The last time the Chicago Bears faced the Detroit Lions, things came crashing down in the final four minutes of the game. The Bears held a 12-point lead with only a few minutes remaining but the Lions came roaring back (roaring, get it?) and won the game in the final minute.
The Bears look to play a similar game that they did for 56 minutes, but try and keep it up for 60 minutes this time. To help preview the game, we once again spoke with our sister site, Pride of Detroit, and sat down with Ryan Matthews to help us preview the game.
1. What’s going on with Detroit? I feel like they aren’t as sharp as they were earlier in the season. Nearly losing to Chicago and having to come back like they did, losing to Green Bay and making things way too interesting against New Orleans. Are there a couple of warts that are being exposed right now or do you feel they’ll get back on track?
It’s a fair question to ask, especially given the way they’ve performed in recent games as you’ve highlighted. On the surface, if you’re box score surfing, you might think the defense is the main culprit given they’ve allowed 27.7 points per game over the last three weeks. Not saying the defense hasn’t been a problem, it certainly hasn’t been playing like the top-10 defense in DVOA it was earlier in the year–and it was probably punching above its weight–but it’s really been a story of turnover differential.
In that last Bears game, the Lions turned the ball over four times and recorded just one takeaway–Chicago’s final play on offense where Aidan Hutchinson strip-sacked Justin Fields. It took Chicago doing everything in the book to lose that game for Detroit to escape with a victory. Against the Packers on Thanksgiving, Jared Goff fumbles twice on consecutive drives in the first quarter on Detroit’s side of the field and that contributes to the team being in a 20-6 hole. Another Goff fumble on the opening drive of the fourth quarter essentially sealed the Lions’ fate since they were trailing 29-14 at that point.
If the defense is more opportunistic and forces a turnover or two, the Lions offense has played enough clean, efficient, and productive football to suggest they could be competitive against any team in the NFL. That’s quite the tightrope to walk in this league, though, and there’s not much Detroit can do at this point in the season to turn around the defense other than hope some players get healthy and return for the playoffs.
2. Last we spoke, I talked about Ben Johnson as a potential head coach candidate for the Bears and the end of the Lions-Bears game certainly showed just how skilled he is at calling a game. It certainly looks like Johnson is going to have his pick of a few different head coaching jobs after this year. How much do you think losing him would impact the Lions success?
Losing Ben Johnson sits atop the list of Lions fans anxieties that loom over this upcoming offseason, but again, it’s going to take the right situation. A lot of people were concerned Johnson would jet for any opportunity after being the hottest name in last year’s coaching search. The Carolina Panthers job seemed to be his for the taking, but he passed on going home and coaching because, well, look at the circus that place has become. So that just goes to show how prudent Johnson is in finding the right spot at the right time for him to make the jump to the head coaching ranks.
If he does find a job that suits him well and he moves on from Detroit, I think the Lions will be able to call on someone in house, maybe passing game coordinator Tanner Engstrand, to take over as the team’s offensive coordinator.
3. The Lions defense has given up 26 or more points in 4 of their last 5 games and now Alim McNeill heads to the injured list. What can the Lions do on defense to improve the unit and put less pressure on the offense?
Like I mentioned earlier, the offense needs to take care of the football and not turn it over on their own side of the field. It puts undue pressure on the defense, and it puts the offense in a spot where it needs to be too one-dimensional for their liking by being forced to throw it.
Detroit’s defense is losing one of their most important pieces on defense with McNeill headed to IR. There’s no sugarcoating just how big of a blow it is to lose him for this final stretch of games because outside of Aidan Hutchinson, he’s been the only lineman capable of generating push in terms of pass rush–and he’s probably been the best run defender for the Lions this year.
The Lions signed Tyson Alualu earlier this week to help fortify the depth along the interior of the defensive line, but if he follows a similar timeline as Bruce Irvin–who was brought in before Thanksgiving and just debuted last week against New Orleans–there’s going to be a ramp up period before he sees the field. They have other in-house options to rotate bodies, but there isn’t another player who is going to provide the impact McNeill does on a down-to-down basis.
There isn’t much Detroit can do defensively other than hope reinforcements (McNeill, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, James Houston) arrive in time to bolster their chances in a single-game elimination playoff, and in the meantime, the offense can outscore other teams.
4. This is a sneaky important game for Detroit. I think there’s a chance the Packers run the table and if they do, it’s not impossible that they could make it interesting for the division title if the Lions stumble a little. Any concerns about the division or feeling comfortable still?
It’s important in the sense that the Lions magic number is three. If they win three of their next five games, the division is a wrap if one of those wins comes against the Minnesota Vikings. It’s funny to think about the Packers running the table because it’s becoming a sort of running gag over the past few seasons, but things shifted this past January. Detroit went into Lambeau and ended the Packers playoff hopes, so that boogeyman isn’t under the bed anymore. The closet is clear. There are no monsters.
The Lions have to be one game better than average over their next five to render any running of the table talk irrelevant, and I think that’s much more likely than a complete collapse from Detroit and some perfect football from Green Bay.
5. Any Lions props on DraftKings that catch your eye?
I’d be surprised if Jahmyr Gibbs doesn’t hit the over (+100) on his rushing attempts which is currently set at 9.5. He’s going to get his chances, and I know the Bears run defense has solidified itself, but less than 10 carries for Gibbs for the second week in a row would feel like a waste for someone who is proving to be a bottle rocket on offense–he’s tied for the most rushes of 20+ yards (7) in the NFL this year.
The Lions enter this game just a 3-point favorite compared to the 7.5 points they were favored by in the previous match-up. This should be a good barometer to know exactly where this Bears team is down the stretch and if they can get hot and win some games, or if this is a team that’s going to continue to struggle the rest of the way.
And as always, if you want to place a little wager on the game, DraftKings Sportsbook has you covered.