The Chicago Bears are on something of a roll, winners of 4 straight including a 34-22 win against the Detroit Lions a mere 10 days ago. While there certainly doesn’t seem like much time to recover from Sunday night’s hard fought victory against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears will travel to Detroit to play in the traditional early Thanksgiving Day against the Honolulu Blue Crew. There will be a few marked differences from the last time these two teams played, including injuries to Kerryon Johnson and Mitchell Trubisky.
The Bears are looking to sweep the season series for the first time since 2012 while the Lions are holding onto dwindling playoff hopes. We ran it back with Chris Perfett of the Pride of Detroit to gain some additional insights into this Lions squad and, yes, I even asked a food question.
Windy City Gridiron: 1. It looks like running back Kerryon Johnson escaped serious injury last week but will almost certainly miss Thursday’s game against the Bears. What’s the backup plan with him out and will the Lions try to establish the run game or put more of a load on Matthew Stafford?
Pride of Detroit: There is no plan after Kerryon. Abandon ship.
That’s facetious, but there really is a massive, massive drop at run game after him. Whatever the Lions hoped to get out of LeGarrette Blount, they’re not. Meanwhile, the bottom of the spice rack here for running backs is looking particularly grim, what with Zach Zenner back in town and Theo Riddick’s run game nonexistent; he’s a great receiver, but production on the ground is not something you want.
That’s not to say it’s beyond this coaching staff to try to fit square pegs into round holes, and then get mad at those holes for existing when it doesn’t work. I expect there will be plenty of attempts to establish the run early, sweet and juicy, and only after the Lions have had their noses bloodied will they attempt to put a load on Stafford.
WCG: 2. Way back when the Bears faced the Lions the first time, Darius Slay was out and the Bears took advantage with a good game out of Trubisky and Allen Robinson II through the air. With Slay back in the fold, how does that change the defensive approach? Is he likely to shadow a guy like Robinson or will he stay to one side of the field?
POD: Slay has not had a great year, which feels like a big downer for him. Nevertheless, he’s the most talented defensive back the Lions have, and his presence alone keeps things honest. Slay is best when he shadows receivers. He was one of the best at it last year. Finding that step he’s lost this year would make him excel again at doing this job and locking down a receiving threat. The only problem to that is that NFL offenses, including the Bears, have evolved beyond having a single top receiver. Slay can only do so much.
WCG: 3. One of the biggest differences in the first matchup was Detroit’s lack of pressure on Trubisky (1 sack) and inability to keep Stafford upright (6 sacks). Has this been a consistent theme all year or was the first matchup a blip on the radar?
POD: It was definitely an aberration, at least when it comes to matchup. Could I see it replicated? Probably, but the Bears looked like they had something figured in the last game. While Stafford’s taken a few sacks, there hasn’t really been another game like that one. On the flip-side, the Lions pass rush lack of production is more of the trend than anything. Last week, the defense did get three sacks on Cam Newton, but it’s clear that to most who watch that the front lines of this defense that there’s not much there to fear. Ezekiel Ansah back on the line helps, but he himself hasn’t produced much. Still, his presence helps shore up a unit that is still looking to make some noise.
WCG: 4. The Lions have some undeniable talent on this roster and have won some games against good teams this year. What does a perfect Lions off-season look like (retaining current players, free agents, and the draft) to get this team in a position to compete with the Bears for the 2019 NFC North crown?
POD: It’s going to require a lot of work, but the most work has to come on the defense. Getting a replacement for TJ Lang on the offensive line is important, but this defense is rapidly disintegrating. Jarrad Davis needs to show he is worth the draft pick. The backfield will need some serious rework, Teez Tabor hasn’t worked out, and someone has to replace Ansah as I don’t believe he’ll be back. In fact, you might just need two edge rushers.
Also keeping with the theme of NFL offenses evolving, there’s going to need to be more than just Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay before long...
You see where I’m going with this? A weird thing happened in 2016-2017 where the Lions looked close, but there’s plenty of pieces that fall off by the year. General manager Bob Quinn has worked to plug a few of those leaks, but it’s still not enough. I’m not saying the Lions are doomed in the off-season, but it will take a masterclass in free agency and draft work to really turn around the trends in a single year.
WCG: 5. Tradition gives us the Lions on Thanksgiving every year. As a Lions fan, is this a blessing or a curse to have this game on the calendar? And, with the spirit of Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for as a Lions fan this year?
POD: I like having this game. Tradition is not a strong point in the NFL, even among its oldest teams. Of course, tradition isn’t even the selling point of the NFL compared to college football or baseball - this league tries to sell hardcore, bloodstained victory at the cost of everything else. That’s fine and a reason why plenty of the hardcore fans exist. That said, a tradition like Thanksgiving football is a nice eye in the middle of a storm - especially when that storm has raged for as long as it has for the Lions. During bad years, it’s enough to just want to win the Thanksgiving game. During up years, it’s a nice lynchpin and time to celebrate good football. I resist all notion that we should let other teams play on Thanksgiving in place of the Lions; we were here first, shove off.
Also, best part of the Lions Thanksgiving game? It’s early enough in the day it doesn’t interfere with your meal plans, unlike the Cowboys and this abomination of a third game.
What am I thankful for as a Lions fan this year? I’ll pass on that one. Been a rough year for me as a fan. I think I went over why last 5 Questions.
WCG: Bonus: No doubt a day full of football is the highlight of many of our Thanksgivings but then there’s the food (and family, if you’re into that sort of thing). What is the one side dish that you look forward to every year? Also, are you in or out on pumpkin pie?
POD: Sweet potato casserole. My mother makes the best imaginable delicious treat you could ask for. Close second is fresh cranberry sauce.
I am 500% in on pumpkin pie. Making my own from scratch as we speak.
Thank you to Chris, POD, and all of you for reading this series. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and remember, regardless of how full you are, there is always room for pie.