The Detroit Lions are hoping to put last year behind them and start this year off right. To do so, their first opponent is the division rival Chicago Bears.
2019 was a disappointing year for the Detroit Lions, to say the least: there is nothing fun about a 3-12-1 record. They started with a decent first quarter leading up to the bye week, but injuries set them back, and a certain screw-job in Week six did not help.
If the Lions want to erase the memories of last season and start off on the right foot, they will have to beat the Chicago Bears, a team that beat them twice in one month a year ago. This is not the same Bears team to beat the Lions, though, nor is it the same Lions team who lost all those games.
At 8-8, the Bears just missed returning to the playoffs, and both teams made changes in an attempt to avoid another disappointing year. The Lions will have some positional match-ups to observe closely, and hopefully exploit.
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Mitch Trubisky vs. Lions pass rush The Lions always seem to make Mitch Trubisky look good. Two of his best career games came against Detroit: a 23 for 30, 355-yard win in 2018, and a 3-TD day last Thanksgiving.
This is despite the best efforts of Trey Flowers, who recorded a sack in both Bears games last year.
The Lions added another former Patriot, outside linebacker Jamie Collins, this offseason, who has had a decent amount of success in his one game against the Bears.
He led the Patriots with 11 combined tackles, six solo in the teams’ lone meeting in 2014. If the Lions can better incorporate former Bear, Christian Jones, on the other side of the zone, they could force some errors out of Trubisky.
Lions receivers vs. Bears secondary The Bears had a better than average defense last year, according to Football Outsiders excellent measurement of efficiency, DVOA. Not as good as their stellar defense from a year prior, but still quite good.
Part of this was an effective pass defense; their 17 passing touchdowns allowed was the fourth-fewest in the league. They are returning the excellent pairing of cornerback and safety, respectively, Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson.
After releasing Prince Amukamara and losing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to free agency, however, the Bears will be trying out rookie Jaylon Johnson and veteran Tashaun Gipson, who is a few years removed from his Pro Bowl selection. Matt Stafford could attempt to take advantage of this untested side of the Bears’ defense. This may be their best option, too, since the run defense is more formidable.
Lions running backs vs. Bears front seven It is tempting to make this section solely about Khalil Mack, one of the most effective defensive players in the league. Still, he is working out a knee injury, so that we will take the rest of the linemen and linebackers into consideration as well.
In short, the Bears have an excellent run defense. They gave up a surprising amount of TDs in 2019 (16, two above the league average), but the overall yards allowed per attempt was a paltry 3.9. They were one of only six teams to allow fewer than 4 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, much has been made about the Detroit Lions running situation this offseason–every recent offseason. The Lions invested a high second-round draft pick on D’Andre Swift and brought in future Hall-of-Famer Adrian Peterson.
The two will complement Kerryon Johnson, who is already somewhat of a Lions hero for being the first player in half a decade to rush for over 100 yards in a game, a feat he has accomplished three times since 2018. It remains to be seen who overpowers whom: the Lions’ rushing offense or the Bears’ defensive line.
What does all of this mean for the Lions on Sunday? Well, unfortunately, it may mean they have difficulty scoring a lot of points. The good news, though, is the Bears will probably have a tough time too. The teams combined for 33 and 44 points last November; another low-scoring game might be in play this week.
Some outlets, like the aforementioned Football Outsiders, have the Detroit Lions penciled in to win the NFC North for the first time since 1993. That may be a long way out, but the first step is a strong opening statement against the Bears.