If Detroit Lions want to win, defense must stop Bears’ ‘X-factor,’ QB Justin Fields

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions were blown out by a weaker opponent last weekend.

Refusing to load the box turned out to be recipe for failure, and the Carolina Panthers made the Lions’ defense pay with 570 yards of total offense — highlighted by 320 rushing yards — and four touchdowns.

“We’re going to move forward,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said of his department’s performance in last Saturday’s 37-23 loss. “This was very uncharacteristic of our players to have a game like this. I don’t expect a game like this to ever happen again.”

An immediate test is coming soon.

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It’s Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields.

“He is the X-factor for that team,” Glenn said, “and it shows all over the tape.”

“Everything starts with Fields,” coach Dan Campbell said. “We know we got our hands full. We’ll be ready to go.”

“Fields is hard to tackle,” defensive end Aidan Hutchinson said. “He’s not easy. We have to keep that emphasis on him and get him to the ground. Stopping him at all costs is our goal.”

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It’s not just Fields, though, as the Bears boast the top-ranked rushing offense in the NFL with 2,696 yards on the ground. Fields is the catalyst for that success, but the former No. 11 overall draft pick is complemented running backs David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert.

The 3-12 Bears have lost eight games in a row, tying a franchise record, while the 7-8 Lions have won six of their past eight games. The Lions need to beat the Bears on Sunday (and the Green Bay Packers in Week 18) if they want to secure a spot in the playoffs.

“The elements are still there,” Glenn said. “They have some injuries they’re dealing with at the receiver spot, but the elements of what they do and how they operate are still there, especially when you have that quarterback who’s able to make plays with his feet and has the arm talent to get the ball down the field.”

Fields leads all NFL quarterbacks with 1,011 rushing yards, but he hasn’t reached 100 rushing yards since Week 10 against the Lions. He has been held to 85 yards, 71 yards, 95 yards and 11 yards in his past four games.

The Buffalo Bills put their elite defense on display last week, as the Bears managed just 80 rushing yards on 29 carries. Ahead of Sunday’s game, the Lions will continue to examine film from the Bills’ 35-13 win.

“Just being able to contain him and force him to run lateral because he is an electric runner when he’s able to get downhill and one step and get downhill,” Bills safety Jordan Poyer told reporters, when asked about Fields’ 11 rushing yards. “He’s big, he’s strong, (and) he’s hard to get down. Our (defensive line), along with our linebackers and our secondary, made big plays on him out in space. It’s plays like that.”

But what the Lions’ coaching staff digests from the Bills — along with the Atlanta Falcons (Week 11), Packers (Week 13) and Philadelphia Eagles (Week 15) — won’t be copied and pasted into Sunday’s strategy.

That’s because the Lions aren’t the Bills.

“You do that to a certain extent because everybody has different players,” Glenn said. “As a coach, as a player, you understand that. No one else understands that. But I think that’s a smart thing to do, seeing how other teams have attacked them. You try to fit your players and your scheme to be able to do some of those things, but you can’t go so far out of what you do to try to emulate another team.”

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In Week 10, Fields carved up the Lions’ defense in more ways than one. He completed 12 of 20 passes for 167 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, as well as producing 147 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.

He beat a pass rusher for a 28-yard gain on the first offensive play of the game. He scored on a 1-yard run with 12 seconds left in the first half to help tie the game. And he tossed a pair of touchdown passes in the third quarter to put the Bears ahead, 24-10.

“He made a couple big plays against us,” Glenn said, “so we have to do everything in our power to stop those players. I’m not just talking about him running. I’m also talking about him passing the ball.”

In the fourth quarter, Fields took a read-option keeper and scampered 67 yards to the end zone with 9:11 remaining for a 30-24 advantage (with a missed extra point from Cairo Santos).

The Lions scored again and completed their comeback, winning 31-30, but Fields kept the pressure on until the final whistle. He eluded three tackles on the final play before Julian Okwara — now on injured reserve — dropped him in the backfield to end the game.

“The number one thing that we learned is how strong this player is,” Glenn said. “We had him wrapped up a couple times in that game, and we missed the tackle. He’s an athletic player. He’s going to make some plays. He’s going to do that. The thing that we have to do is eliminate the big plays that he’s able to make.”

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Fields is the third quarterback in NFL history to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in a single season, and he has two games remaining to notch at least 196 yards, which would break Lamar Jackson’s single-season NFL record of 1,206 yards in 2019.

The Bills limited Fields to 11 yards (on seven carries) by containing him to the pocket and forcing him to run sideways rather than down the field. Once he turns the corner and gets free, he becomes dangerous.

“We got to be on our Ps and Qs,” Glenn said. “We cannot be undisciplined as far as our alignments and our assignments, and especially the technique on how we played that guy from the first time.”

Hutchinson echoed his defensive coordinator’s message.

“Not too much has changed,” Hutchinson said. “Fields is still who he is, and their offense still revolves around him. I don’t think too much has changed. The mission is still the same.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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