Let’s take a closer look at the key things the Lions need to do against the Bears in order to keep their winning streak going. Check out the odds for this game courtesy of our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Bears’ base schemes
On offense, the Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy runs a modified version of Mike Shanahan’s offense which deploys a lot of play-action, RPOs, boot-legs, quick outs, screens, and sweeps.
The Bears will try to set up the run by passing early in games, and will typically slowly introduce their quarterback’s running skill set as the game progresses. This extra usage of Justin Fields as a runner has opened up the offense, most noticeably over the last three weeks.
While Fields does a lot of his damage scrambling on broken plays, Getsy will also call designed runs to put the defense on edge, then shift to RPOs, trying to catch them on their heels and guessing.
On defense, the Bears run a 4-3 base scheme, with a cover-2 concept behind their front. Their defense is in flux after trading away their best linebacker, Roquan Smith, but last week against Miami, they deployed three linebackers nearly 40% of the time, which is well above the league-wide average.
In the picture below, the Dolphins come out on first-and-15 with 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and the Bears keep their base defense on the field in cover-2. The Dolphins counter by stretching the field and going with an empty backfield and setting themselves up to get their speedy receivers into the empty gaps in the zone.
Even without Smith, and with the speed of the Dolphins wide receivers, the Bears still leaned on their base scheme quite a bit. Against Detroit, a team that figures to try and establish the run, look for the Bears to keep these concepts in play.
This brings us to our first key:
Run it straight up the middle
The Bears struggle against the run (DVOA: 28th) but they flow to the ball well, which helps them when the play moves laterally. Considering the Lions have struggled with stretch plays anyway, it makes sense to have their running backs getting north-south as quickly as possible.
With D’Andre Swift still banged up, the Lions will likely lean heavily on Jamaal Williams, who has embraced his role as Detroit’s power back, which further points to attacking downhill as the best strategy.
“He’s been the model of consistency for us offensively,” offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said about Williams. “He runs hard. It might not be flashy or sexy all the time, but he finds a way to always be falling forward when he’s being tackled. He’ll find creases. He’s got great vision, and he’s shown the ability to break tackles and potentially have some explosive runs for us too.”
No reason to get too fancy here, have the offensive line run their gap scheme, and let Williams wear the defensive front down.
Feed Amon-Ra St. Brown
If the Bears insist on running their 4-3 base, there will be opportunities for the Lions to take advantage with St. Brown. The Bears have a solid safety tandem, and when they’re not in a cover-2 shell, they tend to have rookie Jaquan Brisker focus on the tight ends and keep Eddie Jackson in a deep zone.
If the Lions can establish the run, the Bears should stay in their base, and when they do, St. Brown is going to be matched up against a linebacker or a corner who has been struggling of late.
The Lions found ways to get St. Brown in coverage versus linebackers last week, and when they did, he hauled in four receptions on five targets for 55 yards.
If the Bears do adjust and shift to a nickel look, second-round rookie Kyler Gordon would likely be tasked with the St. Brown assignment. Gordon plays both inside and out, but when the Bears shift to subpackage sets, he is the corner that typically travels inside. Last week, Gordon played every defensive snap, and allowed four receptions on six targets (one drop), for 55 yards and two first-down conversions, earning him a 35.7 coverage grade from PFF.
Find your offensive explosiveness
Once celebrated as the highest-scoring offense in the league, the Lions have been subdued of late, and a big part of that has been their lack of explosive plays.
“The last two games we haven’t been nearly as explosive,” Johnson said. “I want to say just by our metrics [editor note: runs of 12+ yards and passes of 16+ yards] there were five explosives two weeks ago and then only four last week, which really we’ve been averaging over eight early in the season there. So, the explosive game hasn’t been there and that’s not just throwing the ball down the field or getting the big runs. It’s also some of these opportunities we have to get the ball in our hands short and making a tackler miss and creating something that way.”
So how do the Lions plan on fixing it?
“Certainly player-driven,” Johnson continued. “I think the most explosive teams in the League have the best skill players... that plays a big part of it, but also I think scheme can help that and if you can get the right play against the right coverage generally speaking that can be a good thing... So, generally speaking, it’s on these guys if we can get the ball in their hands to make something happen. But we’re trying to create as much separation schematically to help them.”
The Lions offensive skill players are banged up. Wide receiver DJ Chark is on injured reserve for at least another week, wide receiver Josh Reynolds has yet to practice this week and missed last Sunday’s game, running back D’Andre Swift is still nursing multiple injuries, and T.J. Hockenson was traded away last week.
Now, the cupboard isn’t bare. St. Brown and Williams are weapons as noted above, and they’ll get some situational work out of Swift, but the Lions will need other players to step up. Last week, it was the tight ends who scored both their touchdowns, but this week, the Lions will likely have to get it done with their backs and receivers.
Of course, as Johnson mentioned, if the talent level of the skill players is lacking, it’s up to him to get creative with his play calling in order to introduce opportunities.
Can they find a combination of the variables and bring back the explosive plays? They’ll need to if they hope to keep pace with the surging production of Justin Fields.
Give Justin Fields the Lamar Jackson treatment
Getsy has finally unlocked Fields’ skill set and the pair have the Bears offense thriving right now. Fields is fresh off an NFL record-setting game and he will be looking to continue his hot streak against the Lions.
“Quarterback-driven runs, guard tackle pulls, read the end, hand it off, these backs are running hard, they’re downhill,” coach Dan Campbell said of the Bears offensive success. “And then, there’s enough of the keepers off of it. There’s enough misdirection to the receivers. And then, certainly his (Fields) ability on third down, that’s where they really got Miami was man, there’s a number of third-and-8, third-and-10—there’s an opening in there and he takes it and he’s gone.”
Getsy previously mentioned that he had looked to Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson for inspiration on how to deploy Fields, something that Campbell also touched on. But it’s worth noting, that when the Lions faced Jackson last season, they held him to 58 yards rushing on the day, and 31 of them came on his first attempt. After that, they did a solid job of stifling him.
So how did they do it?
“We focused on our gap responsibilities,” Campbell explained. “Worked it all week, made sure we were supposed to be, and it takes a lot of trust, it takes time, effort and trust. Each guy’s got to believe that the guy next to him is going to do his job. Don’t try to do somebody else’s job, that’ll be vital.”
A lot of the Lions defensive issues stemmed from a lack of trust in each other and player were often overcompensating and trying to cover others' responsibilities. But things changed in Week 9 after a player-only meeting called by defensive veterans addressed these hard issues and the defense had their best performance of the season.
So here’s the outline to stop Fields:
- Know your responsibilities
- Own your gap
- Keep contain, don’t get too far upfield
- Avoid the eye-candy
- Condense the pocket
- Attack him in waves
- Wrap up
- Split your safeties
Easier said than done, for sure, but the Bears offensive success is dictated by Fields’ play and the Lions need to enter this game focused and trusting each other.