Bears-Lions Ultimate Game Preview

Our in-depth preview of the Week 16 contest between the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears, the most interesting 5-9 team in the NFL.

SERIES HISTORY

The Chicago Bears (5-9) will host the Detroit Lions (10-4) tomorrow at noon within the friendly confines of Soldier Field.

The two teams will meet for the 170th time. The Bears hold a 96-68-5 advantage in the all-time series. Chicago’s 96 wins against Detroit are the most against any single opponent.

Since 2004, there has been a season sweep by either team in nine of the 10 seasons entering this year. The Lions have won three straight in the series, including a 34-17 victory in Week 13.

The Bears are 2-5 at Soldier Field this season after drooping the last two contests at their home stadium. This is the first of two consecutive NFC North matchups for Chicago to close out the 2014 campaign. The Bears are 1-3 versus NFC North opponents this year, including 1-1 at Soldier Field.

Chicago will finish the season on the road against the Minnesota Vikings next week.

INJURIES

For the Bears, K Robbie Gould (right quadricep) and S Chris Conte (back) have been ruled out. Jay Feely will make his third straight start in place of Gould, while rookie safety Brock Vereen will start his fourth game of the year.

Questionable for Chicago are CB Tim Jennings (ankle), G Kyle Long (hip), DT Jeremiah Ratliff (knee) and DT Will Sutton (illness).

Probable are CB Kyle Fuller (hand) and LB Shea McClellin (ankle).

For the Lions, DT Nick Fairley (knee) has been ruled out. Questionable is CB Mohammed Seisay (hamstring), while the following players are probable:

S Don Carey (ankle)
WR Calvin Johnson (ankle)
DE George Johnson (illness)
DT C.J. Mosley (not injury related)
LB Ashlee Palmer (quadriceps)
G Rob Sims (illness)

THE CLAUSEN REPORT

Throughout this season, we’ve reserved this space for our weekly analysis of Jay Cutler, who was benched this week. Fair or not, Cutler’s season is over, barring injury to the team’s new starter, Jimmy Clausen.

Clausen is a fifth-year passer who last started an NFL contest his rookie year in 2010 for the Carolina Panthers. He started 10 games that year, completing 52.5 percent of his passes with three touchdowns, nine interceptions and nine fumbles.

“That was four years ago, so it’s obviously a little different,” Clausen said this week. “I’ve gained more knowledge since 2010, the last game I started, just being around different guys, different coaches, just being around the game, seeing it from a different perspective on the sidelines. I think that’s going to help me on Sunday.”

Clausen was signed during OTAs this year, so he’s had a full season working in Marc Trestman’s playbook. He showed good accuracy and velocity in the preseason, so there’s a chance he could give the offense the spark Trestman believes it needs.

“I think we need a lift at quarterback. I think we need a spark,” Trestman said. “The weight of the world should not be on Jimmy Clausen. He’s going to get an opportunity to play and I’m hoping that our team, against a very good defense, we all know that, there will be some response from our football team.”

Facing the Lions’ No. 2 overall defense on a short week is far from ideal, yet that’s the hand Clausen has been dealt. We’ll find out tomorrow whether he’s up to the challenge but make no mistake, Clausen is being put in a no-win situation that will almost surely result in failure.

HEAD-TO-HEAD COMPARISON

BEARS (NFL Rank) LIONS (NFL Rank)
21.1 (19th)Points Scored20.1 (23rd)
338.2 (18th)Total Offense340.9 (17th)
91.3 (26th)Rushing Offense83.8 (30th)
246.9 (T-12th)Passing Offense257.1 (9th)
29.2 (32nd)Points Allowed17.0 (1st)
382.4 (30th)Total Defense300.3 (2nd)
110.2 (15th)Rushing Defense63.8 (1st)
272.2 (31st)Passing Defense236.5 (14th)
-8 (T-25th)Turnover Ratio8 (T-6th)

BEARS ON OFFENSE

Matchups to Watch

TE Martellus Bennett vs. S Glover Quin

Glover Quin leads the NFL with six interceptions, which includes picks in each of the last three games. Clausen will likely lean on his outlet option, Martellus Bennett, on passing downs. Bennett is having a Pro-Bowl season, with 81 catches for 857 yards and six scores. He’s easily been the club’s most consistent player on offense all season.

If Quin is able to lock up Bennett, the Bears will struggle to move the ball through the air.

LG Kyle Long vs. DT Ndamukong Suh

Ndamukong Suh didn’t record a single tackle or sack in the Week 13 outing. The Bears did a great job of double-teaming Suh and not allowing him to wreak havoc in the backfield.

Kyle Long has played very well this year. He hasn’t given up a single sack and has allowed just two QB hits. If he can have another strong outing, while getting double-team support from C Roberto Garza, the Bears should be able to again limit Suh.

Keys to the Game

-Chicago’s offensive line allowed a season-high seven sacks last season. The Lions have the sixth most sacks in the NFL (39), so keeping Clausen upright is going to be a challenge.

Tackles Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills have combined to allow 11 sacks this year, and in his first start at left guard last week, Ryan Groy gave up a sack. If this unit continues to crumble, Detroit’s defensive line is going to pummel Clausen into submission.

-In Week 13, RB Matt Forte carried the ball just five times for six yards. The Lions still boast the best rushing defense in the league, so yards on the ground will be tough to come by. That said, if Trestman again abandons the run, Chicago’s offense won’t be able to move the ball until garbage time.

With an inexperienced quarterback who hasn’t started a game in nearly four full seasons, the Bears have to lean on the run game, even if it struggles early. Putting the offense entirely on the shoulders of Clausen is a recipe for disaster.

BEARS ON DEFENSE

Matchups to Watch

DE Willie Young vs. RT Cornelius Lucas

The Lions placed right tackle LaAdrian Waddle on injured reserve this week, meaning undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas will start his second career game. His only other start came at left tackle in Week 13, when he didn’t allow a single sack or QB pressure against Jared Allen.

Willie Young has 10.0 sacks on the season and will give Lucas all he can handle. If Young can create pressure off the edge against an inexperienced blocker, it will go a long way toward keeping quarterback Matthew Stafford uncomfortable in the pocket.

CB Kyle Fuller vs. WR Calvin Johnson

Kyle Fuller struggled mightily in the first outing between these two teams. Fuller had no answer for Calvin Johnson, who had 11 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns.

The last two months have been hard on Fuller, who appears to have hit the rookie wall. He’s dealt with hip and hand injuries, and opposing offenses have picked him apart. If Johnson again goes off, the Bears will have little chance of keeping Detroit’s offense in check.

Keys to the Game

-On the other side of the field, CB Tim Jennings will have a tough test against Golden Tate, who has 91 receptions for 1,224 yards this year. Tate had eight catches for 89 yards in the first outing.

Jennings, a two-time Pro Bowler, has been far from consistent this year and has begun to show his age – he’ll be 31 next week. If the Bears focus all their attention on Johnson, and Jennings again struggles, the Lions are going to pass at will.

-The Lions do not run the ball well, averaging just 83.8 yards on the ground per game (30th in the NFL). The Bears must be cognizant of Detroit ball carriers Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, yet they can’t focus too much on the run game.

Chicago’s linebackers have bitten hard on play action all season. The Bears will start three inexperienced LBs for the second week in a row: Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic and Christian Jones. If the trio is too worried about the run game, play fakes will open up huge portions of the field for the Lions’ passing attack.

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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.

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