Detroit Lions look to sweep the NFC North road schedule in Chicago

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Jordan Howard #24 of the Chicago Bears is tackled by Tahir Whitehead #59 of the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field on October 2, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Lions 17-14. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Jordan Howard #24 of the Chicago Bears is tackled by Tahir Whitehead #59 of the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field on October 2, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Lions 17-14. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Good teams win on the road. This week it’s a road divisional game against the Chicago Bears. Can Detroit sweep their road NFC North schedule?

1. Stop Chicago’s run offense on first down

Nobody runs like the Chicago Bears on first down, with 61% of first down plays as a running play, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. With rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky, the Bears are being conservative to protect him. The Bears sole focus is staying on schedule and not putting him in third and long situations.

The Bears lack big-play wide receivers which means you can play aggressive man to man defense and blitz on second and third down. Jordan Howard can move a pile, so securing tackles will be vital. The Lions must also contain the edges and watch for play action rollouts. The Bears love to move Trubisky around the pocket.

2. With no Danny Trevathan, run the ball

Normally I advocate for the Lions to pass the ball as much as possible. The running game success is lacking and Matthew Stafford is your best player. It makes a lot of sense to concentrate on putting the ball in Stafford’s hands. But in this game, without middle linebacker Danny Trevathan, this game should be where Ameer Abdullah can get on track.

The Bears are weak up front defending the run. They don’t penetrate very well but Danny Trevethan covers up a lot of mistakes. Last week without Trevathan, the Green Bay Packers ran the ball for 160 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. In week five without Trevathan, the Minnesota Vikings ran the ball 31 times for 159, good for 5.1 yards per carry. Trevathan is excellent avoiding blocks on the second level and cleaning up runs quickly. The Lions should have success running the ball, especially if T.J. Lang is able to play.

3. Keep Mitchell Trubisky in the pocket

Last week, the Lions struggled to keep Deshone Kizer in the pocket, with Kizer gaining 57 yards last week. Trubisky is an excellent athlete and was adept running the option in college. Right now Trubisky is gaining 7.3 yards per run, mostly on scrambles where the defense loses him. It will be interesting to see if Chicago adds any wrinkles to their offense with Trubisky as a runner. The Bears roll him out a lot, so containing the edge and staying with your assignment will be incredibly important.

4. Expect backs and tight ends to help in pass protection

The Chicago Bears are loaded with pass rushers, having three players collecting at least four sacks. The Bears run a 3-4 and use their linebackers a lot to create pressure. They mix and match in the front seven, using a lot of zone defense and sending different blitzers to confuse the quarterback.

I expect Jim Bob Cooter to use the backs on obvious passing downs to help the offensive line and the tight ends to chip the defensive ends. The offensive line is finally healthy and should have their preseason projected starting lineup this week. However, I am still leery of the Bears front seven and the pass rush they generate. I would not take any chances and use a lot of six-man protections.

5. Tarik Cohen is a dangerous threat

During the first couple of weeks, Tarik Cohen was one of the better stories in the NFL. A fifth-round pick and only 5’5, Cohen’s incredible speed and big play potential made him a must see player. With Jordan Howard becoming healthy, Cohen has been deemphasized in the offense, with only 8 touches in the last three weeks.

Despite the lack of touches, Cohen can take it to the end zone on any play. Against Carolina in week 7, he had a 70-yard catch that led to a field goal. With the Bears protecting Trubisky, I would watch out for Cohen on screen plays from the backfield.

6. Player to watch on offense: Kenny Golladay

As a leader of the Golladay hype train, this will be another game for him to get going. Golladay continues to make big plays, with two first down conversions last week. The Bears are weak at the cornerback position, and Kyle Fuller (the Bears best corner) will most likely line up on Marvin Jones. With Golden Tate in the slot, Golladay will have some chances to make plays on the outside. Look for Stafford to target him.

7. Watch the deep ball

The old school mentality of the Chicago Bears offense is run on first and second down, then look deep in the passing game. Mitchell Trubisky loves the play action shot pass and is dangerous on first down, with 9.9 yards per attempt as the starter, the best in the NFL. Overall the Bears focus on Trubisky getting protection and let him read one half of the field. Chicago uses a lot of rollouts and bootlegs to keep the safeties back for the running game later. I expect the Lions to continue playing aggressive man defense, but it would not surprise me if the Bears take chances against Nevin Lawson early.

8. Player to watch on defense: Anthony Zettel

If you had Anthony Zettel as the Lions leading sack-getter, I want to personally congratulate you on being a soothsayer. The second-year defensive end from Penn State is causing havoc on opposing offenses with a quick first step and relentless motor. The Lions should feast on Chicago’s offensive line, as the Bears are 27th in protecting the quarterback. Since Trubisky took over in week five, the pass protection for Chicago has been worse with more focus on downfield passes and limiting his reads. Bobbie Massie, the Bears right tackle, has struggled all year and I expect Anthony Zettel to eat. Zettel should pick up a sack just by Trubisky scrambling after his initial read is covered. Look for Anthony Zettel to have two sacks on Sunday.

9. The Lions need a quick start

The most frustrating part of last week’s victory versus the Cleveland Browns was the first quarter. You knew the Detroit Lions were the better and more talented team. Yet, here was the Lions going down 10-0 quick and starting off in a hole. At home, you can get away with that and the Browns are a hapless football team.

This Bears team is way different despite being 3-6. The Bears have two wins against the Panthers and Steelers (both at home) and four losses have been by one possession. The Lions cannot afford to let Chicago hang around in this game. They must get the Bears behind and force them to throw. If the Lions get down two scores and start throwing the ball every down, that plays into the Bears’ hands. Force Chicago to get away from the run game and make Trubisky beat you.

10. Good teams win divisional road games

If you want to argue that the Detroit Lions are a good football team (besides going through stats and personnel), make the case by stating the Lions are 3-1 on the road and have two divisional road wins. Nothing is more important on the NFL schedule than winning divisional games, especially away from home. The Bears are not a good football team, but a pesky bunch with a clear identity. They run the ball often with success and get after the quarterback. That is a recipe to keep games close and give the Bears a chance.

Next: Lions playoff picture heading into week 11

This game, Matthew Stafford needs to protect the ball and the defense must step up. The front seven was embarrassing last week against the Browns. The Bears are even better running the football. Jordan Howard is a horse and can carry the ball 30 times. Once he gets going, he is hard to stop. Winning first down on defense will be vital and the Lions offense must keep drives alive. Jim Caldwell must keep this group focused and the Detroit Lions must play a clean game to stay on course for a playoff berth.