Bears-Lions Ultimate Game Preview

We break down in detail the Thanksgiving contest between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, including statistics of note, matchups to watch, keys to the game and much more.

SERIES HISTORY

The Chicago Bears (5-6) and Detroit Lions (7-4) will square off on Thanksgiving afternoon for the 169th time. The Bears hold a 96-67-5 (.596) advantage in the all-time series, which dates back to 1930 when the Lions franchise was known as the Portsmouth Spartans. Chicago’s 96 wins against the Lions are the most against any single opponent.

The 168 previous games with Detroit are the second most against a single opponent all-time, trailing only the 190 meetings with the Green Bay Packers.

Thursday’s contest will be the first of three consecutive nationally televised games for the Bears, who will host the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football in Week 14, followed by a Week 15 Monday Night Football matchup with the New Orleans Saints.

Tomorrow’s contest is the first of two meetings between the Lions and Bears, who will meet again at Soldier Field in Week 16. The Bears are 16-14-2 all-time on Thanksgiving Day, include 8-7 versus Detroit.

INJURIES

As of this writing, the following Bears players have not practiced this week:

LB Lance Briggs (groin)
C Brian de la Puente (ankle)
CB Kyle Fuller (knee)
DT Jeremiah Ratliff (knee)
DE Trevor Scott (knee)
LB Darryl Sharpton (hamstring)
WR Chris Williams (hamstring)

Ratliff is expected to play, while Briggs and Fuller will be game-time decisions.

“It could go up to 90 minutes before the game,” Marc Trestman said this week.

Limited in practice were WR Brandon Marshall (ankle) and S Brock Vereen (shoulder). T Jordan Mills and OL Eben Britton practiced in full. All four players are expected to play.

For the Lions, the following players did not practice Tuesday:

DT Nick Fairley (knee)
T Riley Reiff (knee)
G Lary Warford (knee)

The following Lions were limited in practice:

DE Ezekiel Ansah (elbow)
RB Reggie Bush (ankle/back)
S James Ihedigbo (knee)
WR Calvin Johnson (ankle)
DE George Johnson (foot)
CB Rashean Mathis (ankle)
LB Ashlee Palmer (concussion)
S Glover Quin (back)

THE CUTLER REPORT

Cutler in 2014

GP/GSAtt.Comp.YardsTDINTRating
Jay Cutler11/11335206238915591.7

Jay Cutler had his worst game of the season last week, throwing for just 130 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked three times, one of which resulted in a lost fumble.

The offense last week sputtered out of the gates, with their first six drives resulting in punt, fumble, punt, missed field goal, punt and punt. The protection issues, as well as three drive-stalling penalties by Brandon Marshall, never allowed Cutler to get comfortable in the pocket and it showed.

The offense capitalized on three Bucs turnovers in the second half, which led to the 21-13 victory, yet Cutler and the offense are in a serious funk, having been shut out in the first half of three of their last five games.

Yet the reason the Bears were able to hang on last week despite a struggling offense was that Cutler didn’t throw any game-changing interceptions. He had one pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage and should have been intercepted – Tampa Bay linebacker Mason Foster had the ball bounce right off both his hands – yet otherwise, Cutler played a clean, albeit inefficient, game.

It was Cutler’s fourth interception-free contest of the season and his first since Week 6 in Atlanta. Not surprisingly, the Bears are 4-0 when Cutler doesn’t throw a pick. In fact, the Bears have won just one game this year – last week’s 21-13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings – in which he’s thrown an interception.

That trend will very likely carry over this week when Cutler faces Detroit’s Top 10 passing defense. The Lions’ secondary is a very opportunistic group whose 13 interceptions this season are fifth most in the NFL, so errant passes by Cutler will not go unpunished.

Cutler Career vs. Detroit

GP/GSAtt.Comp.YardsTDINTRating
Jay Cutler11/114002672825221293.0

The Lions have the league’s top-rated run defense, so don’t expect much from Matt Forte in this game. That’s going to put the onus on Cutler, who needs to have his best game of the season. The Bears paid him like an elite quarterback this offseason, yet he’s been anything but elite this year and currently leads the league in total turnovers.

If Chicago is going to pull off the upset victory at Ford Field, Cutler must flip the switch and play like he did last season. Another mediocre performance highlighted by egregious turnovers will kill any hope the Bears have of making the playoffs.

HEAD-TO-HEAD COMPARISON

BEARS (NFL Rank) LIONS (NFL Rank)
21.5 (19th)Points Scored17.9 (28th)
346.5 (16th)Total Offense332.5 (21st)
100.5 (20th)Rushing Offense80.8 (30th)
246.1 (14th)Passing Offense251.7 (10th)
27.5 (31st)Points Allowed17.3 (1st)
367.3 (21st)Total Defense303.8 (3rd)
106.8 (12th)Rushing Defense70.7 (1st)
260.5 (29th)Passing Defense233.1 (10th)
3 (T-22nd)Turnover Ratio3 (T-10th)

BEARS ON OFFENSE

Matchups to Watch

RG Kyle Long vs. DT Ndamukong Suh

Ndamukong Suh has been a thorn in the Bears’ side since 2010. He has 6.0 total sacks in eight career games against Chicago, including 5.0 sacks in the past four contests. Suh racked up 3.0 sacks in two games last year and has routinely feasted on the Bears’ offensive line.

“What’s so disruptive [about Suh] is that he’s a good athlete and he’s extremely powerful and he’s got strong hands. So when gets his hands on you, he extends his arms and he’ll shed you from his block,” coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “You think you have him stopped and then the next second he’s throwing you aside because you have all your weight down to try and stop him, and then he throws you aside and goes and hits the quarterback. You have to try and get double teams on him and then there’s times you’re one-on-one and you have to be as physical as he is.”

Kyle Long will shoulder most of those one-on-ones against Suh. Long has been solid this year in pass protection, giving up just one QB hit and zero sacks, per Pro Football Focus (PFF). Yet Suh worked over Long last year.

“[Long] is excited,” Trestman said. “He wants to play against people that can bring out the best in him and he'll have that opportunity.”

Long needs to have a strong game on Thursday, otherwise Suh will wreak havoc in Chicago’s backfield, which would put Cutler at serious risk.

WRs Brandon Marshall & Alshon Jeffery vs. CBs Rashean Mathis & Darius Slay

It’s been a frustrating season for Marshall, who has been hampered by ankle injuries since Week 1. He was rounding into form with two strong performances in Week 11 and Week 12, yet another ankle injury led to his worst outing of the season against Tampa Bay: three catches, 32 receiving yards and three penalties.

Marshall, as well as fellow wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, will face a tough challenge in Detroit’s cornerback duo of Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis. Both are 6-1 and have the size to matchup with Chicago’s big wideouts. They’ve given up just two touchdowns combined this season, which is one of the main reasons the Lions boast the 10th-ranked passing defense.

Yet last week, the Patriots torched Detroit’s cornerbacks, who struggled in zone coverage. If Chicago’s receivers follow the blueprint laid out by New England last week, they can carry the offense to points. That will be crucial in this contest, as Forte isn’t going to have much success on the ground.

Keys to the Game

-During the last three weeks combined, TE Martellus Bennett has just 10 catches for 111 yards and no touchdowns. Bennett carried the offense earlier in the season and is one of the deadliest tight ends in the game after the catch, yet he’s been phased out of the offense in November.

That needs to change against the Lions, whose linebacker corps is very weak in pass coverage. Bennett is a spark plug for Chicago’s offense. Getting him going early will be crucial in putting an end to the Bears’ first-half struggles.

-The Bears are fortunate they won’t have to face Nick Fairley, who is expected to miss his fourth straight game due to a knee injury.

Yet the Lions have plenty of pass rushers left on the roster, including an effective trio of edge rushers in defensive ends Ezekiel Ansah, George Johnson and Jason Jones, who have combined for 11.5 sacks this year.

Chicago’s offensive tackles have struggled of late. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod leads the team in QB hits (four) and QB hurries (20), and has been very shaky protecting Cutler’s blindside the past three weeks.

On the right side, Jordan Mills is slated to return from his foot injury, yet he’s been very inconsistent as well. In this scenario, it would make sense to chip on the edges with the running backs and tight ends, but if you do that too often against the Lions, Suh will blow the house down.

Bushrod and Mills must be solid on the edges, otherwise Cutler will get happy feet and the turnovers will commence.

-The Lions are giving up just 70.7 rushing yards per game, so expect Forte’s carries to be limited. Yet he should have a big role as a receiver, as Trestman likes to use his short-passing attack to augment the run game. If Forte can have success after the catch, it’ll bring Detroit’s defense forward, which could open room deep for the team’s big receivers.

BEARS ON DEFENSE

Matchups to Watch

CB Tim Jennings vs. WR Calvin Johnson

Calvin Johnson has been hampered by an ankle injury all year and has posted very disappointing numbers as a result. Yet this is still Megatron, arguably the most-dangerous receiver in the NFL.

Kyle Fuller didn’t practice this week and may not play, meaning Tim Jennings will get the bulk of the work against Johnson. That’s not an ideal scenario – Jennings (5-8) gives up nine inches to Johnson (6-5) – yet neither is putting rookie Al Louis-Jean on the toughest deep threat in the game.

Whoever lines up across from Megatron, the Bears must use safety help over the top to bracket Johnson. The Lions’ passing attack is struggling right now and the best way for them to break out of their funk is for Johnson to get loose deep. The Bears cannot allow that to happen.

DE Jared Allen vs. LT Cornelius Lucas

Jared Allen is coming off back-to-back strong performances and has recently shown some of his old burst. He has just 2.5 sacks on the season yet Allen still has the potential to be disruptive going forward, particularly against the Lions.

Detroit left tackle Riley Reiff (knee) is not expected to play, which will thrust undrafted free agent Cornelius Lucas into the starting lineup. Lucas will be making his first NFL start and Allen must capitalize.

Keys to the Game

-Lions QB Matthew Stafford has regressed dramatically this season. Stafford – who threw 29 touchdowns last year and 41 TDs three years ago – has just 13 passing scores in 11 games. In their back-to-back losses to the Cardinals and Patriots, the Lions have failed to score a single touchdown.

Protection has been an issue – he’s been sacked nine times the last three games combined and 33 times in 11 games total – yet Stafford has been indecisive and inaccurate all season. His 58.8 completion percentage is 28th in the league, better than just four other qualifying passers. Stafford has thrown an interception in five straight contests and his 81.0 passer rating is 26th in the NFL.

The Bears face a struggling quarterback with very little confidence behind an offensive line that will be without its top two players (Reiff and G Larry Warford). This is an opportunity for the defense to build on two straight strong outings, particularly the defensive line. If Allen, Stephen Paea, Jeremiah Ratliff and Willie Young can harass Stafford in the pocket, as they did Josh McCown last week, they’ll force plenty of mistakes. If Chicago’s defense can capitalize on those mistakes, they can shut down the Lions’ offense for the third straight week.

- Detroit gets RB Reggie Bush back this week, which adds an extra dimension to the offense. His speed, quickness and receiving ability could end up the wildcard in this contest, particularly if the Bears miss tackles at the second level.

DISCUSS THIS TOPIC AT OUR BEAR REPORT FORUMS

VIEW MORE CONTENT AT BEAR REPORT


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.

Bear Report Top Stories