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Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears Thanksgiving preview: On Paper

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A statistical breakdown of the Lions’ Thanksgiving Day Classic matchup.

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

It’s nearly Thanksgiving, and Detroit Lions may not feel all that thankful this year for their football team. It’s understandable, as the team they envisioned becoming a contender this year has mysteriously taken a step back.

You, of course, already know this. So, instead, let’s be thankful for each other. Because without a community like this and fellow sufferers, the pain of being a Lions fan would be insufferable.

With that uplifting intro, here’s our Lions vs. Bears Thanksgiving Day preview.

Lions pass offense (7th in DVOA) vs. Bears pass defense (7th)

We’re now three weeks into a Matthew Stafford drought and I think I can boldly say that Jeff Driskel isn’t quite as good as Stafford. Though Driskel played valiantly in his first two starts of the year, last week’s performance against Washington showed the moment may be a little too big for him. Let’s do a quick comparison, shall we?

Matthew Stafford (8 starts): 64.3 completion%, 8.6 Y/A, 19 TDs, 5 INTs, 106.0 passer rating
Jeff Driskel (3 starts): 59.0 completion%, 6.5 Y/A, 4 TDs, 4 INTs, 75.3 passer rating

But it appears the Lions will get starting center Frank Ragnow back this week, which could help with protection. Driskel has been sacked 11 times in three games, while Stafford was sacked only 18 times in eight games.

This is a pretty impressive chart. Chicago’s defense has not allowed any opposing quarterback to significantly outperform their own season average passer rating. In fact, they’ve only allowed a single quarterback to reach a 100 passer rating on the year. They haven’t given up 300 net passing yards in any game this year, and they’ve held five opponents below 200.

Overall, they rank eighth in passer rating allowed (86.3), fourth in yards per attempt (6.6) but t-24th in completion percentage (66.0). As those numbers suggest, Chicago doesn’t give up a lot of deep plays. They’ve only allowed 27 passes of 20+ yards (fifth fewest).

Player to watch: Marvin Jones Jr. Last matchup, Jones caught all five of his targets for 77 yards. He seems to be a favorite target of Driskel, as he’s received 21 targets in the past three games, compared to 18 for Kenny Golladay).

Advantage: Bears +2.5. It’s now quite clear that Driskel doesn’t provide the deep-ball threat that made this Lions offense so dangerous in the first half of the season. Driskel is also more mistake prone, more likely to take unnecessary sacks and less likely to find the open receiver. With a full week of preparation this time around, I expect the Bears defense to be much better.

Lions run offense (27th) vs. Bears run defense (12th)

While it’s true that Bo Scarbrough has been fantastic over the past two games, the Lions’ run game has slowly been making its way towards respectability even before that. Check out the difference since Week 9 against the Raiders:

Weeks 1-8: 96.9 rushing Y/G, 3.61 YPC
Weeks 9-12: 121.0 rushing Y/G, 4.57 YPC

They’ve been especially good over the past two weeks, which speaks to the impact that both Scarbrough and Driskell have had.

This chart is nearly as impressive as Chicago’s pass defense chart. They’ve only allowed a single team outperform their average yards per carry, but they have allowed five of their last seven opponents to both surpass 100 rushing yards and outgain their yards-per-game average.

As a team, they rank t-third in YPC allowed (3.7) and are sixth in percentage of rushes earning first downs (20.6).

Player to watch: Driskel. With a nagging hamstring, there’s no guarantee that Driskel even plays, but if he does, it will be interesting to see how it affects his mobility. Driskel has 151 rushing yards at 6.9 yards per carry through three games.

Advantage: Bears +0.5. I think the Lions will have some chance for success here. They won’t pop off 150 rushing yards at 4.5 yards per carry or anything like that, but I think 100 rushing yards is possible, though it will be tough to average over 4.0 yards per carry against this defense.

Bears pass offense (24th) vs. Lions pass defense (24th)

Mitchell Trubisky is bad. You know this, I know this. Matt Nagy does not appear to know this (ed. note: counterpoint).

Trubisky has managed a passer rating over 90 just twice all season. Against lowly Washington back in Week 3 and against.... oh no... the Lions three weeks ago.

That’s obviously troubling, but a few things may be working in Detroit’s favor this week. Two receivers that caught touchdowns against the Lions in Week 10 will likely be out on Thursday—tight end Ben Braunecker and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. Additionally, right tackle Bobby Massie is expected to miss a couple weeks with a high ankle sprain.

Detroit’s defense finally stopped the bleeding last week, when Dwayne Haskins had a horrible game... even by his own horrible standards. Of course, much of that goes on Haskins himself for missing some wide open throws, but the Lions still get a smidge of credit for hold Haskins to career lows in completion percentage (44.8) and yards per attempt (5.4).

Overall, though, it isn’t pretty. Detroit is 24th in passer rating allowed (98.0), 24th in yards per attempt (7.7), but still second in completion percentage (60.0).

Of course, you can see by the chart, though, that this defense has been trending in the wrong direction since the bye week.

Player to watch: Amani Oruwariye. Oruwariye did not play in this previous matchup with the Bears, and coming off a very impressive performance against Washington in his first significant action, there is hope that the fifth-round rookie may be starter quality going forward. Facing a poor quarterback and a beat-up receiving squad, this could be another opportunity to build the cornerback’s confidence.

Advantage: Lions +0.5. Call me crazy, but I think taking into consideration injuries and trends, the Lions could certainly bounce back this week. Chicago is missing just about every tight end on their roster and their WR corps has been decimated to the point where they will probably activate rookie receiver Riley Ridley on game day for the first time all year. Of course, I could just as easily see Ridley go off in his NFL debut, but let’s not talk about that.

Meanwhile Detroit could be getting back Trey Flowers and Da’Shawn Hand, so maybe—just maybe—we could see some pass rush this week.

Bears run offense (31st) vs. Lions run defense (20th)

The Bears rushing attack is awful. That is literally all you need to know.

The Lions run defense seems to have finally figured it out. It’s not quite as dominant as it was at the end of 2018, but it has shown enough promise to believe they can win a few of these matchups down the stretch.

In fact, in the past three weeks, the longest run by a running back against this defense is just 11 yards. Here’s a look at just how much better they’ve been lately:

Weeks 1-7: 130.7 Y/G, 4.74 Y/C
Week 8-12: 98.6 Y/G, 3.73 Y/C

That’s a full yard per carry less over the last five games, for the math impaired.

Player to watch: Jarrad Davis. Davis has done an excellent job defending the run over the past three games, tallying eight tackles in each game (15 total solo) and even a forced fumble against Ezekiel Elliott. He had one of his best performances against this same Bears team three weeks ago.

Advantage: Lions +2. Detroit has finally figured things out on defense when it comes to stopping the run, and Chicago can’t find an answer for their woes. With another offensive line piece out this week, I don’t see Chicago getting anything going on Thursday.

Last week’s prediction;

On Paper dropped another game, but I can’t feel too bad about my breakdown. I didn’t have a ton of confidence in any of the four matchups, with Detroit only getting the edge in passing offense and run defense. The run defense was on point, but I did not foresee Jeff Driskel throwing three picks on the day. So my 27-21 Lions prediction was a bit too optimistic for the 19-16 Washington final score.

In the comment section, Snow_Lion notched his second win of the year with an impressively close 19-18 prediction. He shares honors with POD writer Andrew Kato, who predicted 17-16 Washington. Normally, POD writers get to request their prize, and because Snow_Lion has already won this week, Andrew gets his wish.

As our resident film guy—and Jim Caldwell apologist—Andrew Kato wanted to share his collection of tapes he watches often:

This week’s prediction:

The Bears come out with a slight +0.5 advantage. The defense has the advantage in all four matchups, which means this is going to be an ugly game. I don’t even know who is starting at quarterback for the Lions, but I’m not sure it’s going to matter. Both teams will struggle to put up points. Both teams will look miserable in the process.

But, to put it bluntly, the Bears have two very good units in their pass and run defenses. The Lions really only have one passable unit in their run defense (now that Stafford is out).

BUT IT’S A THANKSGIVING MIRACLE! SCREW THE CHARTS. SCREW OBJECTIVITY. Lions 17, Bears 13.