The troubled Bears season rolls on as the divisional play starts with Chicago welcoming in the Detroit Lions.
The Lions, despite the fact that they do not have a strong history of winning, have had the better of the Bears for three seasons running.
As much as fans love to mock and hate on Detroit, the fact is is that they have been the superior team in head-to-head meetings for three straight seasons.
The Bears are 0-3 and desperate for a win. Can this finally be the week?
Record: 1-2 (3rd in NFC North)
Last week: 34-27 loss to the Green Bay Packers. They trailed 31-3 at one point but came back to get the back door cover (thank you for that, Detroit).
Bears all-time record against: 96-71-5; the most wins Chicago has against any one franchise.
Last meeting: January 3, 2016 - Week 17, the Bears lost 24-20. I was at that game and remember very little about it because it was two crappy teams. It was also the first Bears loss I ever witnessed live.
Historical match ups: This long series has plenty of history to it. The Bears’ longest win streak is 11 straight between 1946 and 1951. The longest losing streak for Chicago is six straight, which is current, as well as back between 1968 and 1970.
Key injuries: Eric Ebron, Ezekiel Ansah and DeAndre Levy all missed practice Wednesday. Riley Reiff and Tavon Wilson were limited participants.
Offense: Since the Lions fired former offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi after Week 7 last season, the offense has actually thrived under Jim Bob Cooter, his replacement. Matthew Stafford threw 20 TDs to just four INTs in the final nine games last season after throwing nine picks and just 12 TDs in the first seven games. So far in 2016 he has seven TDs and two picks. He is completing 67 percent of his passes and has a 105 QB rating.
Even without Calvin Johnson, the Lions have been able to move the ball through the air, entering this week with the third-ranked passing game, averaging 312.7 pass yards per game. The Lions rank fourth overall on offense with 413.7 yards per game and rank fifth in points with 27 PPG. Leading their corps is Marvin Jones (18/408/2), Eric Ebron (14/168/1) and Golden Tate (13/94/0). Anquan Boldin (11/105/2) lurks as well.
Their rushing attack ranks 16th though with 101 yards per game and a decent 4.3 YPC.
Their rushing attack took a hit after Ameer Abdullah was lost to a foot injury. Now Theo Riddick, who doubles as a potent passing option and Dwayne Washington are leading the backfield.
The Lions are averaging 40 pass attempts per game versus 27 rushing attempts. Those numbers aren’t even skewed by the blowout last week, here is the breakdown of pass attempts through three games in order; 39, 40, 41. That goes a long way to showing how they will attack the Bears.
Defense: The Lions come into Week 4 with the 21st ranked defense in terms of yards allowed per game and they rank 27th in points per game allowed.
Their passing defense is a weak link through three games, allowing the 16th fewest yards per game through the air but the team has just one interception to 10 pass TDs allowed and opposing QBs have the highest passer rating against them (120.2) of any team in the league. They have seven sacks, which is tied for 12th.
The rushing unit is allowing opposing offenses the 12th most yards per game (114.7) and the highest on per-carry basis (5.1 tied for worst with the Raiders) however no team has scored a rushing TD against them yet.
Key match ups: Matthew Stafford vs. the Chicago secondary. Stafford has been pretty good this year, limiting his mistakes (just two total turnovers) and finding receivers. His new favorite target is Marvin Jones, who has a team-high 29 targets, but Tate and Ebron are close behind with 22 and 20 apiece, respectively. Through three games five Lions receivers have double-digit receptions and at least one TD.
It will be important for the Bears to get pressure on Stafford but if the first three games are any indication, it’s going to be up to Deiondre Hall, Tracy Porter, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Bryce Callahan and Jacoby Glenn (depending on who plays out of that cast) to keep the Detroit WRs locked up downfield. The Lions haven’t had much of a rushing attack since Abdullah got hurt so the Bears should be able to attack a one-dimensional offense, but again, after three games, that is a huge "should."
For the Bears’ offense, they need to establish the ground game early and often. There have been running lanes through this Detroit D and the Bears would be wise to take a crack at that unit giving up a healthy 5.1 YPC average. If the Bears can get the ground game going then perhaps that will open things up downfield for Alshon Jeffery and possibly Kevin White to build on his better Week 3. It will likely be Brian Hoyer under center but even if Jay Cutler should return, the run game is going to be an important crutch for the struggling offense.
Ansah being out is a win for the struggling Bears OL but Lion DE Kerry Hyder, a second-year man out of Texas Tech, has picked up some of that slack, notching four sacks in the first three weeks.
What to watch for: The Bears run game. The offensive line improved last week and John Fox has said that the running game needs to get going. Jordan Howard is going to be the lead man this week and there are no excuses why they can’t stick with it this week. Joique Bell should be able to help Howard out, even with just a couple practices under his belt. However, keep an eye on how the backs do in pass protection. The Lions could test them with blitzes and different looks and rushes to see how well they know their assignments. The Lions will be down their best pass rusher so ideally the offensive line should be able to hold their own.
On defense, can the inexperienced secondary contain Jones, Ebron, Tate, Riddick and Boldin? The defense had a poor showing in Dallas and the pass rush has to get home this week against a pocket passer like Stafford.
Key stats: Stafford is third in pass yards per game (328.3), tied for fourth in yards per pass attempt (8.2) and seventh in yards per completion (12.2).
The Bears rank 30th in rush yards per game (71.7) and rank dead last in rushing attempts (52), six fewer than the two teams ahead of them, New Orleans and Jacksonville.
The Lions have won six straight against the Bears. The last time the Bears won was Week 17 in 2012. Lovie Smith was fired the next day.