Last week’s game was a disappointment on so many levels. The Bears came out flat and continued to play uninspired football for the duration of the game. It was a sobering reality of where this team is at and how the players are responding to this coaching staff.
The biggest thing for me will be how this team looks at the onset of the game. Frankly, this team should be embarrassed by their performance last week. Perhaps getting another shot at a division rival will be just what the doctor ordered. The Lions haven’t beaten any good teams this year (maybe the Vikings), and in the match-ups with common opponents, the Bears would seem to be the better team.
Coming off of an almost-scare with the lowly Browns, the Lions have just as much to prove on Sunday as the Bears. The biggest deference between these two teams, is that the Lions can actually score. If this game becomes a shootout of any sort, the advantage clearly goes to the Lions.
What to Watch For
On offense, look for the Bears to open things up a bit more. They started — and finished — last week’s game with a more open playbook. I think that Mitchell Trubisky’s performance has instilled some confidence in the coaching staff. The biggest thing here will be protection. A not-too-distant second would be the snap counts for the skill position players. More Tarik Cohen, Tre McBride, and Markus Wheaton, and less Joshua Bellamy and Benny Cunningham. Please and thank you.
If Dowell Loggains has a bit more freedom to open up the playbook, they are going to need to stop telegraphing their running plays. It is OK to run the ball with 3 or 4 wide receivers on the field. It is OK to run the ball out of shotgun. We saw a lot of fake end-arounds to Cohen last week, look for one or two of those to go to him this week.
Defensively, it all comes down to effort. Last week’s effort was tough to watch. They are going to have to “bring it” against this Lions offense if they want to stay in this game. Matthew Stafford can get rattled by pressure, but they are best served to keep him in the pocket as he is excellent on the run. Look for some zone blitzes to keep Stafford uncomfortable, but IN the pocket.
The Lions can’t really run the ball, and frankly, they really don’t try that hard. Instead of giving the old “stop the run” speech here, there is something else to keep an eye on: Jim Bob Cooter. This is a name that many speculate will be the head coach of an NFL franchise next season. Watch how he designs plays to get easy completions for Stafford, keeps him on-rhythm, and gets the ball to his weapons with space to work. With the Eagles coming up next week, let the scouting for the next Bears head coach commence!
Who to Watch
Mitchell Trubisky: Yes, I know that I had him up there last week, but we are at the point in the season where we should be more concerned with development than wins and losses. We saw some really great plays from Trubisky last week, but we also saw some stinkers. I want to see if he learns from those mistakes. I would also like to see — if they open up the playbook — how he responds from a good outing. Can he start to stack good performances together?
Adam Shaheen: Talk about a strange game for the rookie. He has two quick catches, and then isn’t targeted the rest of the game. Really, I don’t think they even made an attempt to get him out on routes after the first quarter. The big thing here is that he needs to be consistent in both receiving and blocking. Make no mistake about it, this was by far Shaheen’s worst blocking effort to-date. If he is going to be “the man” next year, he needs to do both consistently.
Kyle Fuller: In what can only be described as an awful performance last week, Fuller is going to need to come back strong against the Lions. Not only did he give up a ton of completions and yards, but he also missed a ton of tackles. Something seems off to me, and if he is nursing a “stinger,” or something like it, then I think it’s time to get Marcus Cooper back on the field.
Christian Jones: Look to see if Jones continues to call the defensive plays. In the two games in which he has had the headset helmet (Vikings and Packers), the Bears defense has looked discombobulated at times. I really like Jones, and I think he can be a really nice player for the Bears, but I think the calls should go to Kwiatkoski this week. He has more experience calling plays, and I think he has a better feel for the game than Jones does.
Keys to the Game
Protecting Mitchell: As I alluded to earlier, I think that the Bears are starting to get more comfortable with Trubisky and will continue to open up the playbook. If they do that however, they will need to be able to protect him. With Ziggy Ansah appearing to be out for this game, that job should be considerably easier. Keep an eye on the interior of the offensive line, there have been a lot of moving parts, and this seems to be where the bulk of the pressure is coming from.
Stay at Home: The Lions run a lot of misdirection plays at you. With Stafford’s ability to throw on the run — and make great plays from difficult angles — the Bears defense is going to have to be assignment-sound in this game. If they can’t stay in their gaps and rushing lanes, the Lions passing attack will make the Bears pay. The Lions can score and all it takes is one player missing an assignment for that to happen.
The X-Factor: The use of offensive weapons has been, well, offensive. For my money, we need to see Cohen moved around the formation, while getting 12-15 snaps per game, including running the ball. Benny Cunningham was signed to be the 3rd down back, and I would like to see him used in that role going forward. Dontrelle Inman needs to be on the field as much as possible. Kendall Wright has been your most consistent receiver this season and I want to see him on the field whenever a 3+ receiver formation is used. The rest of the snaps should be divvied-up between McBride and Wheaton. There are some weapons here, if they can be managed properly. Let’s see if the braintrust — and I use this term very loosely — can strike the right balance with their offensive weapons.