On Paper on a Wednesday must mean it's Thanksgiving week. And I'm thankful for a short week so that I can easily put last week's Detroit Lions (7-4) performance behind me. Detroit remains in the playoff hunt, but is now technically on the outside looking in. The Chicago Bears (5-6) are on life support, but still have an outside chance at reaching the postseason. Can the Lions bury the Bears for good and get their season back on track, or will the Bears play spoiler? Off to the charts!
Lions pass offense (10th) vs. Bears pass defense (28th)
The pass offense's struggles for the Lions continue. Only in three of 11 games this season has Matthew Stafford put up a passer rating above the defense's season average. He has only had a passer rating above 90 in three games this season, but has had a passer rating below 80 in over half of his games.
Detroit has now slid all the way to 27th in passer rating (81.3), 22nd in yards per attempt (7.1) and t-25th in completion percentage. This is no longer a below-average passing attack; it is a bad passing offense.
As I mentioned earlier in the week, the Bears pass defense is also bad. They've held opposing quarterbacks below their passer rating average and their yardage average in just three games this year. Not only that, but in over a third of their games, the opposing quarterback has had a passer rating of above 120.
Chicago also falls toward the bottom of the league in most statistical categories. They rank 28th in passer rating allowed (99.3), t-29th in yards per attempt (8.1) and 21st in completion percentage (64.5 percent). However, they do have the 12th-most sacks in the league (27).
Player to watch: Willie Young. Young leads the Bears with 8.0 sacks on the season and will likely have extra motivation on Thursday against his former team. With the Lions likely without their starting left tackle, it's hard to imagine them keeping Young off the stat sheet.
Advantage: Draw. The biggest concern for the Lions in this matchup is pass protection. The Bears have a formidable defensive front, and the Lions currently have a mess of injuries on their offensive line. If they are able to get creative with their protection schemes, the Bears are extremely vulnerable in the secondary, but chances are the Bears will get to Stafford quite often.
Lions run offense (30th) vs. Bears run defense (12th)
The Lions run offense got back to their crappy ways last week against the New England Patriots. Though Joique Bell has shown some promise as the featured back, the offensive line is just too much of a liability at the moment, and it has taken away this dimension of the Lions' offense.
Detroit ranks t-30th in yards per carry (3.3) and 29th in percentage of carries resulting in a first down (16.6 percent).
Despite all of the talk about how bad the Bears' defense is, they've actually been quite effective at stopping the run, despite trailing for the majority of their games. They've held opponents below yardage and YPC averages in six of 11 games. They haven't been dominant, but they have definitely been an above-average run defense.
That holds true for their raw statistics as well. They rank t-16th in yards per carry allowed (4.2) and fourth in percentage of carries resulting in first downs (17.6 percent). They have also allowed the second-fewest rushing touchdowns in the league (5). Given their high ranking in touchdowns allowed and first downs allowed, that typically means they are especially good at defending the run in short-yardage situations.
Player to watch: Jon Bostic. With Lance Briggs sidelined due to an injury, Bostic will likely fill in at weakside linebacker. Bostic has played in the majority of games this season and has three starts on the year to boot. However, the second-year player will likely be a bit of a liability and a possible point of attack for the Lions.
Advantage: Bears +1.5. Don't expect the Lions running game to rebound this week. The Bears run defense is much improved from their embarrassing 2013 season. Again, injuries on the Lions' offensive front will doom them in this matchup.
Bears pass offense (14th) vs. Lions pass defense (10th)
Jay Cutler and the Bears' pass offense have enjoyed an up-and-down season. Of their 11 games, they have surpassed passer rating averages in four, been held below averages in four and met averages in three. They are exactly average, which is surprising given the high expectations from this unit.
Chicago ranks 13th in passer rating (92.0), t-23rd in yards per attempt (7.0) and seventh in completion percentage (66.0 percent). They have the seventh-most passing touchdowns (22), but have also allowed the 12th-most sacks (27).
The Lions pass defense remains above average, though not as dominant as previously thought. Despite allowing Tom Brady to seemingly dominate them last week, they actually held him below his passer rating average, thanks mostly to an impressive James Ihedigbo interception. Overall, the Lions have held their opponents at or below passer rating averages in nine of 11 games this season. However, opponents have racked up the yardage, surpassing their season average in six of 11 games against Detroit.
The Lions rank eighth in passer rating allowed (82.2), t-ninth in yards per attempt (6.8) and 22nd in completion percentage (64.7 percent). Detroit's two-week sack drought has dropped them to 15th in total sacks (26).
Player to watch: Brandon Marshall. Much like Stafford and Calvin Johnson, Cutler and Marshall have developed a chemistry that's hard to break. Cutler likes to rely on Marshall when he needs a big play. Marshall leads the team in receiving touchdowns with eight, which is 11th-most in the entire NFL.
Advantage: Lions +0.5. I can see this matchup going either way, but the Lions have been slightly better all year. Cutler has turned the ball over 18 times (12 interceptions, six fumbles lost), and the Lions rank 10th in turnover margin (+3). That's enough to slightly tip the scales in Detroit's favor.
Bears run offense (20th) vs. Lions run defense (1st)
Surprisingly, the Bears have been awful at running the ball. Though they've had three very good games this season, the rest has been a disaster. Strangely, in their two best rushing performances of the year, they lost both games.
The Bears' raw statistics tell a completely different story, however. Chicago ranks 15th in yards per carry (4.1), and they are actually fourth in carries resulting in a first down (26.4 percent). The reason for the disconnect is the Bears' strength of opponent. As you can see from the chart above, their last eight opponents are each allowing over 100 rushing yards a game, with seven of those eight opponents allowing 4.1 yards per carry or more. The Bears haven't played a top-10 run defense since Week 3. That's about to change...
...yep. The Lions run defense remains spectacular. The Patriots gave the Lions their first blemish of the season, mostly because of one 33-yard run from LeGarrette Blount. Aside from that, the Lions have been absolutely dominant in stopping the run, only allowing one team to hit the century mark all season.
The Lions lead the league in yards per carry allowed (3.1) and rank second in percentage of runs resulting in a first down (17.4 percent).
Player to watch: Ndamukong Suh. Suh's reign over opposing offensive lines continues. This week, he'll often be faced off against backup Brian de la Puente, who I recognized as one of the Bears' biggest weaknesses earlier in the week.
Advantage: Lions +2. The Bears haven't had a very effective running game all season, and the Lions have been absolutely dominant at stopping the run all year. Though Matt Forte remains one of the best backs in the league, he won't look like it this week.
Kickers. Another week, another missed field goal from the Lions. Soon, I will just turn the "Off paper" section into "The part where I talk about how crappy the Lions kickers are... again." The Lions have missed 12 field goals on the season; the Bears have missed three.
Last week's prediction:
While the Lions lost, On Paper finally returned to the win column last week, though my prediction of 23-16 turned out to be wildly optimistic compared to the actual 34-9 final. In the comments section, cram9030 came closest with his 28-10 prediction. Here's your prize, cram:
You get a virtual three-pack of Jones Soda's Turkey & Gravy soda, something that actually used to exist. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to try this wondrous product, but maybe you can tell us how the Internet version tastes.
This week's prediction:
In the end, the Lions have a mere +1.0 advantage, thanks entirely to their defense. Both teams are performing well below expectations on offense, but the Lions clearly have a much more superior defense. That should be enough to carry them to victory for the second Thanksgiving in a row. Lions 20, Bears 10.