The 7-2 Lions boast the league’s sixth-best scoring offense which, combined with a Bears defense that melts down against even average quarterbacks, suggests a big day coming for this renewed version of Jared Goff. So even if the Bears (3-7) look better on offense in Justin Fields’ return, this tilt at Ford Field has a strong likelihood of not going well. (Though…apparently Goff struggles against Cover 2, so…you’re telling me there’s a chance?)
That said, one who wanted to point out some reasons for optimism could note the Lions haven’t beaten anyone meaningful since Week 1 against the Kansas Chiefs. Of course, the Bears absolutely look like the next bum waiting to be slain, so that’s small comfort. But there’s always that chance you could catch your division opponent lacking.
If the Bears have designs of doing that, they should be poring over the film from the Baltimore Ravens’ hellacious 38-6 beatdown of the Lions in Week 7 for some inspiration.
Let’s obviously address some caveats here. The Ravens have one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Lamar Jackson; the Bears do not. Baltimore also has arguably the best defense in football; the Bears definitely do not have that (though they’re getting better).
In short, the Ravens are several tiers – like three or four – better than the Bears. But the Bears are capable of doing similar things, especially offensively, to make the Lions chase their tails on Sunday.
Step 1: dial the read-option game up to 11.
Yeah, everyone knows how dangerous Fields is with his legs. Especially the Lions.
Then again, the Lions almost certainly knew how dangerous Jackson is with his legs and somehow played him in a fashion one can kindly refer to as “undisciplined.”
For as disruptive as Aidan Hutchinson is, the Ravens exposed his inexperience and over-aggression, as well as that of the rest of Detroit’s defensive front, repeatedly in the read-option game.
Here, Hutchinson tries to “surf” the read option to both attack a possible hand-off and be in position to chase Jackson if he keeps it. But Jackson catches Hutchinson too far inside, pulls the ball and outruns Hutchinson to the edge. There’s a difference between knowing how it’s supposed to work on the whiteboard and actually getting the guy on the ground.
The Lions also tried different ways of defending these plays with the edge (Hutchinson in this case) taking the running back no matter what and the linebacker (Alex Anzalone) coming up to support in case the quarterback pulls. But the Ravens have a true RPO answer to this, having Odell Beckham Jr. run an inside stick route and look for the ball. So even though the Lions had the “R” part covered, the “P” aspect of the play earned a couple yards and kept Detroit honest.
The Ravens even scammed the Lions from under center, simulating a single-back power look on the goal line only to get Jackson a walk-in touchdown on a bootleg keeper. Again, watch how hard the right side of the Lions’ defensive front crashes on the threat of the run from Gus Edwards while forgetting about Jackson, the most dangerous weapon Baltimore has. The Bears have a strong run game themselves and should be able to free up Fields for a decent run or two if they commit to that in the game plan.
That brings us tangentially to another point: Chicago should play-action Detroit to death.
It is beyond reckoning that Fields – he of the rocket right arm and possibly the most dangerous legs in the game among quarterbacks – ranks 31st in the league in play-action percentage, according to The 33rd Team, with as much as the Bears like to run the football.
You could see how much the threat of play-action suckered the Lions against the Ravens (who also don’t run play-action as much as they probably should) on the first drive.
Here, Detroit runs Cover 2 Invert after originally giving off a single-high look, with the safety coming down to essentially play like a Tampa Robber as the two corners sprint back to take the deep halves of the field. The run fake makes the linebackers bite up, and the safety chases tight end Mark Andrews’ crossing route all the way to the boundary, opening up a monstrous hole for Zay Flowers behind the second level of the defense for a huge gain.
No time like the present to attack the middle of the field if you’re the Bears, right?
Then, there’s this red-zone play, which comes with the additional note of “move the pocket.”
Baltimore gave Jackson his share of straight dropbacks, but they also had him rolling out early and often in this one, once again using the threat of the run game to give him easy throws.
This is just a simple split-zone look with Andrews leaking into the flat for a simple catch and run for a touchdown. Hard to draw it up any better.
The blueprint for success, or at least to ease Fields into the game for the first few series, is there. Then again, the Bears typically don’t have many issues with opening scripts. It’s everything after that becomes a problem.
Can Luke Getsy and the Chicago Bears consistently give Fields a game plan he can work with for a full game for the first time since the second half of the 2022 season? Odds aren’t great for that, especially in Fields’ first game back. But we can hope, right?