Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears: Dave Birkett’s scouting report, prediction

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Lions (4-7) vs. Chicago Bears (5-6)

The coaches: Lions’ Darrell Bevell (0-0 overall; Bears’ Matt Nagy (25-18 overall, all with Bears).

Last game: Lions lost to Houston Texans, 41-25; Bears lost to Green Bay Packers, 41-25.

Last meeting: Sept. 13, 2020: Bears won, 27-23.

Key matchups

Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky vs. Detroit Lions DC Cory Undlin: Trubisky has inexplicably owned the Lions the past 2½ seasons. In four starts, all wins, against now-deposed Lions coach Matt Patricia, Trubisky threw for 1,108 yards (277 ypg) with 12 touchdowns and one interception. In his other 41 career starts, he has 45 touchdowns, 33 interceptions and has averaged 201.2 ypg. Patricia was fired last week, and while Undlin said there will not be any major changes on defense, we should see some small tweaks based on available personnel – less man-to-man defense? – and perhaps personal philosophy (both Undlin’s and interim head coach Darrell Bevell’s).

Lions WR Danny Amendola vs. Bears CB Buster Skrine: Amendola has had a quiet season, with 28 catches for 411 yards, and about a fifth of that production – 81 yards – came on five catches against the Bears in Week 1. Chicago has two good outside cornerbacks in Kyle Fuller and Jaylon Johnson, but Skrine has struggled at times in the slot. With Kenny Golladay out again with a hip injury, Amendola could be more involved in the game plan as the Lions’ No. 2 receiver.

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Scouting report

Lions run offense vs. Bears run defense

D’Andre Swift has emerged from concussion protocol, but his status for Sunday is still in question and if he does play he likely will not be a major part of the game plan. Bevell pushed for Swift to see more snaps early this season, but Swift has practiced sparingly the past three weeks both because of his brain injury and an illness that kept him out Thursday and Friday.

Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson should split whatever work Swift does not take. Peterson had his best game of the season in Week 1 against the Bears, when he ran for 93 yards on 14 carries, but has had little rushing room since. Johnson, who lost his first fumble last week since Week 4 of the 2019 season, should have a role on third downs even if Swift is a full go.

The Bears are not statistically as dominant a run defense as they were the past two seasons, when they ranked in the top 10 of the NFL, but they have done a good job against the league’s two best running backs, Dalvin Cook (30 carries, 96 yards) and Derrick Henry (21-68), in recent weeks. Top defensive lineman Akiem Hicks is questionable with a hamstring injury and would be a huge loss if he is limited or cannot play. Edge: Bears

Lions pass offense vs. Bears pass defense

Bevell insisted this week he was not hamstrung as a play caller by Patricia’s approach as head coach, and stressed the need going forward “to find those explosive plays that we haven’t been as consistent as we’d like to be” so far this season. 

Golladay’s absence will not help in that regard as he is one of the best contested-ball catchers in the league. Bevell still is calling plays, so he will have to find creative ways to get Marvin Jones and rookie Quintez Cephus open downfield, maybe by dipping into his bag of trick plays again. Matthew Stafford has battled the interception bug this season with eight in 12 games, but the Bears have not been very opportune with more takeaways (11) than just two other teams.

Chicago’s defense is not as intimidating as it was in 2018, but the Bears are top 10 in points against and No. 2 in the league in getting off the field on third down. Khalil Mack has a team-leading 6½ sacks, but missed practice this week with a back injury. He still is a potential game-wrecker, and Fuller could be on his way to his third straight Pro Bowl at cornerback. Edge: Bears

Bears run offense vs. Lions run defense

The Bears rank last in the NFL in rushing offense, but with Trubisky making his second straight start at quarterback, it seems Chicago’s best chance of consistently moving the ball is on the ground.

David Montgomery ran for a season-high 103 yards on 11 carries last week, but has had a disappointing season. Including a 57-yard gain last week, Montgomery has two rushes of more than 12 yards since Oct. 1. Trubisky is a threat to run, and had a 20-yard scramble against the Lions in the opener. The Bears will use Cordarrelle Patterson some as a gadget back, but could be without starting left tackle Charles Leno because of injury.

The Lions have held two of their past three opponents under 90 yards rushing, but still rank 28th in the league against the run (133.4 ypg). With injuries mounting on the defensive line – Danny Shelton joined Trey Flowers on injured reserve this week and Da’Shawn Hand is out for a third straight game – the Lions will need more from their linebacking corps, and that’s never a good thing. Edge: Bears

Bears pass offense vs. Lions pass defense

For as much grief as he takes, Trubisky is 3-1 as starter this year and the Bears have a winning record overall (26-19) with him on the field. That said, there’s a reason why the Bears benched him in favor of Nick Foles in October. Trubisky is a turnover machine who lacks pocket awareness and seems to have trouble diagnosing defenses.

The perennially underrated Allen Robinson is Chicago’s best offensive weapon. He’s eighth in the league with 71 catches for 829 yards, and has almost as many receptions as the Bears’ second- and third-leading receivers, Jimmy Graham and Anthony Miller, combined (75). Miller caught the winning touchdown pass against the Lions in Week 1, when the Bears had little success throwing downfield for the majority of the game.

The Lions struggled to match Houston’s speed at receiver on Thanksgiving and will be without cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Jeff Okudah this week. Amani Oruwariye should draw the primary assignment on Robinson. In sub packages, the Lions use three safeties heavily. If Everson Griffen and Romeo Okwara can get pressure off the edge, Trubisky will gift-wrap a couple turnovers that the Lions must capitalize on. Edge: Lions

Special teams

Jack Fox’s NFL-best net punting average has dwindled in recent weeks, but he and the Lions’ entire punt cover unit remain among the best in the league. Fox is netting 45.8 yards per punt, and opponents are averaging less than 6 yards per return. Fox will have to be on point with both his punting and kickoffs as Patterson is one of the best return men in the league.

Kicker Matt Prater continues to struggle from distance – he’s 8 of 15 on kicks of 40-plus yards this season – and Soldier Field is a tricky place to kick. Cairo Santos does not have as strong a leg as Prater, but he’s 6 of 8 from 40-plus yards.

The Bears did a fair job keeping the ball away from Lions return man Jamal Agnew in the first meeting, forcing three fair catches after he had a 16-yard punt return. The Lions do have three punt blocks this season, and their punt rush drew praise from Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor this week. Edge: Lions

Prediction

The Lions lost four of five November games, all by double digits. The Bears have lost five straight and have not won since Oct. 18. Neither team is good right now, but expect the Lions to get a “Bevell bounce” from the change at head coach. Interim head coaches are 13-9 in their first games over the past 10 seasons, and Lions players this week spoke with renewed enthusiasm. I don’t think a major turnaround is in the cards. The defense is not good enough for that and there are injury problems lingering on offense. But against a mediocre Bears team with a subpar quarterback in Trubisky, the Lions should be able to pull out a win. Pick: Lions 24, Bears 17

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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