Game Preview Week Four: Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears

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The Detroit Lions go into their second divisional game this weekend, facing the dangerous Chicago Bears. The terrible, 0-3 Chicago Bears……. No, that was not a typo. This is the most dangerous opponent that the Lions have faced in 2016, and the reason is that the Bears have thus far looked like the worst team in football. This is one of the few teams that players on the Detroit Lions might be tempted to overlook. If the Lions do that, and don’t bring their “A” game on Sunday, this could be the nail in the coffin of the Detroit Lions season. This should be a lopsided Lions win, to predict otherwise is insane, but if the Lions lose this game their coaching staff should be looking over their shoulders, and articles about upcoming coaching candidates will start flowing out of my chubby little fingers.

The Chicago Bears are coming off the third terrible loss of this season. Just as the Lions depleted defense was exactly what the Packers offense needed to change the narrative on their season thus far, the Bears’ entire team is so depleted (and was not very good to begin with) that the entire Lions team should be dominant almost to a man. The Bears have not been closer than 9 points with their opponents, and have not allowed fewer than 23 points to an opponent. The Lions are coming off their second consecutive loss in which they forgot to play football for at least half of the game. The difference here is that the Lions’ futility has been a disappointment; whereas the Bears’ was entirely expected by anyone watching. There are no key match ups that the Lions need certain players to win, this game frankly just is not a fair match up, but there are a few key factors that will give you a good indication of how well the Lions have looked at the lessons of the previous two weeks, and how well they have prepared for their opponent.

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The Lions should not be playing Theo Riddick on first down

What went wrong in the first half last week against the Packers? This is your answer on offense. The Lions coaches refuse to understand the most obvious thing about their offensive skill group. Theo Riddick is a receiver who lines up in the backfield. He is more like Randall Cobb than Darren Sproles. He had a good game against the Colts’ unbelievably depleted team, but so did every other player on the Lions offensive roster. He has since had two games where he has averaged a combined 2.2 yards per carry. To use the Reddit vernacular: they need to stop trying to make Theo Riddick a thing, it’s not going to happen. If Dwayne Washington – who has averaged 4.9 yards per carry against those same two defenses – is not the Lions starting running back, it will be an indication that the coaching staff have not questioned what they are doing despite the fact that it is not working. That is an opening that the Chicago Bears – who have an experienced and skilled coaching staff – will be able to exploit as their front seven is not as bad as their secondary. They have some speed rushers, so the Lions need to avoid the second and 12 that a Theo Riddick carry often creates.

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The Lions Should Not be Dropping Their Linemen into Coverage

This has been a growing issue since 2014. The Lions scheme was built for a line consisting of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ziggy Ansah, and Jason Jones. None of those players will be on the field against the Bears, and the players who are being asked to fill those roles are not as good. Ndamukong Suh was athletic enough and disruptive enough that when he dropped into coverage his six times a season, the entire blocking scheme of the offense was thrown on its ear and there was a huge man standing in the middle of the field who was going to eat any screen passes. I love Haloti Ngata, but he is not Ndamukong Suh. There is value in doing the unexpected, and bluntly Ngata was not the reason the Packers scored on the play he was asked to drop back near the goal line, but Devin Taylor was later in the game. That’s two instances in which the Lions went to that well, and two touchdowns. Ngata and Taylor are the only two linemen providing any pass rush other than Kerry Hyder. Every sack the Lions have has come from one of those three players. They got to the NFL by having a certain skill set and that skill set does not involve zone drops.

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The Lions Should have Darius Slay Follow Alshon Jeffrey on Every Down

The Detroit Lions have one great press man coverage corner and the Chicago Bears have one very good physical receiver. This is not complicated. If Alshon Jeffrey is being covered by Nevin Lawson or Quandre Diggs, then the Lions have wasted the 12.5 million dollar per season extension they just gave Darius Slay. Teams have thus far been able to put whatever receiver they wanted against whatever Lions defender they wanted, because the Lions have done nothing to mitigate other team’s efforts to play the match up game. Teams have simply been throwing away from Glover Quin and Darius Slay and have found success in the air because of it.

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The Lions Should Play a Safety as the Nickel Linebacker

Last week against the Packers, when they did this the Packers got some rushing yards but the Packers tight ends had a combined four receptions on the day for 37 yards. The Bears offense does not have Eddy Lacey and their offensive line can not run block very well, their only chance is to exploit the Lions linebackers inability to cover tight ends. The Lions defense did one thing right against the Packers, and this was it. Until the Lions get DeAndre Levy back, this needs to be a regular part of their playbook against the Chicago Bears, in two minute drills and on obvious passing downs.

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The Lions Cannot Let Off When They Get Up Early

Make no mistake, I fully expect the Lions to be up by two or more scores at the half. While they can’t just keep doing the same things that got them there if the Chicago Bears change up their defensive calls to limit what the Lions were doing, the Lions cannot just decide to go in another direction just because they have the lead. 56-21 is the target score for this game if you’re a Lions fan, and it is obtainable. If the Lions decide to sit on a small lead, and leave their identity as a passing team, trying to play two tight ends and a fullback on first down, the Bears will get back in to the game. The Lions defense is just not reliable enough right now  for the offense to stop trying to score before the final drive when the Lions kill the game with kneel downs. This is not to say that the Lions should not run the ball. Balance is important on offense and the Lions desperately need to prevent the Chicago Bears pass rush from pinning their ears back on every play. What this means is that if the passing game is what is getting first downs, and the Lions are up, but they run straight into the strength of this defense every first down in the second half that would be a bad sign for Lions fans.

Detroit Lions 36, Chicago Bears 21

I don’t think the Bears have the players to keep up with the Lions offense on the scoreboard, or the players to stop them from scoring at will, but this is how bad I think the Lions defense is right now. Brian Hoyer is not a great QB, but he is streaky and can at times perform herculean tasks. He can also throw multiple pick sixes in a game and the Bears will only be able to go as far as Sunday’s version of Brian Hoyer will take them. I think the Lions win big this week and end the first quarter of the season at .500, and the Bears front office starts looking at draft prospects in earnest.

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About the Author

Ash Thompson
Ash Thompson is a fanatical football fan, and less fanatical hockey fan despite his Canadian heritage. He is sorry aboot that. His spirit animal is a beaver with a shark's head. He is also known as /u/a5hcrack on reddit, and can be found on twitter @a5hcrack