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Detroit Lions Week 17 scouting report: Why the Chicago Bears are losing despite Justin Fields’ success

The Chicago Bears have one of the league’s most dynamic players in Justin Fields, and it’s up to the Detroit Lions to not let Fields snuff out their bid for the playoffs.

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It may have felt like it’s taken forever for last week’s game against the Carolina Panthers to be finally put in the rearview mirror, but you might just be shaking off a Christmas hangover yourself. In 72 hours, the Detroit Lions play to keep their playoff hopes alive against the division rival Chicago Bears at Ford Field.

Hopefully, the Lions resolution will be refocusing their attention and efforts toward stopping the run.

The Bears are losers of eight in a row, and one of those losses was courtesy of the Lions in Week 10, a 31-30 victory that helped propel Detroit’s playoff hopes and put a damper on Chicago’s string of exciting play. But even in the midst of this losing streak, the Bears have found their franchise quarterback in Justin Fields, so this season isn’t so much a loss as it is a building block for the Bears. Chicago is a shrewd offseason away from being the next example of a team going worst to first, but they still have two games left to decide their draft position—and whether the Lions will be playing for anything in Week 18.

Let’s dig a little deeper into who this Bears team is since we last saw them in Week 10.

2022 Chicago Bears

2022 season thus far (3-12)

Week 1: Beat 49ers, 19-10
Week 2: Lost to Packers, 10-27
Week 3: Beat Texans, 23-20
Week 4: Lost to Giants, 12-20
Week 5: Lost to Vikings, 22-29
Week 6: Lost to Commanders, 7-12
Week 7: Beat Patriots, 33-14
Week 8: Lost to Cowboys, 29-49
Week 9: Lost to Dolphins, 32-35
Week 10: Lost to Lions, 30-31
Week 11: Lost to Falcons, 24-27
Week 12: Lost to Jets, 10-31
Week 13: Lost to Packers, 19-28
Week 14: Bye
Week 15: Lost to Eagles, 20-25
Week 16: Lost to Bills, 13-35

Stats:

  • 22nd in points scored (20.2 PPG), 31st in points allowed (26.2 PPG)
  • 29th in overall DVOA
  • 23rd in offensive DVOA (27th in pass DVOA, 12th in run DVOA)
  • 32nd in defensive DVOA (29th in pass DVOA, 29th in run DVOA)

Offense

As Justin Fields goes, so does this Bears offense. As a runner, Fields has established himself as a dynamic threat in the same vein as Lamar Jackson. Fields leads the Bears in rushing with 1,011 yards on just 150 attempts (6.7 yards per carry) and eight rushing touchdowns, but what may be most impressive about Fields rushing total is how the majority of his rushing yards (645) have come on scrambles, the most in the NFL. His 31 rushes of 10+ yards puts him fifth in the NFL behind four running backs all with at least 236 rushing attempts. It’s not just that he’s a threat to extend plays or keep drives moving with his legs, he’s liable to break off an explosive play at any time that can flip the field.

David Montgomery has been Chicago’s lead running back in terms of carries, but his efficiency—4.0 YPC on 188 attempts—doesn’t seem to justify his usage. Although he missed some time on injured reserve, the return of Khalil Herbert should help revitalize the lull in production on the ground. Herbert’s 5.7 YPC on 114 attempts over 11 games provides more than enough of a sample size to see he’s another explosive threat out of the backfield just like Fields. In fact, Herbert is 21st among runners with 19 runs of 10+ yards despite having far fewer attempts than anybody ahead of him not named Fields, Jalen Hurts, or Lamar Jackson.

Chicago’s offensive line is ranked 12th in adjusted line yards (4.48), they excel in power success (4th), and only 14 percent of their runs result in plays where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage which is also fourth-best in the NFL. According to ESPN’s run block win rate, the Bears rank fifth in the NFL with Cody Whitehair ranking fourth among all guards in the league. While their rushing attack is multi-dimensional and successful in a variety of ways thanks to the explosive skill players and strong offensive line up front, the team’s passing attack is a different story.

While Fields has established himself as one of the great dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL, his passing numbers leave something to be desired. His completion percentage (62.3) ranks 26th in the NFL, he’s 32nd in DYAR, and he has the second-worst interception percentage (3.4 percent) among quarterbacks—not to mention his league-leading 15 fumbles. Up front, the Bears are 32nd in adjusted sack rate (12.7 percent) and they’ve allowed 50 sacks this year. However, the Bears rank second in ESPN’s pass block win rate, which measures, “the rate linemen can sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer,” so ESPN puts a lot of the sacks Chicago incurs on Fields.

The Bears group of wide receivers took a huge hit when they lost No. 1 wideout Darnell Mooney for the rest of the season after he suffered an ankle injury in Week 12. Mooney is the team’s leading receiver (493 receiving yards) despite missing the last three games. At the trade deadline, the Bears traded a 2023 second-round pick for Chase Claypool from the Pittsburgh Steelers after having two chances in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft to select the player—George Pickens—that took Claypool’s target share in Pittsburgh. In five games with the Bears, Claypool has 12 catches for 111 yards. Cole Kmet, the starting tight end, leads the team in receptions (44) and was a big factor in the team’s first matchup when he caught four passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions are ranked 26th in DVOA against tight ends, allowing 0.67 touchdowns (32nd in the NFL) and 52.3 receiving yards per game (21st).

Defense

Transactions and injuries have left the Bears extremely shorthanded on this side of the ball and it’s resulted in what might be the league’s worst defense.

Before the season even started, the Bears moved on from Khalil Mack in a blockbuster deal that sent him to the Los Angeles Chargers, but that move seemed to signal Chicago was prepared to tear everything down to the studs. Dealing away both Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith during the season furthered their rebuilding efforts.

Injuries have taken a toll on this defense, especially in the secondary with safety Eddie Jackson suffering a season-ending foot injury in Week 12. Jackson was named a team captain after the departure of Quinn and Smith and for good reason: Jackson does it all for this defense, playing great in coverage as the team’s free safety—four interceptions and three passes defended on 16 targets, and a 69.0 passer rating against in coverage—but also as a run defender who can climb up into the box and make plays in run defense—Jackson still ranks third on the team in run defense tackles with 31 per PFF. Another significant loss for the Bears’ secondary is starting cornerback Jaylon Johnson, a former second-round pick in 2020 who had seven passes defended before recently being put on injured reserve with a broken finger.

Losing pass rushers like Mack, Quinn, and Smith has resulted in the Bears having the fewest pressures (146) in the NFL. Even though Quinn hasn’t played for Chicago since Week 7, he still ranks fourth on the team in pressures with just 14. When Jeremy Reisman wrote the scouting report in Week 10, the Bears had 13.0 sacks. Seven weeks later and the Bears are dead last in the NFL with 18.0 sacks and the 31st-ranked sack percentage (4.1 percent). They’re allowing the second-most net yards gained per pass attempt (7.2) and yards per play (6.0), and it doesn’t figure to get any better with rookies Kyler Gordon and Jaylon Jones manning outside corner, and DeAndre Houston-Carson replacing former All-Pro safety Eddie Jackson.

Chicago’s run defense dwells near the bottom of the league in a variety of statistics as well. The Bears rank tied for 28th in rushing yards per attempt (4.9) and 30th in rushing yards per game (151.2), and Football Outsiders shows Chicago is especially susceptible to the right side of their defensive front, ranking 29th in adjusted line yards allowed (5.73) to the offense’s left end and 24th to the left tackle (4.81).

Injuries

  • IR/PUP/NFI: S Eddie Jackson (IR), WR Darnell Mooney (IR), CB Jaylon Johnson (IR), CB Kindle Vildor (IR), LB Jack Sanborn (IR), CB Dane Cruikshank (IR), LB Javin White (IR)
  • Other injuries: WR Chase Claypool (knee), WR Equanimeous St. Brown (concussion), DT Justin Jones (eye), LB Sterling Weatherford (illness), OG Cody Whitehair (knee), TE Trevon Wesco (calf)

The Bears could potentially be down two receivers this week with Claypool not practicing due to a knee injury that has kept him sidelined for the past two weeks and St. Brown still working his way through concussion protocol. Another significant injury the Bears face is Whitehair’s knee injury, but he seems to be trending towards playing after missing last week’s game against the Bills.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Biggest strength: Justin Fields

Right now, with Lamar Jackson sidelined due to injury, Fields is the most exciting player to watch in the NFL. His ability to turn any play into a touchdown with his legs is something Lions fans are all too familiar with from their last meeting. The running quarterback Any quarterback with a set of legs has presented a huge problem for Detroit’s defense, and after the Lions abysmal performance against the run in Carolina, stopping the Bears ground game, starting with Fields, is going to be the biggest key for the Lions in this game.

Biggest weakness: Defense

At first, I had this narrowed down to the run defense itself, but there’s nothing going right for the Bears on this side of the ball at all. They don’t pressure the quarterback, they’ve lost key players in the secondary, they rank 30th in pass yards per attempt (7.7), and they have the fewest passes defended in the NFL (47). Chicago is a football team that won’t stop you on defense, so it’s up to your team to keep pace with Fields and the Bears offense in a shootout.

Vegas line for Sunday: Lions by 6