The last time these two teams met—a mere three weeks ago—I warned in this very preview that this Bears team was going to be a tough out. Obviously, that turned out to be true, and obviously not much is going to change with only a couple more data points for each team.
That said, we do have the all-important game results from their head-to-head matchup to analyze. So let’s get to it in our Week 14 Lions vs. Bears preview and prediction.
Lions pass offense (9th) vs. Bears pass defense (25th)
The Lions passing attack keeps humming along, and last week was a fantastic example of just how multifaceted it is. New Orleans tried to take Amon-Ra St. Brown away, and it just opened up the opportunity for Sam LaPorta to take advantage.
Overall, Detroit ranks sixth in yards per attempt (7.6), seventh in passer rating (98.1), fourth in yards (3,159), 11th in EPA, and seventh in success rate.
One curious recent trend, though, is the lack of downfield passes. From Weeks 1-6, the Lions averaged 6.9 average air yards per attempt. From Week 7 on, that number has dropped to 6.6. For the season now, the Lions rank 29th in intended air yards per attempt. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but a clear shift in strategy.
The previous matchup with the Bears is a bit concerning, but we’ll get more into that looking at Chicago’s pass defense.
What was one of the worst passing defenses in the league has made a sudden turnaround in the past three weeks. Of course, two of those performances were against a struggling Panthers offense and a backup Vikings quarterback, but sandwiched in between is a strong Lions passing attack that the Bears largely squashed for 3.5 quarters.
So what has changed? Two critical things: the addition of Montez Sweat and the health of the Bears secondary.
You would think the addition of just one pass rusher couldn’t make that much of a difference, but it has. Chicago possessed one of the worst pass rushes in football early in the season, and Sweat has suddenly turned the entire Bears front into a formidable group. In Chicago’s first eight games, they were averaging just 14.9 pressures per game and had 13 or fewer in five of those games. In the four games with Sweat, the Bears are averaging 19.5 pressures per game, with at least 17 in each game. Impressively, that includes games against solid offensive lines like the Lions and Vikings.
And in the secondary, the Bears recently got back safeties Eddie Jackson and Jaquan Brisker from injury, while rookie Tyrique Stevenson is coming into his own.
The results have been noticeable. The Bears have tallied seven interceptions and seven sacks in the past three games alone.
But this is where things become tricky. Do we trust the three-game trend here, or can we not ignore the rest of the season? Is this recent trending up a big enough sample size? Because for the season, the Bears still rank 16th in yards per attempt (6.9), 26th in passer rating (92.9), 28th in dropback EPA, and 24th in success rate.
In my opinion, we can’t ignore either. They’ve been a really bad defense, but they’re playing better.
Player to watch: T.J. Edwards. The Bears linebacking corps gave the Lions a bunch of problems in the previous matchup, with both Edward and Tremaine Edmunds tallying interceptions. Edwards has been the more consistent player this year, ranking 11th among all NFL linebackers in PFF grade (81.2).
Advantage: Lions +1. Despite the previous matchup, the Lions have the better overall resume here, and when they needed to move the ball at the end of the game, Goff was able to. If Detroit can avoid turnovers, they should be fine. But Chicago’s newfound ability to pressure has the chance to force a turnover or two.
Lions run offense (4th) vs. Bears run defense (11th)
The Lions run game has really come into its own this season. It’s been pretty darn good all season, but it’s been especially good since mid-October:
The Lions' rushing attack has been on fire as of late.— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) December 7, 2023
Since Week 7, the Lions run offense ranks:
- 4th in yards (903)
- 3rd in rushing TDs (10)
- 2nd in YPC (5.3)
- 2nd in EPA
- 2nd in DVOA
- 7th in success rate
The big question this week is how the team will respond without center Frank Ragnow, who is expected to miss this game with a knee injury. Ragnow is quite literally the centerpiece of Detroit’s rushing attack, ranking second on the team with an 85.3 PFF run blocking grade. The good news is his replacement, Graham Glasgow, is third on the team at 77.7. But Glasgow’s likely replacement at right guard—rookie Colby Sorsdal—has struggled. His 46.5 run blocking grade is the lowest on the team among linemen.
The Bears have one of the best run defenses in the league, and it’s been that way mostly all year. That said, in the previous matchup, the Lions were able to move the ball on the ground, particularly in the second half—where Detroit picked up 73 yards on just 10 carries (7.3 YPC). However, the Lions did struggle in the first half (11 rushes, 43 yards, 3.9 YPC).
Overall, the Bears rank second in yards per carry (3.4), t-third in rushing touchdowns (6), third in rush EPA, and second in success rate.
Player to watch: Andrew Billings. The Bears defense operates similarly to the Lions in that they have a few “no name” defenders up the middle who may not be flashy, but stuff the run. Billings is probably the most known of the group, and the defensive tackle is in the midst of one of his better career years.
Advantage: Lions +1. Another strength vs. strength matchup here. Obviously, missing Ragnow hurts my confidence in the Lions here, but Detroit has operated all year with at least one missing part on the offensive line and figured it out. What’s another week?
Bears pass offense (25th) vs. Lions pass defense (13th)
On the surface, this looks like a pretty bad chart overall. However, a closer examination will show a disturbing trend. Justin Fields started figuring things out around the Broncos game, and then the Bears pass offense took a nosedive when he got injured in the middle of the first Vikings game. Upon his return against the Lions, suddenly the Bears passing offense is trending towards legit again.
Now, when I say legit, I’m exaggerating a bit. This isn’t a passing offense that will hang 300 yards on you. They’ve literally only done that once all season. However, Fields is completing a lot of short, efficient passes while mixing in the occasional deep shot. That’s exactly what he did against the Lions, and it worked for much of the day, despite only 151 net passing yards.
Interestingly, Fields has the eighth-highest PFF grade on passes of 20+ yards and has the NFL’s fifth-highest passer rating on those attempts (134.1). But given that he also ranks 25th in intended air yards per attempt (7.1), the Bears have been very selective in those deep shots.
Pass protection has been better than it’s been in previous years, but it remains a problem in Chicago. They rank 20th in PFF pass blocking grade, 24th in sacks allowed, and 24th in pressure rate.
Speaking of disturbing trends, the Lions pass offense remains their biggest weakness right now. It’s been downright horrible for the past two months, and there haven’t been many signs of pulling itself out of this tailspin.
To be fair, they’ve seemingly gotten a little better with their pass rush—particularly with the addition of Bruce Irvin last week. As a team, they rank a respectable 14th in PFF pass rush grade and seventh in team pressure rate—although those have only turned into 25 sacks (28th).
Part of the issue is that the Lions coverage has been atrocious. Detroit ranks 26th in PFF coverage grade, and that’s only bolstered by some solid coverage via the front seven. Detroit’s secondary is a mess right now.
- Jerry Jacobs’ coverage grade (55.6) ranks 92nd out of 119 cornerbacks
- Cameron Sutton’s coverage grade (59.1) ranks 83rd
- Kerby Joseph’s coverage grade (50.7) ranks 81st out of 91 safeties
- Tracy Walker's coverage grade (57.5) ranks 60th
The only savior is rookie Brian Branch, whose solid 68.0 PFF coverage grade actually ranks 45th out of 119 corners.
Player to watch: DJ Moore. Moore is responsible for 40.9 percent of the Bears’ total receiving yards. To put that in perspective, Amon-Ra St. Brown accounts for just 31.7 percent of the Lions receiving production. Stop Moore (easier said than done), and you’ve already neutered half the Bears passing attack.
Advantage: Bears +1. I will keep giving the opponents the advantage in this matchup until proven otherwise. Fields isn’t likely to hang 300 on the Lions defense but I would fully expect him to get small chunks over the middle and connect on a couple of deep shots.
Bears run offense (15th) vs. Lions run defense (7th)
It’s a bit surprising to see the Bears rush DVOA near average because they really pour on the yardage every week. they’ve been held below 110 rushing yards just twice all season. That said, their rushing efficiency has been down quite a bit as of late. After rushing for at least 4.2 yards per carry in each of their first seven games, they’ve been held under that number three times in the past five games—including their previous matchup against the Lions.
The problem more lies in the traditional running game. Justin Fields is an incredible athlete, and he’s going to get his yardage both on designed running plays and scrambles. But when it comes to turning and handing the ball off, the Bears are truly more of an average rushing attack. Their offensive line ranks ninth in adjusted line yards, 26th in PFF run blocking grade—though curiously second in ESPN’s run block win rate.
Khalil Herbert (4.5 YPC) is their best back, but D’Onta Foreman (4.1 YPC) is tough to bring down, too.
The Lions run defense remains quite strong against traditional rushing attacks. Even against the Bears, the Lions did an honorable job. While it may not feel like it, remember how key Detroit’s run defense was in the fourth quarter. They produced a stop on a 3rd-and-1 and helped create a three-and-out after first and second-down runs combined for 1 yard.
But there are two major concerns to worry about this week: Detroit’s inability to stop mobile quarterbacks and the loss of defensive tackle Alim McNeill. The Lions’ woes against rushing QBs are well-documented, as Fields has 100+ rushing yards in three consecutive games against Detroit. It’s unclear how the Lions plan on replacing McNeill—who ranks second on the team in run stops (12). Detroit does have capable run defenders to replace him (Isaiah Buggs, Josh Paschal), but they’re a clear step down.
Player to watch: Fields. The Bears backs are talented, but this all comes down to Detroit’s ability to slow Fields.
Advantage: Bears +1. I have little-to-no confidence the Lions can stop Fields. But they should be relatively okay on traditional runs. Let’s cross our fingers Chicago moves away from Fields late in the game like they did last time.
Last week’s prediction
Not going to lie, I feel like I absolutely nailed last week’s prediction. Each matchup was given an accurate advantage, and my final prediction of 31-26 was just two points off each team with the correct margin of victory. On Paper is now 8-4 on the season and 9-2-1 against the spread.
I thought I may have won the On Paper challenge for the second week in a row, but it turns out the very first commenter on the article walked away with this week’s award. Arendtsure predicted 35-28, which turned out to be just two points off the final score.
Here’s your prize
Hopefully, this is the start of the” Dunce, Dunce Revolution” cover curse.
This week’s prediction
We come out with a dead even draw. No matchup has more than a +1 advantage, and each team’s offense is slightly favored.
I don’t know about this one, y’all. I didn’t like the matchup three weeks ago, and I certainly don’t like it when the Bears are fully healthy with an extra week to prepare for this one, while the Lions are down one of their best players on each side of their line.
The Lions were lucky to escape Week 11 with a win, but on the same front, they turned the ball over four times in that game. We know the Lions can play a cleaner game than that, even if the Bears defense has turned a corner.
But, ultimately, Soldier Field produces ugly football, and I just think the Lions are catching the Bears at the wrong time. Lions 20, Bears 23.