By: David Klein
In a rematch of their 17-14 Week 4 loss at Soldier Field, the Detroit Lions (8-4) clash with the Chicago Bears (3-9) this Sunday at Ford Field. The Bears are coming into Motown after a 26-6 romp over the hapless San Francisco 49ers last Sunday while Detroit comes off an impressive 28-13 win at New Orleans, and despite the fact these two teams seem to be heading in different directions, it is important to remember that this is an NFC North divisional match up that is usually a toss-up – especially considering that the Bears are playing with nothing to lose.
What to Look For:
-DET Run Defense vs. CHI RB Jordan Howard
In their first match up, the Bears rookie torched the Lions for 111 yards on 23 carries in the Chicago victory. Last week, he ran for three touchdowns against the 49ers, and the fifth-round pick out of Indiana seems to be gaining confidence. He has run for over 100 yards five times this season and is averaging a healthy 4.9 yards per carry (tied for 8th in the NFL). If not for Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, he’d probably be in the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Lions front seven can not be caught off guard again against this guy. He’s elusively quick for a big RB, but lacks any real burst. He’s basically a younger version of Joique Bell (more on him later). Detroit having LB Tahir Whitehead back would be fine and dandy, but there is enough film available on Howard and the scheme now to have no excuses either way.
The only reason Detroit lost in Chicago on Oct. 2nd was because Matthew Stafford was picked off twice (with zero TD’s). Chicago’s defense can be opportunistic. Ex-Lion Willie Young, DE Akeim Hicks, and rookie Leonard Floyd have combined for 20.5 sacks thus far – more than the entire Lions defense combined. Floyd is starting to get some noise for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Detroit will need to optimize pass-protection on the offensive line and execute precise routes in tight coverage to give Stafford his windows to throw.
-Field Position/Special Teams
The Lions have been especially fortunate with both Matt Prater and Sam Martin in their kicking/punting game. Prater has been clutch in crunch time and Martin ranks fourth the league in net average. The coverage units on returns have also been above average. Andre Roberts has yet to make much of a difference, but he is reliable and does not turn the ball over. With the exception of KR Deonte Thompson, Chicago features a below average special teams unit across the board – an area to be exploited for sure.
The Bears have not won a road game this year and the 26 points they scored against the Niners last week is their highest output since the French Revolution, er, November 15… 2015. Without injured QB Jay Cutler and suspended WR Alshon Jeffery, they are just not the same team. Matthew Stafford had his worst game of the season, and possibly his career, when the two teams played in October. I have a hard time seeing a repeat of that performance. We’ll see if WR Marvin Jones and LB DeAndre Levy can get back on the field this week, but even without them, I’d have to take Detroit if you can find them (-7.5). But I’ve seen it as high as (-9), in which case, sit this one out. The Under at 43.5 might be a good pick, though.
– On Tuesday the Lions re-signed veteran RB Joique Bell, who played for the team from 2012-15. He played in four games for the Bears this season before being released Oct. 24. Worst case scenario is that he can contribute a bit in short-yardage and maybe give the coaching staff a peek into Chicago’s playbook. The Lions also announced Tuesday that they have signed CB Asa Jackson from the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad. DE Armonty Bryant (knee) and CB Quandre Diggs (pectoral muscle) have been placed on injured reserve.
– The Bears claimed cornerback Johnthan Banks off waivers from the Lions. He appeared in two games for Detroit and made two tackles after they acquired him in a trade deadline deal with Tampa Bay on Nov. 1 for a seventh-round pick. Tampa was reportedly going to waive Banks, so essentially Detroit traded its seventh-round pick for a two-week rental.
– Condolences to the Chicago Bears and University of Colorado football community for the loss of Rashaan Salaam – a former Heisman Trophy winner. Hopefully it leads to more awareness of substance abuse, CTE, and the lives that players lead after they leave the gridiron.