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Lions vs. Bears 5Qs preview: Chicago’s defense is turning it around

A preview with Bill Zimmerman about the Week 14 matchup between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Just five games remain in the Detroit Lions schedule and three of them are against NFC North opponents, including this week’s upcoming contest against the Chicago Bears. Fresh off of a bye week, this Bears team has five more weeks to gather evidence and make a more informed decision about some really important questions coming up this offseason. Is Justin Fields the quarterback of the future? Will Matt Eberflus get another season in Chicago? How can Ryan Poles deliver on his promise to “take the [NFC] North and never give it back”?

As always, we would never pass up the opportunity to get some intel from the opponent’s perspective. Ahead of this Week 14 matchup between Detroit and Chicago, we called on Bill Zimmerman from to give us some insight into how this Bears team has settled back in with Justin Fields at the helm, what the team could prove over these final five games, and why so many Bears fans seem to be at odds with one another.

Despite being underdogs against Joshua Dobbs and the Minnesota Vikings, the Chicago Bears outlasted their NFC North opponent in Week 12 and came away with Matt Eberflus’ first victory against a divisional opponent. Do you feel like the Bears are a team that could finish this season strong and end up close to .500 despite starting the season 2-7? Is continuing to learn how to win games ultimately worth it in the face of draft position? What other hurdles could the Bears clear to provide some optimism heading into 2024?

There is so much in flux with the Chicago Bears right now that the fanbase is at odds with each other. There is a group of fans that don’t like Matt Eberflus, are ready to move on from Justin Fields and still have hopes that if things go South to finish the year, that Caleb Williams and Marvin Harrison, Jr. could be headed to Chicago. There’s another group of fans that sees the Bears as a team that is 4-4 in their last 8, blew two leads to Denver and of course, to Detroit, and could finish hot and go 9-8 or 8-9 and battle for the last playoff spot.

I think so much of their optimism for 2024 depends on how the Carolina Panthers finish, being the Bears have their selection. If the Panthers gift the Bears the number one pick, it seems wise to remove Matt Eberflus, find a bright, offensive-minded head coach, and start developing a new quarterback. But if the Panthers finish with the 3rd overall pick, perhaps the plan would be to run it back with Fields and Eberflus, draft Harrison Jr., and see how things shake out.

The Bears are an improved defensive team and the offense has shown flashes of competence, but overall, I can’t see this team getting too hot. They do have a couple winnable games, but they have a couple that won’t be easy either. I think the Bears probably finish 2-3 down the stretch, finish 6-11 overall, and go from there.

Speaking of draft position and the future of the Chicago Bears, do you get the sense this team wants to move forward with Justin Fields being the guy, or is that Carolina Panthers’ pick the next starting QB for the Bears?

That’s the million dollar question for sure. And as I mentioned previously, that’s certainly going to depend on that Panthers pick. However, ESPN has said the odds the Panthers finish with a top two pick is at about 90% right now. Assuming the Panthers finish with the first or second pick, I think the Bears will take Williams or Drake Maye and move on from Fields. The Bears fan base loves Fields, I ran a poll on Twitter that received over 4,000 votes and 69% of the fans want Fields to be the team’s QB in 2024.

As for the team, they haven’t made any indications one way or the other and have said that the evaluation is still ongoing, but this was supposed to be Fields’ breakout season. The fact that we are in December and there are still this many questions around him at quarterback makes me feel that the incomplete grade he’s turned in so far, is actually the answer.

However, if the Panthers do manage to get themselves out of the bottom two records in the league and the Bears don’t have a top two pick, I think that changes the conversation completely and the odds of Fields returning jumps tremendously (from almost certainly gone to almost certainly back). It’s bizarre having this much of their future tied into how another team finishes the season.

What players on the Bears roster, offensively or defensively, are you keeping a close eye starting with this Sunday against Detroit? And what are you looking for them to prove?

I will give you four names. The first, as we have been discussing him, is Fields. It’s important to see him continue to grow. He’s absolutely having his best season as a pro, but the Bears still need to see improvement for him to either be their QB in 2024, or to increase his trade value. The other offensive player is guard Teven Jenkins. He’s struggled to stay healthy his first two years in the league, but he’s been healthy since Week 5 this year and has become an absolute force on the offensive line. This offseason is Jenkins’ first chance at a contract extension, and despite injury concerns, if he keeps playing like this, Ryan Poles is going to have to figure out a way to keep him around.

Defensively, Jaylon Johnson is one for sure. He has had a career season and could be headed to free agency this offseason. The Bears and Johnson tried to hammer out a contract extension but couldn’t get one done. They actually poked around about trading him at the deadline but didn’t get enough in return. I think most likely Johnson is headed to the tag but the Bears are going to want to continue to see this level of play from him to commit that much to him next season. Also check out rookie Gervon Dexter at defensive tackle. He got off to a slow start but has played really well and is really starting to become a disruptor along the defensive line. I’m hoping to see him continue to show signs of being a strong interior force.

Forcing four turnovers in that previously mentioned game before the bye against the Vikings, the Bears defense held Minnesota to 10 points and their lowest total of the #DobbsEra.

What sort of strides do you hope to see from Chicago’s defense down the stretch?

The Bears defense continues to improve after being absolutely rotten in September. Their weighted DVOA puts them in the top half of the league defensively and Matt Eberflus is going to want to continue to see that trend towards becoming a top ten unit. Their secondary, now that it’s healthy, has been quite good, and TJ Edwards has been a force as the best linebacker of a good linebacking trio. Up front, they do a good job stopping the run, but their pass rush needs to continue to improve. It’s gone from woeful to pretty bad, so that’s improvement, and the addition of Montez Sweat has certainly made a difference, but the defensive line is the group that needs to continue to show improvement, especially rushing the passer, if this defense is going to continue to move towards relevancy.

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

[Note: You can catch the latest odds at DraftKings Sportsbook]

Well, here’s one I’ve been looking at recently: Justin Fields doesn’t throw the ball to Darnell Mooney. There are a few potential reasons why that’s happening, but all Lions’ fans need to know is that it doesn’t happen. In Tyson Bagent’s 4 starts, Mooney averaged 5 targets a game. In Fields last 7 starts, Mooney is averaging less than 2 targets per game. I’d bet Mooney under 2.5 receptions in the game. On the flip side, DJ Moore is averaging 101 yards per game in Fields starts. I’d hit up the Moore over 70 receiving yards as well.

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