The Detroit Lions return home this week, coming off a back-and-forth victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, 41-38, in what could be a game-of-the-year candidate. Meeting them at Ford Field on Sunday will be their first home divisional opponent as the Chicago Bears come to town.
Detroit has only played one divisional game this season, a win against the Green Bay Packers back in Week 4. The back half of the season is filled with divisional games for Detroit, and this is the first of two back-to-back home divisional matchups as the Lions host the Packers in Week 12 for their Thanksgiving game. The Bears are the focus this week, though; they are a team with many questions and a few answers.
Will their starting quarterback be Justin Fields or Tyson Bagent? Will the Bears try to run the ball or move it through the air? Will newly-acquired defensive end Montez Sweat be a difference maker? Those questions and more are on the minds of the Lions and their fans, and I will do my best to give you some insight into the game this week. But in the end, on Sunday, the questions will be answered.
2023 Chicago Bears
2023 season thus far (3-7)
Week 1: Loss against Green Bay Packers 38-20
Week 2: Loss against Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-17
Week 3: Loss against Kansas City Chiefs 41-10
Week 4: Loss against Denver Broncos 31-28
Week 5: Win against Washington Commanders 40-20
Week 6: Loss against Minnesota Vikings 19-13
Week 7: Win against Las Vegas Raiders 30-12
Week 8: Loss against Los Angeles Chargers 30-13
Week 9: Loss against New Orleans Saints 24-17
Week 10: Win against Carolina Panthers 16-13
- 19th in points scored, 27th in points allowed
- 28th in DVOA
- 25th in offensive DVOA (24th in pass DVOA, 10th in run DVOA)
- 28th in defensive DVOA (29th pass DVOA, 6th in run DVOA)
- 24th in special teams
Coming into the season, the Chicago Bears were a team hyped up by their fans and some analysts, but while everyone expected improvements from last season, things seem the same, if not worse, than last year. Last season, the team went 3-14, and so far, they are halfway to getting to that same record as they are 3-7 and bewildered in a few spots. The quarterback spot has been a big talking point for this franchise this season as Fields has shown flashes of improvement from last season, but signs of regression and issues are still there. His injury doesn’t help his case, but he could return to the field this week against Detroit.
The ground game has been picking up with Fields out, as the Bears have the second-most rushing yards in the NFL with 1,351 and eight touchdowns. That attack has had issues with injuries, as running back Khalil Herbert is coming off IR, but like Fields, could return against Detroit. The offense has enjoyed the upgrade at wide receiver in D.J. Moore, who currently has 793 yards and five touchdowns this season, on pace for a career-high in both yards and touchdowns. Tight end Cole Kmet has had an excellent season so far also, with 419 yards and five touchdowns; also on pace for career seasons in both categories.
Now, while the offense has some health issues, the defense also is dealing with some injuries and challenges. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who signed a four-year $72 million contract, has been out the past two games, and his status for this week is unknown. The other team’s big free agent signing in linebacker T.J. Edwards, though, has been excellent as he leads the team in tackles with 112, along with two sacks, a pass deflection, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
The defensive front seven has been a strong point for this Bears team, but where they falter is in the secondary. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson was a name people were discussing trading for back at the trade deadline, but after not finding a trading partner, he would stick with the team. The secondary has allowed the third most passing yards in the NFL with 2,482 and continues to be a significant weakness on the team as most quarterbacks can pick them apart. For Detroit, attacking the Bears through the air will be their best chance at winning this game, and after putting up 41 points on the Chargers last week with 333 through the air, the Bears are another team they can prey on when it comes to the passing game.
- Traded away wide receiver Chase Claypool.
- Traded for Montez Sweat.
Key players ruled out: None
Key players to monitor: RB Khalil Herbert (IR/ankle), QB Justin Fields (right thumb), DB Terell Smith (illness), LB Tremaine Edmunds (knee), G Nate Davis (ankle),
The Bears are somewhat beat up heading into this matchup. First, the main thing is that Fields hasn’t played the past four games due to that thumb injury, putting Bagent in. Bagent has shown flashes of being an average backup quarterback, and the team is 2-2 with him under center compared to the 1-5 record with Fields. With the extra time between games of Weeks 10 and 11, Fields might be able to suit up this week against Detroit, but if not, he should be their quarterback in their next meeting in December.
UPDATE: It appears Fields is expected to return this week.
Then the running back room has been without Herbert the past five weeks, but it doesn’t seem to have slowed down the ground game much. Herbert was activated off IR last week, meaning he has a chance to play in this game, giving the Bears possibly another weapon on the ground. Others who have been missing time lately in Edmunds and Davis, both didn’t practice last week but, like the others, might benefit from having the extra few days off.
The Bears have been involved in exciting trades in the league, even returning to the NFL Draft in April, trading away the number one overall pick. During the season, though, they traded away Claypool, who wasn’t happy to be in Chicago, and they got some help on the defensive front, getting Sweat from the Commanders. Sweat has shown some impact in his two games so far, getting two tackles, three QB hits, and a pass deflection. After getting Sweat, the team didn’t waste any time and signed him to a four-year extension worth $98 million, keeping him in Chicago for the next five years.
Biggest strength: Rushing Attack
As I mentioned earlier, the Bears have a strong ground game that they need to lean on. While two of the top five rushers on the team have been quarterbacks, the running back depth on the team is impressive. While Herbert has been out, D’Onta Foreman and Roschon Johnson have stepped up to the plate and done well.
Foreman has been the primary back with Herbert out, as he has a team-high 86 carries and 367 yards (4.3 YPC) with three touchdowns. Johnson can help, too, as he has 38 carries for 167 (4.4 YPC) yards and a touchdown. If Herbert can return, he will bring more speed and exposiveness, as he already has 51 carries for 272 yards (5.3 YPC) this season.
As I said, it isn’t just the running backs who can run; both Fields and Bagent have had success on the ground, too, as they have combined for 70 carries for 346 yards and three touchdowns. Overall, the Bears prefer to move the ball on the ground rather than throw it in the air, and it’s clear to see why.
Biggest weakness: Quarterback
The biggest weakness was a close decision between the secondary and the quarterback. I decided to go with the quarterback position as the secondary has talented players who will likely turn it around sooner than the quarterback room. The issue with the quarterback room right now is health. Will Fields be able to play on Sunday or is Bagent going to start? Fields was limited in practice last week, so if he has at least one full practice this week, he should be the starter.
No matter who is under center, though, both have relied on their ground game to help move the offense. Depending on the quarterback’s legs is fine, but when you rely on the run for too long, and a team forces you to throw, you better be ready. Fields has sometimes struggled this season, misreading who the best option is, not looking at wide-open receivers, and throwing questionable passes. His struggles have made fans and writers around the NFL start mocking the Bears for taking a quarterback with one of their two top draft picks in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Key matchup: Lions defensive line vs. Bears quarterback scramble ability
The biggest issue for the Lions this season has been the ability to slow down scrambling quarterbacks. They have yet to have a quarterback run for a crazy amount of yards on them, as they have been doing well in slowing that down. They have focused on it too much though, that it allows the quarterback to stand in the pocket with plenty of time and make throws to open receivers.
We saw it against the Ravens and the Chargers; the Lions don’t want to get beat on the ground by the quarterback. This week, Fields and Bagent are not Lamar Jackson or Justin Herbert. Overall, they are a step down and something the Lions will need to relax on regarding the defensive scheme. This week, they need to focus on getting to the quarterback, whether he is scrambling or in the pocket.
With Fields and Bagent being inferior quarterbacks, the Lions should let them scramble, as their abilities aren’t as good as Jackson’s and Herbert’s. Fields showed good flashes in 2022, but so far this season, he hasn’t been as explosive. If the Lions can force either quarterback to move around a bit, it could cause a turnover.
Vegas line for Sunday: Lions by 9.5