Detroit Lions game vs. Chicago Bears: Scouting report, prediction

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions (0-0) vs. Chicago Bears (0-0)

The coaches: Lions’ Matt Patricia (9-19-1 overall, 9-19-1 with Lions; Bears’ Matt Nagy (17-10 overall, 17-10 with Bears)

Key matchups: Lions RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai vs. Bears OLB Khalil Mack; Bears WR Allen Robinson vs. Lions CB Desmond Trufant.

Last game: Season opener for both teams.

Last meeting: Nov. 28, 2019: Bears won, 24-20.

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Scouting report

Lions run offense vs. Bears run defense

Make no mistake, the Lions signed Adrian Peterson to be their No. 1 running back – at least for the time being. D’Andre Swift missed nearly two weeks of training camp with a hip injury that has him playing catch-up now, and Kerryon Johnson has a lingering knee issue that could cut into his carries.

Peterson, Johnson and Swift, if he’s active, should split time Sunday, but it’s the 35-year-old Peterson who seems destined for the heaviest work. He’s not much of a big-play back anymore – his longest carry last year was 32 yards – and he’s historically been a liability in pass protection. But the Lions need a complement to their passing game and Peterson has the vision to get upfield and the power to pick up tough yards.

The Bears led the NFL in rush defense in 2018 and ranked ninth last season, when top defensive lineman Akiem Hicks missed most of the year with an elbow injury. Hicks is healthy now, and with Roquan Smith leading an active group of linebackers, Chicago’s defense should be suffocating again. Edge: Bears

Lions pass offense vs. Bears pass defense

Matthew Stafford will make his first start Sunday in 10 months, since he injured his back in a loss to the Oakland Raiders last November. Stafford had a lights-out training camp and seems poised for another big season given offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s penchant to push the ball downfield.

The Lions have the ingredients to be one of the NFL’s best passing offenses, but enter Week 1 with injury concerns at two key positions. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay missed practice Thursday and Friday with a hamstring injury. He’s the Lions’ best deep threat, and if he can’t play Sunday the field shrinks immensely. Right tackle Hal Vaitai also missed time this week with a foot injury, which doesn’t seem ideal heading into a game against bookend pass rushers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn.

Mack is coming off a down season, for him, at least, with 8½ sacks, but he has talked of this being a rebound year. Having Hicks back should help, though top defensive tackle Eddie Goldman will be missed after he opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. The Bears have one of the division’s best cornerbacks in Kyler Fuller, but Buster Skrine is a liability in the slot and rookie Jaylon Johnson could start outside.  Edge: Lions

Bears run offense vs. Lions run defense

When David Montgomery was carted off the field with a groin injury in August, it seemed the Bears’ running game would be in rough shape for Week 1. Montgomery returned to practice this week, however, and signs point to him being on the field Sunday.

The Bears ranked 27th in the league in rushing last season and, like the Lions, will use multiple backs of different shapes, sizes and skill sets. Montgomery is the best between-the-tackles runner on Chicago’s roster, while Tarik Cohen (150 catches in 2018-19) is a mismatch in the passing game. Lions defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said he expects to see electric return man Cordarrelle Patterson take snaps at running back, too.

The Lions have six new starters on a defense that allowed 120 or more yards rushing in three of its final four games last season. Danny Shelton takes over at defensive tackle and Trey Flowers is a standout run defender at end. Historically, the Lions have started slow on defense, and the abundance of new faces is cause for concern this year. Edge: Bears

Bears pass offense vs. Lions pass defense

You can count on one hand the NFL teams worse off at the quarterback position than the Bears. Mitchell Trubisky edged Nick Foles for the starting job in a decision that surprised some observers. Trubisky had a wretched 2019, when he completed 63% of his passes, rarely challenged defenses downfield and was benched in a primetime game against the Los Angeles Rams.

Trubisky’s one saving grace is he has had his way with the Lions more often than not. In three starts against Detroit over the past two seasons, all Bears wins, Trubisky has thrown for 866 yards and nine touchdowns with one interception. He has a couple playmakers in Cohen and Allen Robinson, and a revamped tight end room with Jimmy Graham and rookie Cole Kmet.

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The Lions’ pass rush was toothless last season and they need to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks this fall. Undlin has never called plays in the NFL, so there’s no telling how aggressive he’ll be against Trubisky. Amani Oruwariye should start opposite Desmond Trufant in a revamped secondary, with first-round pick Jeff Okudah playing off the bench if he’s healthy. Trusted tight end stopper in Tracy Walker might be the best player in the Lions’ defensive backfield. Edge: Lions

Special teams

The Lions doubled down on their devotion to special teams this offseason, signing or re-signing several free agents who should be core members of their coverage units, including Miles Killebrew, Tony McRae and Elijah Lee. Jamal Agnew is back for a fourth season as the punt and kick returner, and could benefit Sunday from playing for a first-time coordinator in Brayden Coombs, who has no film for the Bears to prepare for. Matt Prater still has 55-plus-yard range at 36 years old, but the Lions are debuting a new punter in Jack Fox, who has never kicked in an NFL game.

The Bears have two of the most dynamic return men in the NFL in Cohen (on punts) and Patterson (on kicks), and while Coombs wants to be aggressive, he acknowledged the Lions are debating whether to kick to Patterson or settle for touchbacks. Pat O’Donnell netted a career-best 41.2 yards per punt last season and the Bears have a creative special teams coordinator in Chris Tabor, but their place kicking is suspect as Cairo Santos takes over for an injured Eddy Pineiro. Edge: Bears

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Prediction

It’s good to have football back, even if we don’t know exactly what things will look like. Both teams will have rust to knock off after a game-less preseason, and the Lions are breaking in two new coordinators and six new starters on defense. That should give them a little bit of a gameplan edge, though any home-field advantage is largely nullified with no fans allowed in the stands. On the field, the Lions must protect Stafford against a good Bears defense. That means running the ball effectively to keep Mack and maybe Quinn at bay, and connecting on shots down field when they’re there for the taking.

The Bears didn’t force turnovers last season like they did in 2018, and they didn’t have much bit on offense with Trubisky under center. Maybe the Foles addition sparked something new in the quarterback, but I doubt it. That’s why I’m picking the Lions in what should be a close, relatively low-scoring opener. Pick: Lions 21, Bears 17

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content. 

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