Behind Enemy Lines: Breaking down the matchup in Chicago with Bears Wire

USA Today

It’s Bears week in Detroit. The Lions are heading to Chicago to face the rival Bears on Sunday in an NFC North matchup that could push the Lions to the brink of clinching their first-ever division title.

The two teams met back in Week 11 in Ford Field. Fans might recall the Lions scoring 17 points in the final 2:59 to stun the Bears with a 31-26 comeback victory.

What’s going on with the Bears since? To help find out more, I asked a few questions with Alyssa Barbieri of Bears Wire. She graciously answered questions on Justin Fields, the Bears defense, the potential of Jaylon Johnson to join the Lions this offseason and more.

How much pressure is on Justin Fields as he plays out the rest of the season, what with the Bears having the likely top pick in the draft (from Carolina)?

These final five games are huge for Fields’ future in Chicago as, like you mentioned, it’s trending toward the Bears having the No. 1 pick, which sets GM Ryan Poles up with the option of landing one of the top quarterbacks in the draft, be it Caleb Williams or Drake Maye. But there’s also a scenario where Chicago could run this whole thing back with Fields and head coach Matt Eberflus in 2024, but that’s going to take an impressive run down the stretch and Fields continuing to string together solid outings that showcase he’s better than starting over with a rookie quarterback.

Fields has all of the tools to be a dual-threat quarterback, but consistency remains key. He needs to do a better job of protecting the football and being more decisive in the passing game.

The Bears defense has been very good at creating takeaways lately. What has changed or helped make that happen?

The addition of defensive end Montez Sweat, who they acquired in a trade with the Commanders, has been a true game-changer for this defense. His presence has boosted the league’s worst pass rush, whether it’s him leading the charge or freeing up teammates for opportunities. Simply put, the Bears’ ability to generate pressure has been a difference maker in their ability to create takeaways – seven in the past two games – and it’s the reason why Chicago was in a position to beat the Lions and Vikings, where they went 1-1.

CB Jaylon Johnson is a player that Lions fans have already decided should be Detroit’s priority target in free agency. How likely is it that he actually hits the market?

That’s an interesting question because, on the surface, you look at what Johnson has done in four years (especially this contract year) and he deserves to get paid. Johnson, 24, is one of the top cover cornerbacks in the NFL, and he’s finally starting to hit his stride on the interception side of things. I’m 50-50 about whether Chicago is able to retain Johnson. They granted him permission to seek a trade at the November deadline, an indication the two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement about what Johnson deserves in a new deal.

With the Bears signing Montez Sweat to a long-term deal, it gives them the ability to tag Johnson, if they can’t get a deal worked out in time. GM Ryan Poles has made it clear that he’d like to keep Johnson in Chicago. But he said the same thing about Roquan Smith and David Montgomery. And we all saw how that worked out.

What about the Lions worries you as a Bears analyst?

The Lions are a well-coached team from top to bottom, which is something the Bears cannot say. Starting at the top with Dan Campbell, who has really come into his own as head coach and his players have bought into what he’s selling. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is one of the brightest young coaches in the NFL and someone I’d love for Chicago to consider for head coach, if they move on from Matt Eberflus. While Detroit’s defense has had its obstacles lately, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has done a good job with that group, just year over year in general. While the Lions are oozing with talent, you need the right guys in place to help get the most out of them. That’s something Detroit has in spades and that the Bears lack.

Who wins and why?

As evidenced by their previous matchup, I think this is a game the Bears are capable of winning. If they can replicate their defensive performance (minus the final four minutes from the last meeting) and Justin Fields can find success on the ground and through the air, this should be a back-and-forth battle. With that said, I believe this will be a competitive game where the better team ultimately wins out. Lions 27, Bears 23

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