The big question heading into the game was who was going to be under center for the Bears this week, but it appears the team doctors have given Jay Cutler and his torn groin muscle the green light.
For the Bears' quarterback it will be a chance to avenge what was by far his worst game of the season. He threw three interceptions and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown the last time these teams played, and he'll be looking for a much better performance this time around.
While the Bears may have momentum coming off of a win over the Packers, the Lions have rest on their side. They're coming off of their bye week after taking down the Dallas Cowboys in the last minute of their Week 7 game.
Like I did the last time these teams played, I called upon Detroit Lions' Featured Columnist Jeff Risdon to help preview the game. Although the score was a bit higher than he expected, Risdon correctly predicted a Lions' victory the last time these two teams plays.
This time, the game figures to be a little different as the Bears hope it ends up in their favor.
What is one adjustment you’re expecting each team to make?
Jeff Risdon: I think the Bears are going to give Kyle Long more help on Ndamukong Suh.
Last time around, the Lions nicely schemed to get Suh isolated on Long, and Suh dominated the rookie. This time, I look for the Bears to adjust. I think fullback chips can help, as well as designed roll outs away from Suh. But I also think Chicago can afford to have Roberto Garza shade away from Nick Fairley and onto Suh. Fairley has not played well at all lately. I see the Bears letting Matt Slauson handle Fairley one-on-one and having Garza assist on Suh.
On the other side of the ball, look for Detroit to use Reggie Bush as a more variable weapon. He had that memorable touchdown scamper in the first game, but this time around the Lions need his receiving prowess more. Detroit has used Bush in the slot more frequently, and now that Ryan Broyles is gone that trend should continue. They've worked on alignments with Bush starting in the backfield and motioning outside with Calvin Johnson in the slot. Chicago’s safeties are not going to handle that well.
While I think the Bears will help on Suh, I don't think it will necessarily be more than they did the last time.
Based on what Aaron Kromer told the team website, he seems to think Long can handle Suh and it is just a matter of technique that got him burned a few times. Physically, he's right, there isn't a player in the league Long can't match up with, but I'm not sure I'd take chances with the technique issues Long has been having.
The Lions would be foolish not to test the young Bears linebackers and their safeties in coverage as much as possible. Their safeties have struggled all year as both are ranked in the bottom seven on Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
What is something you’re concerned about with the Lions facing the Bears?
JR: I’ll give you two here, one abstract and one Xs and Os.
On the field, the Bears receivers versus the Lions corners are a real problem. Chris Houston has been inconsistent and struggles to find the ball. Rashean Mathis has played well but will give up a big play here and there. Bill Bentley is very good in the slot in short-range coverage, but he doesn't go down the field well.
The improved balance of the Chicago passing game makes them more dangerous. It’s not just Brandon Marshall anymore. They've done a great job of integrating Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte as receivers. If the Lions roll extra help on Marshall, and they will, the Bears have shown they can now find other targets. Even if Josh McCown plays, that’s a problem for Detroit.
More abstractly, the Lions are favored on the road in a division game with major playoff implications. I’m not sure that Detroit can handle that sort of pressure and expectation. There was a similar situation two years ago. Week 10 of the 2011 season saw a 6-2 Detroit team coming off a bye visiting Chicago. Those Bears were 5-3 and coming off a Monday Night Football win.
That game ended 37-13 Chicago with the Bears bagging six takeaways. I don’t see that happening again, but the timbre of that epic failure by Detroit lingers in my mind. It has to linger a little for Jim Schwartz and the players too.
I think every Bears fan is hoping for a repeat of the 2011 game and I agree with you, I don't see it happening quite that way. The Lions are more experienced and more mature, although I have my doubts about the maturity of their head coach.
As far as the receivers, that's going to be every opposing team's biggest concern from here on out. They're big, athletic and now they're showing the ability to make plays after the catch. The Lions will have to double team one of them, but who do they choose? If they leave safety help over top of both of them, it'll leave the middle open for tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte.
When the Bears' line blocks well, they're next to unstoppable offensively.
What is one area you think the Lions can exploit in the matchup?
JR: I like the 1-2 punch of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell against the injury-plagued Chicago defense. The Bears are getting nothing from the defensive tackles with Henry Melton and Nate Collins out, and the Lions have two very strong guards in Larry Warford and Rob Sims.
Bell is a nifty power runner with good forward lean and vision. He’s run over stouter linebackers than Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene with regularity. Factor in Bush and his ability to plant and explode on cutbacks and stretch runs, and the youngsters on the Chicago defense are in for a major challenge.
Given what I've seen of Chris Conte and Major Wright, they’re in real trouble. The safeties rank 79th and 85th in Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rankings. There are 85 safeties ranked. The poor angles and awful tackling efforts are a real problem for the Bears. Bush is tied for third in broken tackles, while Bell ranks 17th despite getting far fewer carries than most of those clustered around him in the ratings pool.
Oddly, I'm more worried about Bell than Bush. The Bears' struggles have come against power runners, that said, Bell isn't nearly the load that Green Bay's Eddie Lacy is.
Throughout most of his career, Bush has simply been a different player on grass than he is on turf. According to his splits on ESPN, he's averaging nearly a yard less per carry on grass this season.
While the Lions have excelled at breaking tackles, the Bears have been among the worst teams in the league at making them. According to Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times the Bears are the second-worst tackling team in the league.
If the grass slows Bush down—as it has in the past—the Bears should be able to handle Bell. Or at least, not allow him to win the game for the Lions.
Who do you think wins and why?
JR: I think the Bears are somehow going to eke out a victory.
I really like Robbie Gould making clutch kicks at home and that matters in what figures to be a very close game. In the last meeting the Lions forced four turnovers, but since then they have just two takeaways in four games.
Detroit is not going to beat Chicago unless they’re positive in turnover differential, and I don’t see that happening in Chicago. I’ll take Chicago in a spirited shootout, 33-31.
You were right once, so who am I to disagree?
In all seriousness, you referenced the 2011 game, and that's the feel this has. The Bears have a lot of momentum coming off of a big win with their star quarterback coming back from injury earlier than expected.
I do worry about how healthy Cutler actually is, if he can move around well enough to make plays and step into his throws. If he's not able to put maximum velocity into his throws, it could lead to a few turnovers.
I'll assume Cutler is healthy and their defense's performance last week wasn't solely because they were playing Seneca Wallace. I've got the Bears 35-27.