Whereas their first matchup on the year was a close offensive shootout, the rematch between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears was a one-sided affair. The Lions stomped the Bears in every facet, with the Lions offense looking unstoppable while the Bears offense floundered. Justin Fields may have rattled off some lengthy runs, but it all proved moot when the Lions began to run away with the lead.
With one game left to play before the playoffs, how are the Lions shaping up? Let’s examine some takeaways.
A bright future for the defensive line
There are many ways to build a defensive line, and the Lions have done so in multiple ways. Second-overall pick Aidan Hutchinson is cementing himself as a top Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, if not the frontrunner. Yet the production from the defensive line is coming from guys you might not have expected. With heavily-paid defensive ends Romeo Okwara and Charles Harris missing large parts of the season with injury, the Lions’ depth has come to play.
It seems like we’re talking about James Houston on a weekly basis, yet he deserves it. Houston has done nothing but impress since hitting the field, and his game against the Bears was a perfect showcase of his skillset. A bull rush? Check. Ridiculous bend? Check. Hustle? Check. Houston finished the game with three sacks (one was originally called a half) and a forced fumble, adding to his already stacked young resume. Houston is no longer a pure passing down defender either, he is seeing action on first down to boot. His run defense will be tested as his role grows, but the kid has shined.
Not bad for a pair of rookies.
James Houston and Aidan Hutchinson each have 7.5 sacks on the season— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) January 1, 2023
Josh Paschal and John Cominsky recorded three sacks between them on Sunday, further highlighting the number of talented pass rushers on this team. Paschal is living up to his second round billing after a slow start to his rookie career, while Cominsky is earning himself a paycheck as a stellar waiver wire pickup. The interior of the defensive line is still struggling in run defense as of late, but Alim McNeill and Isaiah Buggs have each had moments this year, so a turnaround is more than feasible.
Best of all, the core of this Lions defensive line is young—and affordable. The secondary could use some investments next offseason, so having some cheap and productive talent up front is a massive boon. It’s easy to be excited about what the Lions are building.
Offense firing on all cylinders
What a difference a week makes.
While the Lions offense was by no means awful against the Panthers, it felt like an uphill battle for most of the game. The tide was turned against the Chicago Bears this week. Despite a first quarter scare, the Lions offense got rolling and never stopped.
Jared Goff had another near-perfect outing, tossing three touchdowns and, just as importantly, committing no turnovers. Goff continues his hot streak as the Lions continue their playoff hunt. The Lions would not be in this position without Goff, an incredible turnaround from a rough 2021. Goff is playing arguably the best football of his career—a notion he agreed with after the game—and there’s no doubt the talented stable of offensive weapons is playing a factor.
Yardage-wise, it was an uncharacteristically quiet day from the receivers. Amon-Ra St. Brown, DJ Chark, and Kalif Raymond led the way, but no receiver topped 70 yards. That being said, it was a testament to how diverse the passing attack was. Ten different Lions players caught a pass against the Bears, including two touchdowns by tight end Brock Wright. The Lions are making due in a post-T.J. Hockenson world:
With Brock Wright's 2nd TD of the game, his first multi-TD game, @Lions tight ends have now produced 12 TDs this season.— Detroit Lions PR (@LionsPR) January 1, 2023
This establishes a new team record for the most TDs in a season by tight ends.#OnePride pic.twitter.com/roMbwLQZfz
The run game is back in business
Yet perhaps the biggest story of the game was the return of the run game. Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift feasted against the depleted Bears defense. Williams and Swift combined for 222 yards, each back averaging over six yards per carry. Credit to the offensive line for blasting away openings for the backs to run through, but the pair showed burst that was lacking in recent games. Swift in particular looked like his prime self, his evasiveness on full display. Add in a Jameson Williams end around, and the Lions were cooking.
If the Lions do make the playoffs, they could boast one of the more dangerous offenses in the dance.
Home Sweet Dome
The Lions had some home cooking against the Bears in the final game at Ford Field for the season. Statistically, the Lions were just 5-4 at home during the 2022 season, but that doesn’t paint a clear picture of their homefield advantage of late. Since the Lions midseason turnaround in Week 9, the Lions have lost just one game at home, a defeat to the Super Bowl-favorite Buffalo Bills. In their past five home games, the Lions have scored 155 points to 84 points allowed. Jared Goff, meanwhile, has a ridiculous 23-3 touchdown to interception ratio at home.
It’s a shame the Lions won’t have a chance to host a playoff game because Ford Field would be jumping. If the Lions make the playoffs, they will have to be road warriors.
Jeff Okudah benched?
It will require a revisit, but Jeff Okudah was benched against the Bears for the second week in a row. Having been a starter in nearly every game, Okudah’s snap count took a hit against Chicago. Whereas Okudah suffered a second half benching against the Carolina Panthers, he was benched practically from the start on Sunday. Instead, it was Mike Hughes taking most of his outside corner snaps—Hughes himself was partially benched last week before relieving Okudah in the second half against Carolina.
With the Bears failing to muster a passing attack, there wasn’t much of an opportunity to test the Lions secondary, but it is still concerning to see Okudah riding the pine during a pivotal matchup. He was getting some action as a gunner, a role he almost never plays, likely hinting at a demotion rather than an injury. Normally stout in the run game, Okudah had a rough outing against the Panthers last week.
The coaching staff hasn’t been afraid to sub starters in and out of the lineup when they’ve struggled, but this is nonetheless a situation worth monitoring.
Justin Fields is very much a project
Typically, my takeaways will be Lions-centric, but Justin Fields deserves a mention. Fields had another dominant game on the ground against the Lions, but his legs were not matched by his arm. Fields struggled to the tune of a 7-for-21, 75-yard stat line with a touchdown and interception apiece. Fields hit 1,000 rushing yards on the year, highlighting his big-play potential.
That being said, the passing game is very much a work in progress, and he has little to work with. You need look no further than Detroit to see how your receivers impact quarterback play. Jared Goff struggled in 2021 with a bottom-tier receiving corps, but has since bounced back nicely with an equally impressive group of wideouts. Fields has no such luxury. Add in an awful offensive line, and the Bears have very little going for them outside of Fields’ rushing ability.
There’s only so much one man can do, and he isn’t a dual threat yet. Until Chicago can surround their young signal caller with talent, the Bears are not an offense to be threatened by.