On Sunday, the Chicago Bears will look to do something that they haven’t done since October of 2016 and that is to defeat a divisional opponent. They will host the Detroit Lions who currently have a three-game winning streak against the Bears and will face them twice in the next 12 days.
Since 2013, the Lions are 9-1 against the Bears. If the Bears wish to contend for the playoffs this season, they have to beat the teams in their division with three consecutive divisional games coming up. Here are five keys to victory for the Bears against the Lions.
Slow Matthew Stafford and the Lions passing attack
Since Vic Fangio took over as defensive coordinator in 2015, the Bears defense has played better as a unit but has struggled against the Lions. In five of the six prior meetings, the Lions have scored 20 points or more each time. They have done so through the air with quarterback Matthew Stafford who has thrown 12 touchdowns and j five interceptions in that span.
The Bears defense has also allowed two or more passes of 30 yards or longer in the five losses against Detroit which is a rarity for a Fangio coached defense. In their one win in 2016, they limited the Lions to just six points on offense and the longest pass of the day was just for 15 yards. Chicago’s pass coverage has been better this season as cornerback Kyle Fuller has four interceptions and the Lions no longer have wide receiver Golden Tate as a deep threat anymore.
Limit Kerryon Johnson and you will limit the chances of the Lions winning
Ever since the departure of legendary running back Barry Sanders following the 1998 season, Detroit has failed to draft a successful running back. Their drought might be over with rookie running back Kerryon Johnson who has recorded two 100 yard rushing games so far this season. The Lions ability to win is linked to that of Johnson as when he has rushed for over 70 yards this season, the team has won beating the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, and the Green Bay Packers, all of whom have beaten the Bears this season.
The Bears rushing defense is one of the best in the league as they have not allowed a rushing touchdown to a running back all season and have only allowed one opposing running back this season to eclipse the 100-yard mark.
Healthy Bears returning should lead to big plays on both defense and offense
Several key Bears players have missed the last two games more so as a precaution as to not miss this important stretch of divisional games. On offense, top wide receiver Allen Robinson will return from a groin injury that forced him to miss the previous two games. His presence provides quarterback Mitchell Trubisky a big bodied possession target in the passing game as he has 25 receptions in six games.
On defense, All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack will return from an ankle injury that also forced him to miss the previous two games. Mack is the Bears best pass rusher not only from just sacking the quarterback but also drawing attention that frees up other defenders to rush the passer. He will be assisted by the return of rookie defensive tackle Bilal Nichols who missed the Buffalo game with an injury.
Nichols has been a draft steal for general manager Ryan Pace as he made plays all season long. Having a defense at full strength this deep into the season is a necessity for any team competing for a division title let alone a playoff birth.
Keep up the pressure on Stafford
With the return of Mack and Nichols, the Bears defense should be able to have their second straight week of multiple sacks. Against Buffalo, the defense sacked Nathan Peterman four times as it was the first game with two or more sacks since week four. Mack hasn’t recorded a sack since then as he has been slowed by the ankle injury.
For the Lions, Stafford is coming off a game in which he was sack 10 times by the Minnesota Vikings and could grow frustrated if the Bears defense gets to him early. It could finally be the game where Leonard Floyd gets home to the quarterback as he still has yet to record a sack this season, but had his best game of the season last week and could build off of it.
As the weather turns cold, keep Jordan Howard warm with plenty of rushes
Sunday’s game will be a cold one as temperatures are expected to be in the upper 30s and lower 40s during the game with a possible chance of snow. With winter weather expected the rest of the season, it is important for the Bears to establish the running back behind running back Jordan Howard. Howard has had some of his best game during the second half of the season and has been excellent against the Lions.
In his two home games against Lions, he has rushed for over 100 yards in each of those games including a +50 yard run last season against Detroit and a touchdown. Head coach Matt Nagy can build off his running back’s quality game last week in which Howard scored twice and had his longest rush of the season.