The Detroit Lions are taking on the Chicago Bears in Week 17, and because these two teams have already met this season, we already have the base idea of the keys the Lions may use to attack the Bears. So for this installment, we will revisit the original keys to victory from Week 10 to see what worked, and add a few adjustments into the mix.
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Bears’ base schemes
We went into more detail on the Bears’ scheme in the matchup’s previous Honolulu Blueprint, so we will just do a quick recap in this section.
“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.”
Of course, the biggest weapon the Bears have on offense is their quarterback, and with injuries at their skill positions, there has been little production beyond Justin Fields. As you can see in the chart below, the Bears (lower left) don’t generate much production beyond what Fields gives them.
How much wins above replacement (WAR) a team has generated from their non-QBs, and overall winning percentage this season. Pretty interesting and easy to see which teams have been held back/led by their QBs and coaching pic.twitter.com/614b4MbObk— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) December 27, 2022
“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.”
The shift to more three-linebacker looks has held true in the weeks since the Miami game, and it doesn't seem likely to change with the injuries in the Bears’ secondary. Here’s a look at the opening play from Week 10, when the Bears deployed a three-linebacker look vs. the Lions' 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) offense.
Revisiting the original 4 keys from Week 10
Key 1: Run it straight up the middle
Did it work? No
Despite the Bears’ 28th-ranked DVOA run defense at the time (they’re 29th currently) the Lions only accumulated 95 team rushing yards on 31 rushing attempts. Of those 31, just 13 of them were inside up the middle.
Adjustments: Don’t move away from the run game
In the six games since the Lions faced the Bears, they have rushed for over 100 yards in four of them. Unsurprisingly, the Lions won each of those games, while also losing the two where they failed to reach the century mark (96 vs. Bills and 45 vs. Panthers).
“We have to as a team get back to the basics and for us on offense that really speaks more for our running game,” Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said on Thursday. “Less so schematics, more so technique, fundamentals, our core values, who we talked about in the springtime, in training camp, our identity, what we want it to look like on tape. And so, we always place a high emphasis on our run game, that’s where our gameplan always starts.”
Key 2: Feed Amon-Ra St. Brown
Did it work? Yes
St. Brown was the featured player on offense, receiving 11 of the team's 25 passing targets, while no other Lions skill player had more than three. The Sun God turned those targets into 10 receptions for 119 yards, with 77 of them coming after the catch. (Note: The Lions did not have DJ Chark, Josh Reynolds, or Jameson Williams available for this game.)
Adjustments: None, roll it back
Not only did this strategy work well last time, but the Bears are currently without 60% of their starting secondary, as safety Eddie Jackson, corner Jaylon Johnson, and corner Kindle Vildor are all on injured reserve.
The Bears will likely run a lot of zone coverage, but when they shift to man coverage, they’ll have two options: 1) task a linebacker with guarding St. Brown, or 2) deploy UDFA rookie Josh Blackwell, who has one start and less than 100 snaps logged on the season.
When the #Lions & Bears faced off in Week 10, the Lions were without 60% of their WR group (Chark, Reynolds, JAMO were OUT)— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) December 28, 2022
In Week 17, the script has flipped. The Lions WR group is full strength and the Bears are without 60% of their secondary (Jackson, Johnson, Vildor are OUT)
If St. Brown (186 career receptions) is able to replicate his 10-catch performance, he will pull even with Justin Jefferson and Michael Thomas for the most receptions (196) by a player in their first two seasons in the NFL.
Key 3: Find your offensive explosiveness
Did it work? Yes, but not enough
While the Lions only had one rushing attempt go for over 12 yards (Jamaal Williams), they did produce five receptions that each went over 16 yards, with St. Brown and Kalif Raymond each producing two, and Tom Kennedy coming up clutch on a 44-yarder on a critical play late in the game.
Adjustments: Set goal for 8+ explosive plays
When the Lions’ offense was at its best, they were achieving eight or more explosive plays per game. Six explosive plays and 31 points were enough to get the job done in Chicago in Week 10, but if the Lions are going to keep their postseason dreams a reality, they’ll need to do it behind strong play on offense.
Key 4: Give Justin Fields the Lamar Jackson treatment
Did it work? No
For most of Week 10, the Lions’ defense failed to contain, missed their gaps, and missed tackles when Fields ran the football and he ended the day with 147 rushing yards on 13 attempts.
“He is the x-factor for that team, and it shows all over the tape,” Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said on Thursday. “The number one thing that we’ve learned is how strong this player is, and we had him wrapped up a couple times in that game. We missed the tackle on him, and listen, he’s an athletic player. He’s going to make some players (miss). I mean, that’s just the crux. He’s going to do that. The things that we have to do is be able to eliminate the big plays that he’s able to make.”
- Get an early lead
- Learn from mistakes
Fields hasn’t rushed for 100 yards since facing the Lions in Week 10, and last week against the Bills, he was held to a season-low 11 yards on seven rushing attempts. One of the reasons the Bills were able to limit him was the Bears’ play calling, as they basically abandoned the run once they trailed on the scoreboard. Once the Bills took the lead early in the third quarter, Fields had zero designed runs and only scrambled twice over the final 25 minutes of the game.
“There’s certainly some things that you’ll take (from the Bills’ success vs. Fields), any of these teams that have had success against them,” coach Dan Campbell said. “You’re always going to look at that and see what you can do. But (the Bills) also had different personnel than we do, and so you take some of the good. You also take things you believe that you can do. There’s some things we did well the first time we played them. So, I think it’s all-encompassing.”
So what were some of the things the Lions did well against Fields in their last meeting?
On the final two drives, the Lions executed the “Lamar rules” with much higher efficiency. They did a better job of maintaining their gaps, stayed disciplined with their contain, avoided the additional eye candy, attacked in waves, and condensed the pocket.
As you can see in the screen grabs below from third-and-6, late in the fourth quarter, the Lions were executing the game plan:
“So, they’ve got a good plan over there, what they do, and this quarterback can run,” Campbell said. “We know exactly what he is, he’s dangerous. We know everything starts with the run game with them, and so we have to improve our area. Like, we have to improve every little thing, all the details that got us to this point in the first place that got us to this week. We have to get back to the basics, and we’re going to get back to the basics.”
If the Lions can get back to the basics in their run defense, they should be able to handle most aspects of this game. But if their run defense continues to be leaky, this game could quickly turn into a shootout, and in the NFL, shootouts are a lot less predictable.