draw. Even with the Lions struggling as of late, I still think this matchup is even. The Lions will likely pass for more yards than the Bears typically allow (225), but I wouldn't expect them to be very efficient. The keys, once again, will be converting opportunities into touchdowns, not field goals, and avoiding turnovers. That's where the Bears defense will stand up. Expect more field goals and at least one turnover.
Lions Run Offense (19th) vs. Bears Run Defense (1st)
The Lions run offense rebounded last week against a pretty impressive Eagles defense. Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure provided a great one-two punch that made the Lions rushing attack effective and efficient.
But the overall stats remain underwhelming. The Lions are averaging just 3.9 a carry (tied for 18th) and still do not have a rush of more than 20 yards (one of three teams).
Pretty much what you'd expect from the leading run defense, huh? Not only do the Bears rank first in yardage allowed per game, but they also rank fifth in yards per carry allowed (3.6). So this isn't a case of teams just being too afraid of the Bears defense; they are legit. To be fair, however, the best rushing attack the Bears have faced was the Rams, which rank just 15th in yards per game.
Player to watch: Brian Urlacher. He's not done yet, Lions fans. Urlacher leads the team with three tackles for loss this season and is still the heart of this defense. He is a force that must be reckoned with.
Advantage: Bears +1. The Bears have a clear advantage in this matchup, but it isn't much because the Lions offense doesn't rely on its running game. The Lions are really missing the ability to break out a big running play, and they won't likely break one this week. Instead, expect a bunch of 2-4 yard gains and nothing more.
Bears Pass Offense (23rd) vs. Lions Pass Defense (16th)
The addition of Brandon Marshall hasn't exactly made the Bears' passing attack elite, but it has certainly improved. The Bears have outgained yardage averages in three of five games, but only once in terms of passer rating. Jay Cutler remains a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mystery. He's had two awful games against the Packers and Rams, but he has looked solid and efficient otherwise.
Overall the Bears fall somewhere in the middle of the league statistically. They rank 24th in passer rating (78.7) and 25th in completion percentage (57.7 percent), but strangely fifth in yards per attempt (7.8). This means that the Bears have been hitting on some explosion plays. They have 19 plays of 20+ yards (14th, but fifth among teams that have played only five games).
The Lions pass defense has been slowly but steadily improving. After allowing three mediocre quarterbacks to control the game, the Lions have stepped it up in the past two games. AND THEY FINALLY HAVE AN INTERCEPTION -- TWO, IN FACT!
The overall numbers are average: 24th in passer rating allowed (94.8), tied for 13th in yards per attempt allowed (7.2) and 25th in completion percentage (64.7 percent). The defense is obviously better with Louis Delmas back in the lineup, but the Lions are desperately thin at cornerback right now. Jacob Lacey is almost certainly out with a concussion and rookie Bill Bentley is iffy with a shoulder injury. That left the Lions with only two healthy corners on the roster: Chris Houston and rookie Jonte Green. The Lions have since added Alphonso Smith, but the situation is definitely scary for Lions fans.
Player to watch: Jonte Green. The rookie was anything but impressive during the preseason. He hasn't played much this season and is a rookie. Expect Cutler to pick on him any time he's on the field.
Advantage: Bears +1. If the Lions were healthy in the secondary, this would be a draw, but the mounting injuries are too big to ignore.
Bears Run Offense (10th) vs. Lions Run Defense (12th)
Despite their high ranking, the Bears rushing attack has not been as threatening as many seem to believe. Aside from their last game against the Jaguars, they haven't surpassed their opponent's yardage or yards per carry averages. The Bears are tied for 11th in yards per carry (4.1). Though Matt Forte is a great back, the overall Bears rushing attack is more accurately average.
The Lions running defense continues to impress. For the first time this year, against the Eagles, the Lions completely shut down an elite running back. LeSean McCoy only managed 22 yards on 14 carries.
The Lions rank tied for sixth in yards per carry allowed (3.7). They've only allowed two rushes of 20+ yards (tied for fourth and one less than the Bears).
Player to watch: Nick Fairley. Good Fairley finally showed up last week against the Eagles, and Lions fans were reminded of the dominant player he could be on a regular basis. If he builds on that performance, Forte won't hit the 60-yard mark.
Advantage: Lions +0.5. If the trend continues, the Lions need to be in the conversation of best run defenses in the league. This week will provide a great test for the unit. If the Lions can shut down and make Forte irrelevant, it will make the Bears one-dimensional and give the Lions the best chance to win this game.
Bye week: The Bears are coming off a week of rest, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on who you ask. Will the Bears come out rusty or will they be well-rested and the benefactor of two weeks of scheming?
Monday night crowd: Last year, we saw just how big of an impact the crowd can make in a Monday Night Football matchup between these two teams. This week, the shoe is on the other foot. Will Bears fans match the intensity that Lions fans showed last year?
The Bears have a slight +1.5 advantage. Throughout the offseason, I warned that the Bears could be one of the best teams in the NFL and could very well overtake the Lions this year. I still feel this is the case. The Bears' defense is clearly one of the best in the league, and the offense, while nowhere near elite, is balanced and improved.
This is a bigger game for the Lions than it is for the Bears, but, statistically, this should be a clear win for the Bears. Bears 24, Lions 16.