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Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears Week 11 NFL preview: On Paper

Our statistical breakdown and prediction for Lions-Bears.

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It’s Chicago Bears week, and while I’d love to boldly proclaim that #WeOwnTheBears right off the top, last week’s squeaker against the Cleveland Browns has me hesitant to say anything definitive about this Detroit Lions team.

Detroit is on a two-game winning streak and won both games by double-digits, but there are cracks forming in their game, especially on defense. That being said, the offensive side of the ball is extremely healthy and playing much better as of late.

That makes for a good matchup this week against a Bears team that defines itself by its defense. Even though Chicago has lost six games this year, including two straight, they’ve only allowed more than 24 points in only two games. They’ve hung with just about every opponent this year.

So will Chicago hang around, or even defeat the Lions this week? Let’s head to the charts.

Lions pass offense (17th in DVOA) vs. Bears pass defense (11th)

I differ a little from the DVOA standings here. The Lions pass offense has been good all year, and excellent since coming out of the bye week. There have been times of struggle, especially in the red zone, but with the entire starting lineup fully healthy, this is a pass offense that should undoubtedly be a top-10 unit.

The raw statistics seem to agree. Detroit ranks eighth in passer rating (96.3), 10th in yards per attempt (7.5), but just 15th in completion percentage (62.6). The Lions are also finally starting to air it out a bit. They have 34 plays of 20+ yards (t-sixth most) and seven of 40+ yards (t-sixth most).

Though the Lions continue to be one of the most frequently sacked teams (30 sacks surrendered, fifth-most), they are expected to have all of their offensive line starters in the lineup for the first time all season this Sunday.

Only one team has thrown for 300 yards against this defense, seven of nine finished with a passer rating above 80. In total, the Bears have allowed all but two opposing quarterbacks to reach or surpass their passer rating season average. Last week’s performance against Brett Hundley was particularly disappointing, allowing the Green Bay backup to complete 72 percent of his passes for 8.5 yards per attempt.

Overall, however, this is a defense that can compete. Their front seven occasionally looks like the best in the league, and that’s why it’s no surprise that they’ve generated the seventh most sacks in the league (26).

Still, their overall stats leave much to be desired. They rank 18th in passer rating allowed (90.6), t-18th in yards per attempt (7.0) and 26th in completion percentage. They have just four interceptions on the year (t-28th) but have allowed only nine passing touchdowns (fourth).

Player to watch: Akiem Hicks. The Bears defensive end has been a hassle for opposing offensive lines all year. Hicks has 7.0 sacks on the year, including at least one in four of his past five games. With Taylor Decker in just his second game back after missing the everything from the offseason workouts and beyond, this is a tricky matchup for him.

Advantage: Lions +1.5. If the Lions can keep Matthew Stafford upright, Detroit could be the second team to hang 300 passing yards on this defense. There’s hope the Lions can make that happen with a healthy offensive line, but this defensive front is no joke. Still, I think Stafford will eventually get the better of this young, inexperienced (but talented) secondary.

Lions run offense (30th) vs. Bears run defense (13th)

Well, it looks like the Lions finally fixed that running game last week. I guess all is forgiven and forgotten. Detroit’s ground game is back, baby!

Okay, in all seriousness, it was an impressive performance last week against a very good Browns’ run defense. Detroit had five rushes of over 10 yards and Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick finally showed what they could do with some open space.

That being said, I am treating that as a complete outlier until proven otherwise. Detroit still ranks 30th in yards per carry (3.4) and is earning a first down on just 17.1 percent of runs (t-27th).

There is minor hope in the fact that Abdullah has now scored a rushing touchdown in the red zone in two consecutive games now, but that’s just about as much of a positive trend you’ll find with this unit right now.

All but three opponents have reached the century mark on the ground against this Bears defense, but overall, Chicago has remained fairly stout in stopping the run. About half of their opponents outgained their YPC average, but five of nine failed to reach 4.0 YPC on the day.

In whole, this is a pretty run-of-the-mill run defense. They’re allowing 3.9 yards per carry (t-eighth) and a first down on 20.2 percent of carries (t-16th).

After a poor Week 10 performance, the Bears’ run defense could be in trouble again this week, as inside linebacker Danny Trevathan missed his fifth-straight practice on Thursday and is trending towards missing his second consecutive game. As the “quarterback” of the defense, Trevathan has played a key role in defending the run.

Games with Trevathan: 96.6 rushing YPG allowed, 3.67 YPC
Games without Trevathan: 159.5 rushing YPG allowed, 4.7 YPC

Player to watch: T.J. Lang. Last week, the Lions had to experiment by placing tackle Corey Robinson at the right guard position. With Lang back, Detroit should be much better on the right side of the line. That’s a good matchup for the Lions.

Advantage: Bears +0.5. Going straight off the charts, it’s clear the Bears have the advantage in this matchup. However, everything is trending towards the Lions actually having a fighting chance here. Trevathan seems doubtful, the Lions are coming off their best performance on the ground, and they’ll have a fully healthy offensive line. Don’t expect Detroit to blow up this week, but they could very well hit 100 yards again.

Bears pass offense (31st) vs. Lions pass defense (10th)

Don’t let those two green boxes fool you, the Bears passing game has been atrocious this year. In those two games in which the Bears finished with 100+ passer ratings, Mitchell Trubisky completed a combined 12 passes. This Bears offense is much better when they aren’t passing the ball.

That being said, it’s clear the Bears offense has been at least marginally better since Trubisky took over (after the first Packers game). He’s been very careful with the ball (just two interceptions in five games), but not very accurate (51.3 completion percentage).

Trubisky ranks dead last among qualifying quarterbacks in completion percentage (51.3), 21st in yards per attempt (7.0), but 10th in passer rating (97.0).

The Bears’ struggles can be defined by their lack of weapons (Kendall Wright is their leading receiver with 27 catches and 305 yards) and poor pass protection. Trubisky has been sacked 16 times in five games.

The Lions’ inconsistent pass defense has been more down than up lately. Though they’ve still only ceded a 100+ passer rating once this season, they haven’t dominated guys like DeShone Kizer like the should on paper. And while the numbers on the chart look good against the Saints and Falcons, those quarterbacks lit up the scoreboard for the majority of those game.

Of course, Mitchell Trubisky isn’t anywhere near the levels of Matt Ryan or Drew Brees yet, so there isn’t too much concern here, especially when you consider that the Lions rank 11th in passer rating allowed (82.8), 18th in completion percentage (63.1) and 20th in yards per attempt.

Though those stats are modest, the secondary is where this defense truly shines. The Lions have the third-most interceptions in the league (11) and the eighth-most passes defended (45).

Player to watch: Adam Shaheen. If there’s any hope for the Bears in this matchup, it’s over the center of the field. Detroit ranks 29th in defensive DVOA against tight ends, and Chicago’s rookie pass catcher could be due for a breakout game. Last week, he hauled in two catches for 39 yards, but he only had one career catch prior to that game.

Advantage: Lions +1.5. This matchup really relies on how Chicago will be able to run the ball. The Bears aren’t going to line up and try to throw the ball 40 times to beat Detroit through the air, but if they can set up an effective running game, Trubisky has the arm and accuracy to beat the Lions deep on one or two big plays. However, even if that does end up being the case, the Lions have weathered that storm before and come out okay. Detroit should have this matchup in the bag, otherwise there is something very wrong hiding beneath the surface.

Bears run offense (19th) vs. Lions run defense (18th)

The Bears’ run game just can’t seem to put together two good consecutive performances. They’ve ran for over 5.0 yards per carry in three games, but followed each one up with 1.3, 3.4 and 3.2 YPC respectively.

Jordan Howard is an extremely talented back that can beat you both with power and speed, but for whatever reason, he can’t seem to do it consistently. For the season, Howard is averaging just 4.0 YPC, but ranks fifth in the league with 716 rushing yards.

As a team, Chicago is rushing for 4.2 YPC (t-12th) and earning first downs on 20 percent of carries (17th). They only have five rushing touchdowns (t-20th), but they’re capable of hitting home runs on the ground. They have seven rushes of 20+ yards (t-ninth) and a whopping four 40+ yard runs (second).

After a poor week against the Packers, it appears the Bears running game will benefit from Kyle Long returning to the lineup. Long missed last week with injured fingers, but was a full participant in practice Thursday.

I don’t know what to make of this. Not even a little bit. For six games, the Lions have had one of the best run defenses in the league. For three games, they’ve had one of the worst. I’ve never seen such a drastic split like that, but at this point, these poor outliers are no longer just outliers. If you’ve given up over 150 yards and 5.0 a carry three times through nine games, something is wrong.

Part of the blame certainly goes on losing Haloti Ngata to injury for the year and missing Ezekiel Ansah last week. Detroit will likely be without both those players again this week, but the problems run deeper. Rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis has been wildly inconsistent and there’s no reliable push coming from the defensive tackles.

Still, this unit is far from horrible. They rank t-13th in YPC allowed (4.0), but 27th in percentage of rushes earning first downs (23.9). They’ve also given up the second-most rushing touchdowns (10).

Player to watch: Jarrad Davis. As I mentioned before, Davis has struggled at times, and as he goes, I believe so goes the run defense. If he gets swallowed up by offensive linemen on the second level, it could be another long day. If he’s knifing into the backfield and shooting gaps, Detroit will roll.

Advantage: Bears +1.5. I have sinking feeling that Detroit is going to see more of these defensive breakdowns as the season goes on. They’re just happening a bit too often for my liking. That being said, when Detroit is playing their game, they can be one of the best against the run.

But Chicago is really going to try to pound the rock this week, and considering they should have Kyle Long back this week, I think they’ll find at least moderate success.

Last week’s prediction:

While On Paper had the right team picked last week (as did literally everyone), the final score of 38-24 was not all that close to my 30-13 prediction. That being said, no one’s prediction was all that close. Our comment section winner was POD veteran CLF, who guessed the final score would be 37-17.

I’ve always wondered what CLF stood for, and although he’s probably explained it before, chances are good I willfully ignored it so my mind could run wild in cases like this.

Even though you joined POD back in 2008, CLF, I think you had the foresight to know that Don Carey, T.J. Lang and Darren Fells would be on the team. So, I created a monster melding all three people together:

In case you didn’t notice, this creature has the head and smile of T.J. Lang, the body and charisma of special teams ace Don Carey, and that “I’m not Ebron” sign that Darren Fells is always carrying around. Be a star in all three phases of the game with your very own CLF! Coming this holiday season.

This week’s prediction:

The Lions come out with a mere +1 advantage, which accurately describes my confidence level in this game. This is a team that I think the Lions should beat, but being on the road and coming off of such an unconvincing performance against the Browns has me worried.

That being said, my opinion on the Bears changed after writing this. From afar, this looked like one of the best defenses in the league. However, the closer I look, the more beatable their defense appears. If Detroit can manage to pass protect, I don’t see why they can’t hang 30 on this team. Of course, pass protection is easier said than done, even if you have your full starting lineup.

Overall, Chicago is going to keep this one close. They nearly always do. But I think the Lions offense continues to roll this week, and will eventually lead them to victory. Lions 24, Bears 19.