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Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears preview, prediction: On Paper

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Our statistical matchup of the Lions’ Week 10 matchup.

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NFL: Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll be honest, I hate Chicago Bears week. Something bad always seems to happen, whether it’s the Calvin Johnson rule, that one time Matthew Stafford got in a fight after throwing like 50 interceptions, or the many times Stafford has been injured in this matchup.

The one good thing about being a team that’s essentially out of the playoff race in Week 10 is that the pressure is off. While you always want to stick it to the Bears, it doesn’t feel as urgent with most of the stakes removed for both teams.

Still, we must proceed with the exhaustive On Paper preview, because it’s my job and I haven’t missed one of these in over 10 years. I wouldn’t want to let the 30 of you that still read all 2,000 words down. Thankfully for the rest of you, this has always been a very skimmable article. So let’s get to it.

Lions pass offense (5th) vs. Bears pass defense (7th)

The chart suggests this hasn’t been an outstanding year for Stafford, but I’m willing to throw this chart in the trash. With no running game and no defense to speak of, the fact that Stafford is even able to hit near the defensive averages in every game this season is nothing short of a miracle. The fact that he’s absolutely balled out during the leanest portion of the season is MVP-quality play no matter how you put it.

But let’s go ahead and put it into context anyways. Stafford is fifth in passer rating (106.0), fourth in yards per attempt (8.6), second in passing touchdowns (19), seventh in QBR (68.9) though just 18th in completion percentage (64.3). If the defense gets a stop against the Chiefs, the refs don’t screw them in Green Bay, and Logan Thomas comes down with that pass last week, The Lions would be 6-1-1 and Stafford is a top-three MVP candidate right now—especially when you see how the rest of the team is playing.

Detroit is particularly living off the deep ball. The Lions are fourth in passes of 40+ yards (eight) and first in the league in 20+ yard plays (41).

Yeah, this Bears defense is no slouch. Only the Philadelphia Eagles have been able to reach their passer rating average against Chicago. Literally all seven other teams were held below their average when facing the Bears.

New defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has this defense ranked 11th in passer rating allowed (89.2), seventh in yards per attempt (6.8) but 26th in completion percentage (68.4). Smart readers can put those numbers together and come to the rightful conclusion that this team gives up a lot of stuff underneath, but not a lot of deep plays. They’ve only allowed 20 plays of 20+ yards through the air (fifth) and three of 40+ yards (t-sixth).

As far as pass rush, this unit has undoubtedly been hurt by the loss of Akiem Hicks. They still have 23 sacks on the year (t-13th), but aside from Khalil Mack, they don’t really have a truly threatening pass rusher.

Chicago is also missing playmakers in the back end. They only have five interceptions on the year (t-19th) after finishing with 27 last year. Additionally, they have only 33 pass breakups this season, good for a share of 19th in the NFL.

Player to watch: Khalil Mack. His stats may not look as impressive as normal, but he’s the one guy that can blow up an entire game on his own. With an injured defensive front, the Lions can focus on Mack a little more than normal, but sometimes that isn’t enough to stop him.

Advantage: Lions +1. This will be the best matchup of the game, and it could really go either way. The one data point in the Lions’ favor is how Stafford dominated a Vikings defense that he had struggled to figure out for years. The one data point that works in Chicago’s favor is their ability to stop the deep ball this year. That’s Detroit’s bread and butter, so if the Bears continue that trend, they have a real chance in this matchup.

Lions run offense (28th) vs. Bears run defense (12th)

The Lions run offense rebounded nicely last week with a solid game against a stiff Raiders defense. That’s a little promising considering how beat up the Lions are at running back. However, when Detroit truly needed to run that ball late in the game, they couldn’t. So I don’t have a ton of hope that the successes from Week 9 are for real.

In reality, this run offense continues to stink. They’re averaging just 3.7 yards per carry on the season (t-26th) and earn first downs on just 17.9 percent of runs (30th). They are no threat to run in the red zone, as they have just two rushing touchdowns on the entire season (t-29th) and they really struggle in short-yardage situations. They succeed just 54 percent of the time—good for 26th in the league.

The Bears have had a couple defensive slip ups this year, allowing over 145 yards and over 4.2 per carry in three of the last four games. That sounds promising for Detroit, right? Well, not really, because those three teams have some of the best rushing attacks in the entire NFL.

Chicago isn’t quite as stout as they’ve always been against the run, but they’re still pretty damn good at it. They’re only allowing 3.7 yards per carry (fourth) and ceding first downs 20.6 percent of the time (ninth). They don’t allow big runs, forfeiting just two rushes of 20+ yards on the entire season (t-second), but they are strangely soft when it comes to the goal line. They’ve allowed eight rushing touchdowns on the season (t-13th) and they’re just 14th in short-yardage situations.

Player to watch: Frank Ragnow vs. Eddie Goldman. Ragnow has been a bit of a quiet superstar on the Lions offensive line this year, earning the team’s highest run blocking grade on the season. Eddie Goldman is Chicago’s version of Snacks, but is battling through a thigh injury.

Advantage: Bears +2. The Lions can’t run the ball, but they’re going to try—likely at the most inopportune times. Detroit’s offense can overcome it because Matthew Stafford is god-like right now, but at some point in this game, you’re going to be frustrated by the Lions’ lack of a running game. I guarantee it.

Bears pass offense (21st) vs. Lions pass defense (22nd)

*Game played mostly by Chase Daniel—NOTE: He played in Oakland, too

You may have heard that the most common bet for 2019 NFL MVP is having a rough year. That would be pretty accurate.

Mitchell Trubisky is having a bad time, and he doesn’t want the big, bad TV reminding him of it. For his sake, I hope the Bears internet has Pride of Detroit blocked, because he isn’t going to like this next part.

Trubisky ranks:

  • Third-worst in QBR (34.8)
  • Worst in yards per attempt (5.6)
  • Fourth-worst in passer rating (80.0)
  • Among QBs with 100 passing attempt, second-fewest TD passes (5)
  • 2nd worst PFF grade (minimum 100 passing attempts)

He’s been very, very bad despite having one of the best receivers in the league in Allen Robinson and a solid receiving threat out of the backfield in Tarik Cohen.

I don’t know exactly what went wrong right around the bye week for the Lions pass defense, but it has been a complete turnaround from the start of the year. Check it out:

First 5 games: 59.4% completions, 291.6 yards per game, 6 TDs, 3 INTs, 32 pass breakups
Last 3 games: 67.9% completions, 316.3 yards per game, 10 TDs, 0 INTs, 9 pass breakups

The crazy thing about this is that Detroit faced some seriously good quarterbacks in those first five games and just some average guys (though Kirk Cousins and Derek Carr are playing really well right now) in the last three.

There are a lot of reasons this may be happening. Injuries to Darius Slay and Tracy Walker certainly haven’t helped. Detroit has also faced some pretty balanced offenses in the past three games that have caught Detroit off guard. But a lot simply has to do with the play of the secondary. They were breaking up passes like crazy through the first month of the seasons but have really struggled as of late.

Of course, their complete lack of pass rush hasn’t helped, either:

Overall, Detroit ranks 20th in passer rating allowed (97.5), t-21st in yards per attempt allowed (7.7), and fourth in completion percentage (60.4). They have been way too susceptible to the big play, allowing 38 plays of 20+ yards (t-third most) and six of 40+ yards (t-eighth most).

Player to watch: Darius Slay vs. Allen Robinson. In a matchup between two horrible units, the two best players on the field should draw the most attention. I don’t know if Trubisky will have the confidence to go after Slay, but Robinson is their only true deep threat. So if the Lions are smart, they shadow him for nearly the entire game.

Advantage: Lions +1. Look, I know how bad the Lions defense has been this past month, but we’ve at least seen some promise from the secondary at some point in the season. Trubisky has been really, really, really bad. It wouldn’t be a complete shock to see the Lions struggle here, but it sure would be embarrassing.

Bears run offense (26th) vs. Lions run defense (18th)

For as bad as Trubisky has been this year, the running game has somehow been worse. They’ve only eclipsed 100 yards or 4.0 yards per carry twice this season. On the other hand, they’ve been held below 3.0 yards per carry three times this year.

Rookie David Montgomery is off to a slow start, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, but he does have five touchdowns.

It’s hard to blame the rookie for the rushing woes, though. Chicago’s offensive line has just not been playing up to task. A few weeks ago, PFF ranked the Bears’ offensive line 27th in the league.

Overall, the numbers are hideous. The Bears rank 28th in yards per carry (3.6), 26th in rushes that earn first downs (19.3) and their power rush ranking is just 30th in the league. They are, by almost every measure, a bottom-10 rushing attack.

This chart suggests things may not be quite as bad as they seem for the Lions’ run defense. They have faced a ton of very respectable rushing attacks this year, and held most of them right around their averages.

Still, this is a huge step back from where the unit finished in 2018, and that still has to be viewed as a major disappointment. If you need a reminder of just how good this run defense was at this point last year, here’s a painful reminder via the On Paper charts from the final eight games:

siiiiiiiiiigh

Anyways, now the Lions rank t-22nd in yards per carry allowed (4.7), 15th in percentage of rushes earning first downs (22.7) and tied for last in power running situations.

Player to watch: Jarrad Davis. The worst-graded linebacker in the league needs an amazing finish to the year, otherwise, his future with the team should be in doubt. He hasn’t been able to fix any of his issues in run defense, whether it’s poor run fits, missed tackles or shedding blocks.

Advantage: Lions +0.5. Detroit’s run defense hasn’t been good this year, and it’s probably fair to even say it’s been bad. But it hasn’t been quite as horrible as the Bears run offense. So I’ll give them a slight nod here, but given the injuries the Lions are going through on the defensive front, I’m not making it a big edge.

Last week’s pick:

On Paper has now correctly predicted three in a row and has moved to 5-3 on the year. Last week’s score prediction of 31-30 Raiders was nearly dead on. Detroit was literally one yard away from making that the score, and had they gone for two and missed... well, why bother think about things like that? Anyways, the only matchup I was truly off in was the Lions finding some modicum of success on the ground against the Raiders, but that wore off in the second half and didn’t really amount to anything worthwhile.

I was ready to crown myself with back-to-back wins in the On Paper challenge, but Panzer1943 nearly got a flawless victory with their 32-24 Raiders prediction. Also, it’s probably worth mentioning that last week, I screwed Diser12 out of a co-victory. BUT I SHARE THE STAGE WITH NO ONE. I AM A SOLO ACT. So Diser, you get to share this week’s prize with Panzer.

Mitchell Trubisky wants all the TVs turned off at Bears HQ to avoid national criticism. But why go through all that trouble when you can simply purchase the newest technology in TV remotes: Bear Off! With Bear Off! you can turn any negative talking heads segment into a positive one! Simply press the Bear Off button on your remote control and all the bad comments magically turn into good ones!

This week’s pick:

The Lions come out with a mere +0.5 advantage, but the truth is I have no idea who has the edge here. Will the Lions pass defense finally end its skid or will Mitchell Trubisky finally rebound? Can Matthew Stafford continue his phenomenal season or will the Bears defense continue to flex its dominance?

Just about every single one of these matchups is even and could go either way, and therefore I really have no good grasp on how this game is going to play out. It could be a shootout. It could be a 13-6 type of game.

It’s rare for me to be in such a clueless situation, but these teams just happen to match up so evenly across the board, so I’m just throwing darts here. 23-20 Lions.