The Detroit Lions have lost four of their last five games. The Chicago Bears have lost all five of their last five. The Lions are coming off a Thanksgiving Day massacre that got their head coach and general manager fired. The Bears are coming off a slaughtering at the hands of the Packers that got their head coach to get BIG MAD during Monday’s presser.
Just one game separates the 4-7 Lions and 5-6 Bears, and that feels about right. The two played to a thrilling game in Week 1, but both teams are inherently flawed and have little hope for the 2020 season.
So let’s spend a ton of time breaking down their Week 13 matchup! It’s On Paper time, whether you like it or not.
Lions pass offense (20th) vs. Bears pass defense (8th)
Kenny Golladay hasn’t played since the Colts game. Danny Amendola has been out the past two weeks, same with D’Andre Swift.
The Lions passing offense hasn’t been good this year, but they’ve been especially bad without those three in the lineup. Amendola is almost certainly back this week, and Golladay is almost certainly out. Swift has cleared concussion protocol, but is now dealing with an illness.
Of course, the huge mitigating factor in this matchup this week is offensive coordinator turned interim head coach Darrell Bevell. Will he come out with a more aggressive, fast-paced gameplan? The hints are there. But we won’t know until they take the field on Sunday, leaving this week’s prediction extra difficult.
This is a fascinating chart for the Bears. Their pass defense through the first six games of the season was phenomenal, but they weren’t exactly playing the cream of the crop. Once they started playing the better passing offenses in the league, suddenly everything looks vulnerable. They haven’t significantly held an opposing offense below their passer rating since Week 6. This suggests their five-game losing streak may not be as simple as their offense failing.
Still, overall this defense remains pretty darn good. They rank 12th in passer rating allowed (89.8), seventh in yards per attempt (6.8) and second in completion percentage allowed (62.0%). The biggest difference, though, from previous years is the lack of interceptions. This year, they have just six. In 2019, they had 10. In 2018, they had 27(!!). Without those turnovers, this defense just doesn’t look as threatening.
Player to watch: Khalil Mack. While Mack has missed the first two practices of the week, head coach Matt Nagy suggests it’s simply precautionary, and believes he will play this week. Mack has been sackless in the last three games, but he’s still PFF’s No. 2 edge defender this year.
Advantage: Bears +1. The Bears have the clear advantage here, but I can’t give it a big score simply because of the Bevell Bump factor. With the benefit of secrecy, the Lions could come out looking significantly different on Sunday, catching Chicago by surprise. We know this offense has the potential to be explosive—we saw it in 2019. With Matt Patricia gone, could they finally unleash the beast again?
Lions run offense (23rd) vs. Bears run defense (5th)
This has pretty much been the Lions’ running chart for the past three or four years: flashes of running potential, but usually more bad than good. Sure, the Lions suffered from underutilization of D’Andre Swift early in the year and Swift’s injury lately, but schematically, they’ve rarely looked like the dominating force Patricia always wanted them to be.
Instead, you’re left with a pretty below average unit that is heavily reliant upon the only running back that is capable of consistently making plays.
The Bears run defense has been mostly good, but there are certainly some concerning performances that are very unlike Chicago. They’ve allowed at least 4.7 yards per carry five times this season, including last week against the Packers.
Overall, the numbers are still pretty favorable to Chicago. They’re allowing 4.1 yards per carry (11th) and 23 percent of rushes are earning first downs against the Bears (seventh).
Player to watch: Akiem Hicks. Hicks missed last week’s game for the Bears and it showed. It’s unclear whether Hicks plays this week, but he did return to practice on Thursday. If he plays, expect to see a more familiar (see: more dominant) Bears run defense.
Advantage: Bears +1. Again, with the availabilities of Hicks and Swift still in the air, it’s hard to feel confident in predicting this matchup. That being said, Chicago still feels like the stronger unit here. The Lions have scattered strong performances and the Bears have scattered bad performances. The Lions would have to get lucky for those to align this week.
Bears pass offense (26th) vs. Lions pass defense (28th)
Breaking news: The Chicago Bears have crappy quarterbacks. As a team, the Bears have had just a single game in which they’ve tallied a passer rating of over 100. And that opponent was... CRAP.
This week, it’s Mitchell Trubisky time again. While the former first-round pick adds an element of mobility to his game, he’s clearly been the worse passer behind center.
Nick Foles: 65.0% completions, 6.0 Y/A, 10 TDs, 8 INTs, 81.0 passer rating
Mitchell Trubisky, 58.3% completions, 6.1 Y/A, 9 TDs, 5 INts, 83.0 passer rating
Okay, maybe it’s not that clear.
Either way, this passing offense is trash. They rank 31st in yards per attempt (6.0), 27th in passer rating (81.1) and 27th in completion percentage (62.5).
That being said, there are some positives. Allen Robinson is still very good. His 829 yards ranks 14th in the NFL. Additionally, even Jimmy Graham is playing better than expected. His five touchdowns have already matched his total from 2018 and 2019 combined.
The Lions pass defense is equally trash. And with Desmond Trufant on IR and Jeff Okudah likely to miss another game due to a shoulder injury, there is little hope for any turnaround this week.
You could pray for a Bevell Bump on this side of the ball, but unlike the offense, there is just no talent that is underperforming on defense. They simply don’t have the players to see a significant turnaround, and that’s bad news for defensive coordinator Cory Undlin.
Player to watch: Allen Robinson. In their first matchup, Robinson had five catches for 74 yards. But Detroit had Desmond Trufant for most of that game. With Detroit’s secondary struggling to even sport three healthy corners, I don’t see much hope in stopping Robinson.
Advantage: Bears +1. Normally, this would be a draw, because both units are equally terrible. But because Detroit is more beat up than Chicago, I’m giving the slight edge to the Bears. Also, there’s this:
Mitchell Trubisky's statline vs. past 6 non-Lions opponents:— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) December 2, 2020
108/220 for 1258 yards (5.7 Y/A), 7 TDs, 7 INTs, 64.2 passer rating
Trubisky's statline in all 6 games vs. Lions:
137/203 for 1601 yard (7.9 Y/A), 14 TDs, 4 INts, 106.0 passer rating
Bears run offense (31st) vs. Lions run defense (23rd)
While I think the Bears run offense is better than their DVOA ranking suggests, it certainly isn’t a good unit. They’ve been held below 3.0 yards per carry in six of their last eight games and have only eclipsed 100 rushing yards once since Week 3.
The overall numbers really tell most of the story. They’re averaging just 3.9 yards per carry as a team (25th), and earning first downs on just 21.0 percent of rushes (30th). They’re bad in short-yardage situations, converting on just 60 percent of their opportunities (25th), and they only have five rushes of over 20 yards this year (t-20th).
If there’s been one thing the Lions have actually been consistently good at this year, it’s defending the run—especially out of their Week 5 bye week. Since then, the only opponent to rush for over 3.5 yards per carry in a game against Detroit was Dalvin Cook and the Vikings.
However, there is one big mitigating factor this week. Nose tackle Danny Shelton has been placed on injured reserve. Shelton hasn’t missed a single game this year, and he was averaging well over 50 percent of the defensive snaps every week. We literally don’t know what this run defense will look like without him, but Detroit will likely have to rely heavily on sixth-round pick John Penisini, who has played somewhat well in a significant role this year.
Who to watch: Kevin Strong. While Penisini will have a significant role, so, too, will Kevin Strong. The Lions defensive tackle was added to the practice squad just this week and hasn’t played since Week 2. But with Shelton out and Da’Shawn Hand trending in that direction, the Lions will be extremely shorthanded in the interior, and they’ll need a... strong showing from Kevin.
Advantage: Lions +1. It’d be a bigger advantage for Detroit if anyone on this team was healthy right now, but I can’t bring a lot of confidence in this prediction with Detroit’s defensive line the way it is right now. (Remember, Trey Flowers was one of the better run defenders on the team, and he’s still on IR.)
Last week’s prediction:
Last week, my prediction was entirely based upon the availability of D’Andre Swift. If he played, I believed it to be a toss-up game (ultimately in Detroit’s favor). If he didn’t, the Texans had a clear advantage. I was trying to be hopeful and picked the Lions, but I think I pretty much nailed the rest of my analysis of the game, especially the +3 advantage I gave to the Texans in the passing game.
In the comment section, we had a lot of Lions fans picking Detroit to get blown out, but none were closer than Chrisrtld, whose 42-21 score was quite close to the 41-25 final score. You win the biggest prize in On Paper history. A relic you will cherish as one of the most iconic moments of a dark time in this franchise’s history. Enjoy (a picture of) Matt Patricia’s 4x4:
This week’s prediction:
The Bears come out with a +2 advantage. There’s an opening for a Lions upset here, as I clearly don’t have much confidence in any of my individual matchup predictions. If Bevell can bring some excitement back to the offense, this Bears defense has not been playing particularly well as of late. If the Lions can let Mitchell Trubisky be Mitchell Trubisky for all four quarters instead of just three, they could easily win on defense, too.
But the Lions are just too beat up right now, and the Bears looked at least competent on one side of the ball in the month of November. Given Chicago is actually still in the playoff race and they’re the home team, there are just too many factors in their favor.
Maybe the Bevell Bump is real and Detroit gets a shot in the arm this week, but this preview is all about objectivity, and I can’t rely on something I haven’t seen yet. Bears 27, Lions 24.