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Lions vs. Bears 5Qs preview: Justin Fields’ future in Chicago in limbo

A preview with Bill Zimmerman about the Week 11 matchup between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.

Detroit Lions vs Chicago Bears Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We’re well past the halfway point of this NFL season, but the Detroit Lions are gearing up for just their second divisional matchup of the year against the Chicago Bears. With a 7-2 record, Detroit still has hold of a lead in the NFC North, but Chicago’s 3-7 record has them sitting opposite of the Lions at the bottom of the division.

As always, we would never pass up the opportunity to get some intel from the opponent’s perspective. Ahead of this Week 11 matchup between Detroit and Chicago, we called on Bill Zimmerman from our sister site Windy City Gridiron to give us some insight into who this Bears team is on both sides of the ball, what the return of Justin Fields means for this offense, and how to bet (via DraftKings Sportsbook) this NFC North matchup.

During Justin Fields’ absence from the playing field for more than a month, Tyson Bagent has earned himself some admiration for his play and unconventional path to the NFL. With Fields still working his way back from injury, the Bears playoff hopes all but over, and a real chance for Chicago to earn the first overall pick, do you get a sense of what fans would rather see down the stretch: a return from Fields to prove himself the plan at quarterback moving forward, or more reps from the still relatively unknown Bagent?

The Tyson Bagent story was fun, but it certainly ran its course. Bagent proved that he’s impressive for a UDFA rookie, but is still a physically limited quarterback who doesn’t have the arm strength to develop into a legitimate NFL starter, at least not for the next couple of seasons, and that’s fine. Quality backup quarterbacks are not cheap, and if the Bears have one on a UDFA salary for the next few years rather than spending $5 to $7 million on a backup QB, that’s a win for the franchise.

Justin Fields is on track to play this week. The evaluation of Justin Fields is first and foremost for the final seven games. While the Bears would almost certainly pick a QB if they have the first or second pick (Caleb Williams, Drake Maye), if that pick falls third or later, they have to know if they need to roll the dice on QB3 in this draft or stick with Fields.

After finishing seventh in rush offense DVOA in 2022, the Bears running game (10th in rush offense DVOA) looks to have not missed a beat this season despite losing David Montgomery this offseason and missing Khalil Herbert for five games this year.

How has Chicago’s run game continued to thrive despite the shuffling of running backs, and how does that calculus change should Herbert and Fields return to the lineup?

The success of the Bears running game starts up front. While this offensive line has struggled in pass protection, the players they have can move people when they run the football. Teven Jenkins is a mauler in the run game and being able to run behind a guy like that will always help a run game. Losing David Montgomery hasn’t been an issue because they replaced him with fourth-round pick Roschon Johnson and D’Onta Foreman. Johnson looked pretty good early on before a concussion and when he was concussed, Foreman stepped in as the starter and hasn’t relinquished the role. At the time of this answer, Khalil Herbert is still up in the air for the upcoming game vs Detroit, but with Fields back and Foreman running the rock, the Bears should be able to continue their success on the ground.

Schematically, while it isn’t identical, keep in mind where offensive coordinator Luke Getsy learned his craft. He came from Green Bay and Matt LaFleur who, of course, is from the Mike Shanahan tree from Washington that all know how to scheme up a running game. It’s kind of funny, the Bears went from Matt Nagy who could scheme a passing game but had no clue how to create a functional rushing attack to Luke Getsy whose passing concepts aren’t always sound but knows how to run the rock.

Chicago’s run defense has been a strength of their team as well, ranking sixth in rush defense DVOA through ten weeks, and allowing a league-best 3.2 rushing yards per attempt. How have newcomers T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds improved that unit, and who else is playing stout against the run for the Bears this season?

Matt Eberflus, for whatever reason, likes guys who can stop the run but isn’t too worried if they can rush the passer. They don’t do a lot of stunts, twists or blitzes which keeps players at home and helps clog up holes for running lanes. Defensive tackle Andrew Billings has also been a load up front and that has helped as well. TJ Edwards has had a tremendous season, he’s all over the field and usually makes a couple impact plays every game. Tremaine Edmunds has been a lot more quiet this year which is unfortunate for someone the Bears are paying $18 million a year. In fact, Edmunds has missed the last two games with an injury, and Jack Sanborn, who was a UDFA rookie in 2022 stepped in and the defense didn’t even look a beat weaker. Stopping the run has not been an issue, stopping the pass, however, has been a completely different story.

Even though the Bears run defense appears capable, opposing offenses seem perfectly content with challenging Chicago’s pass defense instead. They’re allowing 6.5 net yards gained per passing attempt (24th) and rank 29th in pass defense DVOA. What’s the issue that’s plaguing the Bears in this phase?

I’m glad you asked. If you want to talk to Bears fans about what frustrates them the most about Matt Eberflus, it would be how he defends the pass and specifically, how he rushes the passer. The Bears pass rush has been very weak all season long. We will see if the addition of Montez Sweat helps—he had seven pressures last week against the Carolina Panthers—but we will need to see Sweat do that against better competition.

The Bears have a solid secondary in terms of personnel, but their pass rush is so weak that eventually, good quarterbacks will find the open receiver. If you watched the Sunday night game against the Chargers, you would see a perfect example of those struggles. Eberflus has tried dialing up pressure more recently and we will see if that continues against Detroit, but the results have been very poor. The Bears had 5 sacks against Washington, 3 sacks against Carolina and 5 sacks in their other 8 games combined.

Unfortunately, I don’t see Eberflus’ defense improving much in the pass rush this season or moving forward if Eberflus keeps his job. His pressure rates and sack numbers are always in the bottom third or the league going back to all his years as the defensive coordinator in Indianapolis. If his team can’t get pressure rushing four straight up, they probably just won’t generate much pressure. Eberflus seems okay with that and it drives Bears’ fans absolutely crazy.

What’s one nugget of Bears’ intel that a gambling Lions fan would find useful for their bet slip this weekend?

Let’s start with this nugget: the Bears are not a good football team. They are 3-7 on the year and that record includes only three games against teams that currently have a winning record, and one of them, Minnesota, had just lost Justin Jefferson when they faced them. The idea of the Bears going into Detroit and upsetting the Lions is not one that really should be considered a possibility. The wild card this weekend is going to be Justin Fields who has had two great games and 3.5 poor games and has missed the last 4.5 with an injury. Can Fields come out of the gate slinging the football? Odds are he’s probably going to be a little rusty.

As you mentioned, the Bears run defense is stout and I would expect that to continue. Unders on Lions running the football would be good, but hammering an over on Goff’s passing numbers would also be smart. Here’s one nugget for Detroit fans for betting: The Bears have been outscored 62-32 in the third quarter this year. The Lions are a 2.5-point 3rd quarter favorite. I would bet the Lions to win the 3rd quarter.

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