This Bears | Lions game could very well prove to be a significant turning point for both the Chicago Bears this season as well as for Justin Fields' future. The Lions have a very good team that includes weaknesses that can be exploited. I am inclined to give much of the credit for their success to their coaching staff over their players.
They have 4 key standouts WR, Amon-Ra St. Brown, OT Penei Sewell, Center Frank Ragnow, and their best pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson. Their strengths include their offensive line, defensive line, pass targets, and running back combo. Plus their offensive coordinator, Ben Johnson is bringing out the best in Jason Goff.
However, their linebackers overall lack speed and the secondary is vulnerable perhaps even weak.
The Bear's key standouts are DJ Moore, Jaylon Johnson, Montez Sweat plus one more. That is Justin Fields when he is at his dynamic best. When he is on, he very much is a blue chip player, however, he also very much lacks consistency and that is the Bears conundrum. This gets us to the main reason why the Bears can beat the Lions. Their secondary is their weakest link. Then you factor in that Justin Field's strength as a passer is on throws 15 yards or longer.
These two elements of this game are the biggest reason to give the Bears a legitimate shot to win it. We have seen how dynamic DJ Moore can be with the ball in his hands. Now add to that the Bear's other top receiving threat, Darnell Mooney. He appears to have regained his speed and his mojo back. Cole Kmet as a receiver keeps getting better with each game. This all adds up to the Bears early on using a heavy mix of medium to deep passes. This strategy should lead to a number of chunk plays and some touchdowns.
If the Bears emphasize their pass game early on and once the Lions focus on stopping the Bears' passing game then their run game should become, consistently, effective throughout the game. Against the Lions' defense, teams are averaging around 30 pass attempts per game and just over 20 run plays per game. So it is possible the Lions' ability to contain the run is due in part because teams like to pass the ball a lot against their defense. The Bears need to embrace this strategy. I suggest the Bears go with a 60/40 split pass vs run as most other teams have done.
Unfortunately, this aggressive strategy goes against Matt Eberflus's signature Play Not To Lose approach to coaching football games. This strategy includes the Prevent the Win Defense. Matt Eberflus as the Bears head coach has added a twist to this strategy as he seemingly has created in Chicago the Prevent the Win Offense.
I believe at times Eberflus puts a big-time restraint on Getsy's playcalling. This is most evident in the second half when the Bears are in a position to win a game. I strongly suspect that this is why Luke Getsy at times looks very good as a play caller and then there are other times when it feels like a clown show.
This Prevent the Win Offense was in full effect in the 4th quarter of the Saints game. In that game, the Bears were aggressive on offense with a rookie QB. This strategy kept them even with the Saints after 3 quarters. Then Getsy, inexplicitly, went into conservative offense mode that kept Tyson Bagent tied to the pocket. This all led to turnovers and a loss that could have easily been a win.
This Saints game should be a cautionary tale for the Bears coaching staff. So a big question of this game is will the Play Not To Lose head coach learn from his mistakes or continues to undermine his team's confidence at key points in a game that has led to many losses. Based on past performance the Lions head coach, Dan Campbell will most likely outcoach the Bears head coach, Matt Eberflus. Hopefully, the Bears players an overcome inferior coaching with some big plays.
As mentioned, an emphasis on the passing game early should make it easier for the Bears to run the ball throughout the game. The Bears could go strength versus strength by emphasizing the run early on against the effective run defense of the Lions. However, given the Lions' vulnerable secondary and Fields deep ball game going strength versus strength in a big way is an unnecessary risk for the Bears to take masked as a mitigate the risk strategy.
Here are some other factors which could help the Bears win this game. For one, the Lions' best pass rusher for some reason, typically, rushes from the right side of the QB. This is good news for the Bears because their most talented offensive lineman is their right tackle, Darnell Wright.
Another factor that could help the Bears is if they use more than their usual number 2 and 3 tight end sets. The Lion's defense has had problems defending these tight end-heavy plays. Cole Kmet is quite good as a blocker and receiver. Robert Tonyan is a very good receiver with good speed for his size. Mercedes Lewis is a strong blocker. So going heavy on offense at times makes sense as long as these plays do not take too many plays away from attacking the Lion's secondary which could easily lead to some chunk plays.
Ironically offensive line play in this game might, slightly, favor the Bears over the Lions. The Lions have a very good offensive line but their stout left guard Jonah Jackson is out for this game. Conversely, the Bears in this game could easily have their best offensive line lineup of the season. It is possible the Bears' offensive line play might be able to match or even outplay the Lions, highly, respected offensive line.
Nate Davis is, finally, back as right guard. Teven Jenkins, who has been their best offensive lineman, will play left guard. Cody Whitehair who for much of this season has varied from playing inconsistently to not good is benched this game. Probably, the biggest question mark for the Bears' offensive line is the health of Darnell Wright's left shoulder as he often goes against the Lions' best pass rusher, Aidan Hutchinson.
What I find most interesting about the Bears fielding their strongest offensive line lineup is this. During Justin Fields' hot streak before he got injured an NFL exec made an insightful comment about Fields. He noted that during this streak the Bears QB's eyes were staying up a lot more than they had in the past as opposed to eyes looking down.
The inference here is that when Justin is not worried about his pass pro breaking down, he makes better, smarter decisions. This is all likely to make him a much better QB because he no longer feels the need to be aware of the split second when the pass pro breaks down so he can then get a quick jump on using his legs to save the play.
This leads to another factor that helps the Bears. This is because Justin Fields is very likely as motivated as he has ever been to prove to the world he belongs as an NFL starter. In addition, Matt Eberflus is on a similar quest to prove to all he has what it takes to succeed as a head coach.
This game is also a big test for the Bears defense. They have improved since Eberflus took over calling plays. Plus the addition of Montez Sweat now creates the possibility that their 4 man rush can actually create some sacks. However, this Lions offense is no joke. If the Bears' defense can hold their own against this Lions offense, it will breed confidence in the Bears defense and this will give momentum to the entire team.
With Eddie Jackson on the field and the addition of Montez Sweat, we may finally see just how good this Bears defense is as it has been built by Poles and Eberflus. There biggest missing piece on defense is Tremaine Edmunds who has underwhelmed so far. Then on the other hand, as a football fan it would be quite entertaining to see a shootout between these two offenses. A shootout is. definitely, a possibility among many possibilities for this game. Of all the possibilities that could occur, Justin Fields beating the division leader on the road might be the best thing that could happen to his team.
If the Bears can surprise the Lions early on by quickly grabbing the momentum, this should go a long way to the Bears pulling off an upset win. An upset win on the road against a division opponent who also has the best record in their division would be the best thing to happen to the Bears in a long long time.
Winning this game should give lots of momentum to the Bears going forward. It also would be a big-time, narrative changer to what is being currently said about the Bears. I believe if the Bears play this game smart and play to win they will win this game. Then again if the Bears coaches choke and this contributes heavily to a loss, this will be quite the missed opportunity.