The Chicago Bears have one of their most difficult games of the season, squaring off against the hot Detroit Lions that currently sit atop the NFC North at 7-2. The Bears are larger than a touchdown underdog against their division rival but hope is not lost as Justin Fields returns after missing the last four games with a thumb injury.
To help us preview this matchup, we sat down with Ryan Mathews from Pride of Detroit to give us the skinny on the Lions and help you get set for Sunday’s showdown.
1. As two franchises that have spent time together in the depths of the NFC standings frequently over the last several years, seeing the Lions turnaround has been one that can give Bears fans hope. What do you think is the key reason behind the Lions turnaround and success in 2023?
The key to the Lions finally turning a corner in 2023 is sticking to the plan. This rebuild had phases that started back in 2021 when general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell arrived in town. Of course, sticking to a plan is what got the Lions into such a mess in the first place, and both Holmes and Campbell had to pick up the pieces left behind by the Boston Boys–the previous regime of Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia.
Getting the hires right at the top is so important, and can’t be overstated. For the Lions, they needed to prioritize rehabilitating the culture. Campbell is the antithesis to the kind of leader Patricia was in Detroit, and some thought the move was focused too much on a course correction there. But what needed to be accounted for was the kind of tandem Holmes and Campbell have become, working in unison to build and develop a roster in their shared vision. In 2023, we’re seeing the fruits of labor that’s been three years in the making.
2. The Lions are definitely a good football team, but are they a Super Bowl contender? I can’t decide if this is a team that’s in the same category as a team like the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers or if they are a step below. There aren’t a lot of talented teams in the NFC, so is this a year where the Lions can surprise some people and reach their first Super Bowl?
They’re definitely knocking on the door of joining that tier of team that only the Eagles and 49ers belong to in the NFC, but there are enough question marks about this team that give me pause from including them in that club.
First of all, the defense has made improvements from a year ago, namely proving that the run defense is legitimately good. It forces teams to be one-dimensional on offense, and when you’re taking a run game away from Desmond Ridder, Jordan Love, and Jimmy Garoppolo, it puts the onus on them to win games through the air. Detroit’s defense has been successful in shutting down those guys, but guys like Lamar Jackson, Geno Smith, and Justin Herbert, those guys have had their way against the Lions pass defense. That’s not a shocking or uncommon problem: good quarterbacks making plays happens to any defense. But when it’s 35+ points in each of those games, that’s a bit concerning.
This offense, aside from the Ravens game, hasn’t been put in a spot where they’ve had to climb their way out of a deficit, and it’s not really clear if this offense is built to score points in a hurry through the air.
3. Ben Johnson is a guy that I love as a potential head coach hire if the Chicago Bears decide to part ways with Matt Eberflus after the season. What has Johnson done to get this offense humming and get so much out of Jared Goff?
It’s been all about accentuating the strengths of Goff, like stretching the field from sideline to sideline, and having Goff be accurate and on time with his throws. He’s diversified the running game, implementing a variety of run types to keep opposing defenses off-balance. Goff is fourth among quarterbacks in play-action pass attempts per game (9.3) with the best adjusted completion percentage (89.3%) in the NFL. In short, it’s a balanced offense that prioritizes running the football to set up the pass, and while that may seem like a boring answer, it’s the truth. When that approach is done well, it’s a formula for success in the NFL.
4. Defensively, the Lions seem inconsistent. They seem to have games where they are able to largely shut down their opponent, but then they have games like last week against the Chargers where Los Angeles scored touchdowns on five straight possessions. What’s the deal with this Detroit defense?
As I mentioned in the other response, the Lions defense struggles to shut down elite passing offenses. It’s not a unique problem to Detroit, but it’s an indication that the Lions just don’t have the horses to keep up on the backend. C.J. Gardner-Johnson suffered a season-ending injury early in the year and Emmanuel Moseley went down with a torn ACL on his second snap of his first game back from an ACL injury last season. Those two players figured to be starters in Detroit’s secondary, and now they’re on the shelf. The pass rush is solid, but not exceptional by any means. They can generate pressure, even when they’re only sending four players, but they’re not finishing those pressures and converting them into sacks.
5. Looking at this game from a Lions perspective, are there any bets that standout on DraftKings that you’d recommend Bears fans taking a run at?
Even though the Bears run defense has been one of the better units in the NFL, it feels like a David Montgomery revenge game is on the menu–60+ rushing yards is set at +135. Also, 7.5 points seems like too many points for a divisional game, especially with Justin Fields back in the lineup, so since this spread clears a key number, I’d consider the Bears +7.5.
So there you have it. Ryan laid out some of the Lions’ weaknesses that the Bears could exploit, but will they? And do they have what it takes to shut down this Lions offense? It makes for some compelling angles heading into this Sunday’s game as Matt Eberflus hopes to earn his first divisional win of his career.
And as always, if you want to place a little wager on the game, DraftKings Sportsbook has you covered.