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The Honolulu Blueprint: 5 keys to a Lions victory over Bears in Week 14

Identifying the key things the Detroit Lions can do to secure a victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 14.

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions are back on the road in Week 14, this time traveling to Illinois to take on the Chicago Bears in the second of two matchups between the teams in the last four weeks.

Because the Lions (9-3) and Bears (4-8) have already played this season, this week’s Honolulu Blueprint will look a bit different. Instead of starting from scratch, we will revisit the keys to victory from Week 11, look at what worked, what didn’t, and what the Lions need to alter their approach this time around.

The Lions once again opened the week as favorites over their divisional rival and you can check out the updated odds, as well as player prop odds, for this game courtesy of the folks over at DraftKings Sportsbook.

Bears’ base schemes

A recap of Luke Getsy’s West Coast offense:

Getsy runs a version of the Shanahan offense that leans on a lot of play-action, RPOs, bootlegs, quick outs, screens, and sweeps.

In the two games since quarterback Justin Fields has returned from injury, he has gotten more looks as a runner than he did pre-injury. He ran the ball 18 times against the Lions three weeks ago, then another 12 times against the Vikings before heading into their bye last week.

A recap of Matt Eberflus’ base 4-2-5 defense:

Eberflus has adjusted to more 4-2-5 looks, staying in subpackages 80-100 percent of the time. In the secondary, there’s a lot of zone coverage with mainly two-deep safeties—though they will bring one up to help in run support.

The Bears defense has been getting healthier and they’ve improved over the last half of the season. They’re still very solid against the run and have improved against the pass, but their lack of pass rush holds them back—they average 1.4 sacks per game, the worst in the NFL.

Key 1: Make the Bears regret letting Montgomery go

Did it work? Yes, but probably not as much as the Lions would have liked.

Montgomery was very efficient against his old team, rushing 12 times for 76 yards (6.3 yards per carry) and he scored the game-winning touchdown. But the Lions were forced to lean on their passing game during their comeback win, which limited Montgomery’s touches, and what could have been a monster day.

Adjustments? Execute Key #5 (get an early lead) and don’t back off feeding Montgomery.

Montgomery downplayed the “revenge” factor in facing his former team the last time these two teams met, but you could tell from the interactions and comments from his teammates that playing the Bears means something a little extra:

Both the Lions and Bears prioritize controlling the trenches and are among the top teams in rushing offense, rushing defense, and time of possession. In cold weather, the Lions will want—and need—Montgomery to be at his best.

Key 2: Give Jared Goff time to cook

Did it work? Not until the fourth quarter.

Goff was sacked twice, pressured 18 times, and threw three interceptions. He looked uncomfortable for the majority of the game, right up until the fourth quarter when the Lions turned things around and found their groove.

Adjustments? Don’t let the potential absence of Frank Ragnow ruin their focus; Colby Sorsdal needs to play his best game as a professional.

In the Lions’ last performance against the Bears, the combination of ill-timed pressures from the offensive line and a panicked Goff led to some old habits and big problems. Sorsdal, who was playing left guard in place of Jonah Jackson, gave up a team-high four pressures and struggled to ever get settled.

This week, If Ragnow does indeed miss this game, Graham Glasgow will slide over to center and the expectation is that Sorsdal will start at right guard—his natural side (he’s played on the right side for the last four years). Not only will Sorsdal be in a more comfortable position, but he showed positive results last week, only allowing one pressure against a very good Saints front.

“It’s really night and day [...] But to see where he’s grown from those early reps and playing in interior both right side and left side, he continues to get better each week,” offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said of Sorsdal’s development. “Is it perfect? No, but for a rookie, this is learning on the fly a little bit. And as long as—as well as all of our other young guys—they just continue to get better with reps, and that’s what he needs.”

If the Lions focus on key #1 (feed Montgomery) and allow the offensive line to fire off in the run game, it’ll help them assert themselves and gain control early in the game. That approach of playing bully ball on the ground should allow Sorsdal, and the rest of the offensive line, to be more efficient. In turn, it should set up the pass—where Goff has shown he can put points on the board very quickly.

The strength of Lions’ passing attack is to utilize the middle of the field with Amon-Ra St. Brown, Sam LaPorta, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Montgomery, with some sprinkles of deep shots to Jameson Williams. In the previous game against the Bears, St. Brown and Gibbs accounted for over half the receptions and passing yards, while LaPorta is coming off a record-setting game against the Saints. Expect this trend to continue.

This game will most likely be fought in the trenches, but it will be won through the air.

Key 3: This game is the reason you’ve been playing contain defense

Did it work? Nope.

Justin Fields ran 18 times for 104 yards, with the majority of his success being on designed quarterback runs in the first half, followed by scrambles on broken plays in the second half.

Adjustments? Get Fields off his game early and make the coaching staff adjust.

This is easier said than done, but it could also be the primary catalyst for winning this game. Fields' ability to run has been a near-impossible task for the Lions to stop in recent games, and unless the Lions do something on defense to surprise the Bears, the mobile quarterback could be on the run again this Sunday.

In their last meeting, Fields found a lot of success on designed runs early in the game, and the Bears looked content to continue calling Fields number until the Lions stopped him. Through the first two drives of the game, Fields ran seven times for 49 yards—almost half his total runs and yardage.

But things changed up on the third and fourth possessions as the Lions overloaded the box and Fields only attempted to run four times; he gained a total of three yards, with two of those runs resulting in negative yardage. As a result of the lack of production, the Bears only called three more designed runs the remainder of the game, gaining 12, 4, and 1 yard.

Once the Lions found a way to slow Fields down, the Bears dramatically moved away from designed quarterback runs, and as a result, their offense suffered. The Lions need to come out of the gate hot and throw everything at Fields to show the Bears coaching staff they’re prepared for designed runs, and history shows that Bears coaches will move away from their best offensive weapon.

Key 4: Take away the run, make the Bears’ offense one-dimensional

Did it work? Yes.

The Bears’ trio of running backs accounted for just 79 yards on 28 carries, leading to Fields throwing 23 times for just 169 yards.

Adjustments? Run it back.

The Lions are intensely focused on stopping the run and they have positive results to show for it. Their run defense ranks sixth in opponents' rush yards per attempt (3.8 yards), sixth in opponents' rush yards allowed per game (93.1 yards), and seventh in run defense DVOA.

If the Lions can stunt the run, the Bears will have to rely on Fields’ arm, and he has settled in on two primary targets: wide receiver DJ Moore and tight end Cole Kmet. Last game, Moore got the bulk of the team's receiving targets and turned them into seven catches for 96 yards, while Kmet settled for just three catches for 20 yards.

The Lions need to view shutting down the Bears offense in the following order. First, stop Fields, then stop the running backs. Next, focus on Moore, and finally wrap things up with Kmet.

Key 5: Get an early lead

Did it work? No.

Chicago scored on their first drive and the Lions needed three possessions before they could tie it up at seven points. The Lions did manage to pull ahead entering the half, but a 10-0 third quarter favoring the Bears forced Detroit’s hand and they were aggressive through the air in the fourth quarter.

Adjustments? Come out ready to make an impact on both sides of the ball.

Getting an early lead offers the Lions a wealth of play-calling options and has resulted in some big dividends for Detroit. In fact, in the eight games the Lions ended the first quarter with the lead, they won all eight games.

Here’s how the other four games played out:

  • Week 2, Seahawks: 7-7 after the first quarter, end result was a Lions loss in overtime
  • Week 7, Ravens: 14-0 Baltimore lead, end result was a Ravens win
  • Week 11, Bears: 7-0 Chicago lead, end result was Lions 4th quarter comeback win
  • Week 12, Packers: 20-6 Green Bay lead, end result was a Packers 7-point win

Once the Lions get into a trail position, they make slight alterations that favor a more pass-centric attack, which ends up resulting in an unbalanced game. In this week’s matchup, the Lions will surely need their ground game to be impactful, but they’ll need to get on the board early in order for it to work at its most efficient.

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