The Detroit Lions hit the road for what they hope will be back-to-back division wins after beating Green Bay at home last week and facing the Bears in Chicago today.
The Lions are coming off their best defensive performance of the year and have a difficult task in front of them trying to contain the red-hot Chicago offense led by quarterback Justin Fields. Here are five things I'll be looking out for in today's NFC North matchup:
1. CONTAINING FIELDS
Discipline has been the key word of emphasis for Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and his defensive players this week as they face a quarterback in Fields who rushed for 176 yards and a touchdown last week.
The Bears' offense has taken off the last three weeks (94 points), in part, because Chicago has unleashed Fields' ability to make plays with his legs.
The Lions must be very disciplined in their rush lanes and not get too deep on the edges and run by Fields. This week's defensive game plan is all about containing and condensing the pocket, and making Fields beat them with his arm.
2. EXPLOSIVE PLAYS
The Lions scored 140 points the first four weeks of the season. The last four that's dropped by more than half to just 48. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said a lot of that is due to a significant drop in explosive plays. The Lions identify explosive plays as a run of 12-plus yards or a pass of 16-plus yards.
Over the first four games of the season, the Lions averaged 9.25 explosive plays per game and twice reached 10 such plays against Minnesota and Seattle. The last four games that averaged has dropped to six per contest with a high of just eight against New England. The last two weeks they have just nine total.
Can the Lions put the big play back in their offense today in Chicago?
3. DEFENSIVE GAINS
It was the best defensive performance of the season for the Lions last week against Green Bay. They held the Packers to nine points and created three takeaways, two of them in the red zone. Most importantly, they won the game in the critical moment at the end, turning the Packers over on downs in the final minute.
"That was something that our guys needed because belief starts to stick," Glenn said this week. "And I've said this to you guys before, belief is a powerful drug, so that's something that we've got to continue to do, and I'm proud of the way our guys fought. I'm proud of the energy, the execution, just overall, the sideline, it was outstanding."
Can this defense stack good performances on top of one another? Chicago is the No. 1 rushing football team in the NFL at 195.4 yards per game. That's where it starts for the Lions' defense. Third down defense will also be key for Detroit. The Bears are top 10 in the league converting on third down.
This will be the first game this season where cold and wind could play a factor in the game. The forecast here in Chicago calls for highs of 39 degrees with winds out of the northwest at 11 miles per hour. That could certainly have an impact on special teams and the kicking game.
"It'll be a factor in the game, you have to account for it," Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said this week. "I think like the north end in this stadium is typically a little bit less than the south end in terms of accuracy on field goals if you look at that."
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Friday, November 11, 2022.
5. RUN GAME
A great way to contain Fields and the Chicago offense is to keep them on the sideline. This is a great opportunity for the Lions offensive line and run game to assert their dominance.
The Bears' defense is without arguably their two best players in linebacker Roquan Smith and defensive lineman Robert Quinn, who were traded away before the deadline. Even with Smith and Quinn, the Bears were allowing on average 147.2 yards per game on the ground to opponents.
Detroit has over 1,000 rushing yards with a 5.0-yard average through the first eight games of the season. Jamaal Williams has been steady all season long, and D’Andre Swift continues to get healthier. Starting hot in the run game opens everything else up for quarterback Jared Goff and the passing game.