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Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears preview, prediction: On Paper

A preview and prediction for the Detroit Lions’ Week 11 matchup against the Chicago Bears.

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Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions enter the “easy” part of their schedule this week with the Chicago Bears coming to town. But despite their 3-7 record, the Lions don’t quite view this as an easy win.

“This team plays hard, they finish, and they’ve got some dudes on offense and defense. They’ve got some players now,” coach Dan Campbell said. “This is not the same team we played last year. It’s not.”

Is that simply coachspeak from Campbell or do the Bears truly pose a threat? Let’s take a closer look in our On Paper preview with our prediction at the end.

Lions pass offense (6th) vs. Bears pass defense (29th)

The Lions boast one of the best passing attacks in football. They were held significantly below the defense’s yardage and passer rating averages only once. What’s perhaps most remarkable about the Lions’ success passing the ball is that they have faced more passing defenses in the top half of the league (Ravens, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Raiders, Panthers) than in the bottom half of the league (Packers, Seahawks, Chargers, Falcons).

Overall, the Lions rank just 11th in dropback EPA, but seventh in success rate, sixth in yards per attempt, fifth in adjusted net yards per attempt, and eighth in team passer rating.

Atop it all is Jared Goff, who is currently PFF’s No. 1 quarterback in the league with a 90.6 overall grade. He currently has the highest completion percentage of his career (68.4), highest QBR (66.3) and is just 0.2 percent off the highest success rate (51.8) of his career.

He’s aided by arguably the best pass protecting line in football. The Lions have allowed just 16 sacks all season (t-fourth), rank third in team PFF pass blocking grade, while bookend tackles Penei Sewell and Taylor Decker have collectively allowed just two sacks and 23 pressures.

By DVOA, the Bears will be the worst passing offense the Lions have faced to date. (They’ll later face the worst pass defense in football—the Broncos).

The data looks just as bad for Chicago beyond DVOA. They rank 31st in dropback EPA, 22nd in success rate, 31st in passing touchdowns allowed (20), and 30th in passer rating allowed (99.7).

They have been a little better as of late, but their only true “good” performances came against rookie Bryce Young and a combo of Brian Hoyer and Aidan O’Connell. Against any reasonably good—or even mediocre quarterback—they’ve struggled.

The problem is... well, everything. Their pass rush is absolutely abysmal, ranking dead last in sacks (13) and PFF grade (53.9), while ranking 31st in pressure percentage (16.5%). The addition of Montez Sweat has certainly helped (10 pressures in two games), but against an offensive line like the Lions, there shouldn’t be much concern here.

Coverage isn’t much better. While cornerback Jaylon Johnson is a stud (82.0 PFF grade ranks sixth among CBs), the player opposite him—rookie Tyrique Stevenson—is on the opposite end of the spectrum with a PFF grade of 47.6 that ranks 103rd out of 113.

Player to watch: Jahmyr Gibbs. We’ve seen Gibbs break out as a rusher, but Detroit’s rookie sensation has yet to truly break out as a receiver. This is a great week to do it because the Bears’ linebackers are good run-defenders but they aren’t great as coverage players. The Bears rank 31st in the NFL in DVOA against running backs in the pass game.

Advantage: Lions +4. The highest these advantages go are +5, and rarely do I hand those out. With the Lions fully healthy, I don’t see a way they could possibly struggle this week. The only reservations I have is that the Bears are just about as healthy as they’ve ever been on defense, but it shouldn’t matter this week. They are way outmatched here.

Lions run offense (5th) vs. Bears run defense (6th)

After a bit of a slow start (relatively speaking), the Lions run game is hitting its stride right now. With Gibbs now looking as comfortable as ever and David Montgomery back from his rib injury, Detroit has the one-two punch they were envisioning when the team added both players this offseason.

Of course, the engine behind the Lions run game is their offensive line. Detroit ranks third in PFF run block grade (76.1), second in adjusted line yards, and 12th in yards before carry per attempt.

The Lions could be missing one of their starting five offensive linemen this week, with Jonah Jackson dealing with a couple injuries that held him out of the first two practices of the week. If so, expect rookie Colby Sorsdal to step in for him. Sorsdal has had a predictably up-and-down season as an injury fill-in.

The Bears’ run defense has been outstanding this year, holding a whopping six of 10 teams below 3.0 yards per carry this season. But a closer examination of the chart above shows that Chicago hasn’t faced a respectable rushing attack since Week 4. While they’ve done an fine job holding bad run games even lower than their low averages, they have only faced two teams that rank in the top half of the league in DVOA.

Still, you have to respect this run defense. While they only rank 18th in PFF run defense grade, they’re second in EPA, first in success rate, second in adjusted line yards, first in yards per carry allowed (3.2) and have allowed just four rushing touchdowns all season (t-third).

Player to watch: T.J. Edwards. Edwards sports the sixth-highest run defense grade among linebackers (84.5), ranking second in NFL in run stops (26) and third in run stop percentage (12.4).

Advantage: Draw. Last week, the Lions exposed the Chargers run defense as frauds—as I predicted—but I don’t get the sense Chicago is fraudulent here. The Lions will give them a serious challenge—and the David Montgomery revenge game could be a real thing—but statistically, this is about as evenly matched as you can get.

Bears pass offense (24th) vs. Lions pass defense (10th)

* Tyson Bagent started games
** Started by Justin Fields, finished by Bagent

This is going to be one of the tougher matchups to predict. Justin Fields is back, but it’s hard to know what the Lions are going to see in him. At the beginning of the year he was downright awful, but just before his thumb injury he was starting to put it together. Here’s his combined statline against the Broncos and Commanders:

43-of-64 for 617 yards (9.6 Y/A), 8 TDs, 1 INT, 131.3 passer rating

However, the Broncos and Commanders are literally the bottom two teams in pass defense DVOA this year. So what are we going to get from the Bears pass offense this week?

Well, we know Chicago is much more likely to throw the ball deep with Fields than Bagent. Fields is averaging 7.6 intended air yards per pass to Bagent’s 5.8. We also know that receiver D.J. Moore is much more productive with Fields under center (106.2 yards per game) than Bagent (52.4). So expect this secondary to be tested deep.

But Fields is also just as turnover prone as Bagent. Bagent has six interceptions and three fumbles in 4.5 games, Fields has six interceptions and four fumbles in 5.5 games.

Chicago may be vulnerable in pass protection, too. They rank 22nd in pressure percentage, they’ve allowed the seventh-most sacks, and they rank 20th in PFF pass blocking grade.

The Lions’ pass defense has been a topic of heated discussion this year. Against bad teams, they’ve excelled as a top-10 defense. Against good quarterbacks, though, they’ve looked like a bottom-10 unit. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn isn’t worried, but I don’t exactly share that same level of confidence.

Statistically speaking, the team’s pass rush is undoubtedly an issue. Detroit has created just 21 sacks on the year (t-21st). They rank 22nd in team pass rushing grade despite having Aidan Hutchinson, who ranks sixth in the metric among defensive ends.

Coverage was an issue last week and has been an inconsistent unit all season. They currently rank 22nd in PFF grade, 17th in yards per attempt allowed (7.0), and 14th in passer rating.

Player to watch: Moore. Last week, the Lions really only had to worry about one player in the pass game: Keenan Allen. They did not stop Keenan Allen (11 catches, 175 ards, 2 TDs). Moore is Fields’ favorite target and most dangerous weapon, capable of a big play any time he touches the ball. The Lions need a plan for him.

Advantage: Lions +1. I know some will think this is too low of an advantage for Detroit, but with Fields returning I have very little confidence in either direction here. There are far too many unknowns with Chicago’s offense under Fields, and far too much inconsistency on Detroit’s defense to feel good about this matchup.

Bears run offense (10th) vs. Lions run defense (11th)

The Bears’ rushing attack has amassed at least 150 rushing yards in half of their games and surpassed 4.2 yards per carry in all but two contests. Obviously, the Bears rely heavily on rushing yards from their quarterback—Bagent and Fields have 346 of the team’s 1,351 rushing yards. However, their slew of running backs are also wildly impressive:

  • D’Onta Foreman: 86 rushes, 367 yards (4.3 YPC), 3 TDs
  • Khalil Herbert: 51 rushes, 272 yards (5.3 YPC)
  • Roschon Johnson: 38 rushes, 167 yards (4.4 YPC), 1 TD

With Herbert back after missing the past five games, the Bears rushing attack is at its healthiest—including their offensive line, which has struggled through injury for the first 10 weeks of the season.

“We feel that’s our best five out there as we get healthy with our football team, so excited about that,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said this week.

As a team, Chicago ranks third in yards before contact (3.2), fourth in adjusted line yards, sixth in rush EPA, but oddly 28th in PFF’s run blocking grade. PFF seems to credit all of the success to Chicago’s ball carriers, as the Bears’ 90.2 rushing grade ranks third in the NFL. Regardless, it’s a very, very good rushing team.

The Lions run defense remains stout, even if it is sliding more into the “good” category than “great.” The fact of the matter is only a single team has eclipsed 100 rushing yards against Detroit, while five of nine have been held below 90.

The Lions defense ranks second in PFF run defense grade, 12th in rush EPA allowed, 17th in adjusted line yards, and t-fifth in yards per carry allowed.

But, of course, that Ravens datapoint seems relevant this week. With the threat of Lamar Jackson as a runner, the Lions had their worst run defense performance of the year. Jackson may not have hurt them much on the ground (nine rushes, 36 yards, 1 TD), but it opened up opportunities for the backs, who combined for 110 yards on just 18 carries (6.1 YPC). With Chicago's impressive running back crew, something similar could be on the table this week.

Player to watch: Herbert. Here’s what Bears writer Jeff Berckes said about Herbert on our First Byte podcast this week:

“Khalil Herbert is one of the most explosive rushers that no one talks about. Unless you play fantasy (football), I don’t know if you know how good Herbert is. But as a pure running back—like running the ball, not necessarily catching the ball out of the backfield—I think you should be talking about him after you’re talking about names like Nick Chubb.”

Advantage: Bears +1. This will be the Lions’ toughest rushing test yet, and with Chicago adding the Lions’ Kryptonite—a mobile quarterback—I think it’s reasonable to believe a fair amount of success from the Bears running the ball... provided that the game stays close enough for them to stay balanced on offense.

Last week’s prediction

On Paper moved to 6-3 on the year, and pushed to move 7-1-1 against the spread. I feel pretty good about my 31-21 prediction, as I got the advantage in each matchup pretty much nailed. The only “mistake” I probably made was with the Lions’ pass defense, and as you can see from this week, I have adjusted my expectations.

In the comment section, Bobbylayneblame came out with the closest prediction: 44-41 Lions. Most of all, I respect predicting the shootout despite, in their words, “I’ll hate it because I like defense.”

Since you like defense, let’s honor one of the best Lions defensive teams with your prize:

I love the current Lions, but man do I miss that 2014 team, too.

I also owe an apology for not including DrivingMrDrowsy in the winner’s circle for their 26-16 Lions over Raiders prediction. If you look closely enough in the image above, I have given you the proper credit.

This week’s prediction

The Lions only come out with a +4 advantage, and that is all based solely on the team’s passing attack vs. a bad Bears pass defense. The rest of the matchup is a draw, and I’ll admit: it has me nervous this week. The Bears are a team capable of controlling the line of scrimmage in both run games, and that clashes directly with the Lions’ identity on both sides of the ball.

In an ideal world, I’d love to see offensive coordinator Ben Johnson come out and just light this defense up through the air, but when I asked him this week if they would consider shying away from the run game considering Chicago’s run defense, he pretty much said no.

“I think every week, for us, we’re always going to look for the best ways to run the football. That doesn’t change,” Johnson said.

If that’s the case, I expect this one to be uncomfortably close. Lions 31, Bears 27.

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