The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears faced off just three weeks ago. Normally, not much would change in such a short time for one team. However, the Bears are a shell of their three-weeks-old selves. They are now officially out of the playoff race, their offensive coordinator threw their quarterback under the bus, they've lost one of their best offensive threats for the year and now they will be playing a quarterback who hasn't started a game since his rookie season four years ago. In recent years the Bears have typically been a mess, but this current version of the Bears would be the embarrassing uncle who no one talks about at the Bears' family reunion.
The Lions, on the other hand, are ramping their way up to a playoff run and are on the verge of having their best record in over two decades. Having handled the Bears in the matchup last time, it shouldn't be much of a task for the Lions to repeat their performance, even though they'll have to travel to Chicago to do so. Still, let's use the Thanksgiving game to see how the Lions can punch their ticket to the playoffs this week.
It's easy to say the biggest offensive weakness for the Bears would be starting a quarterback who has only thrown nine regular-season passes since 2011. And it probably wouldn't be wrong, either. Jimmy Clausen has had close to zero experience in his five-year "career." But it's hard to know what the Bears truly have in Clausen. His rookie year was not very good, but he was part of a terrible Carolina Panthers team. He was never given another chance after the Panthers decided to go with Cam Newton the following season. For now, let's just assume that he's not better than Jay Cutler, but I wouldn't conclude that he's the biggest embarrassment, either.
On Thanksgiving, the Bears started with a lot of success against the Detroit defense. Two of their first three drives ended with touchdowns (granted, one was aided by a Lions fumble). Chicago used a lot of short, quick passes to neutralize their overmatched offensive line.
So how did the Lions rebound and hold the Bears to just three points for the rest of the game? The truth is, they didn't really do that much different. Chicago actually gained more yards in the second half than the first. The Lions' linebackers struggled all game in coverage against Chicago. Martellus Bennett hauled in eight receptions for 109 yards, while Matt Forte added another six for 52 yards.
However, when forced to throw deep, Jay Cutler was a completely different quarterback. According to our sister site Windy City Gridiron, this has been the case all year. So the game plan against the Bears' offense is simple: limit the small stuff on first and second down, then let Clausen go all Jay Cutler on third down. Something like this will do nicely:
Limiting the small stuff will be easier said than done, but with Brandon Marshall out for the year, the Lions will be able to deploy more resources to stopping Bennett and company.
The Lions offense didn't have much trouble exploiting Chicago's poor defense last time around. The Lions had a season-high 474 yards against the Bears, with the majority of it coming through the air. Calvin Johnson abused rookie Kyle Fuller to the tune of 11 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. But the real key to the Lions' success was their ability to spread the ball around. Nine different receivers caught passes in that game, and three receivers had six or more receptions.
The Lions passing game was successful despite having their top two linemen out of the game: Riley Reiff and Larry Warford. The Lions knew they'd have trouble protecting the quarterback facing an aggressive defensive line, so they committed to the running game. Surprisingly, the Lions found moderate success running the ball (91 yards, 4.0 YPC), and that helped open the passing game up.
Above, the Lions show a heavy run package with an "I" formation and Golden Tate in motion tight to the line. The Lions pass on this play, and the play-action sucks the safety way too far into the box, giving Tate plenty of room to pick up an easy 20 yards. The Bears' linebackers and safeties are both very susceptible to this kind of fake as long as teams manage to keep them honest with a running game.
Thankfully for the Lions, they will have Reiff and Warford back for this game. Unfortunately, they have lost their starting right tackle for the year and will again be starting undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas. Still, as long as Joique Bell can be mildly successful running the ball, the Lions should be able to keep the Bears' defense off balance.