Lions vs. Bears Final Thoughts: Matthew Stafford ready to produce; Random Thoughts on Bears' rush, Mitchell Trubisky, fundamental football and more, including season predictions and my Lions-Bears pick.
Wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. has learned to read Stafford's mood in the four seasons he has caught passes from the Detroit Lions' quarterback. As Jones begins his fifth season with the Lions, that experience gives him insight into what motivates Stafford to have a big season in 2020.
Returning from the back injury that ended his 2019 season after eight games is not high on the list, Jones said.
It's more basic than that.
"I think the thing about Matthew, he's the same guy," Jones said. "I wouldn't say he has a bigger itch to come back and prove anything.
"That's just because he's the same, no matter what. He's always going to put his best foot forward. He's always excited to play ball.
"I haven't seen the changes because he's always intense."
The Lions need a level, steady hand to go with major production – which is what the Lions were getting from Stafford before the back injury sustained in a loss to the Raiders ended his 2019 season.
Stafford was near the top of the quarterback stats chart in numerous categories – 2,499 yards passing, 19 TDs and five interceptions at the time of the injury.
With a year of experience behind him with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, and the core of his skilled players back – Jones, Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola at receiver, T.J. Hockenson and Jesse James at tight end and Kerryon Jonson at running back – Stafford could have another big season.
There's depth in that group of playmakers to make up for the loss of a player. That could be the case with Golladay, who is doubtful for today's game because of a hamstring injury.
Hitting the 5,000-yard passing mark for the second time – to go with 5,038 yards and 41 TDs in 2011 – is within reach.
But don't take it for granted. Stafford won't.
"I know I have a bunch of talented people around me," he said. "If I just get the ball in their hands, they can do some incredible stuff. We've got to go out there and operate.
"Just because we had success last year doesn't mean we're going to have success this year. We have to go out there and prove it every day."
Fundamentals: Tackling is one of them. It's an area that head coach Matt Patricia worries about early in every season, and even moreso this year.
"One hundred percent," he said. "We put a big stress on fundamentals. We call them the lost arts.
"A lot of times we don't spend enough time on those fundamentals. I put tackling at the top of that list.
"Early in the season we see that adjustment to game speed, adjustment to angles, adjustment to being able to drive through and finish on a tackle.
"It's something I think we'll definitely see in the first month of football –all different levels ... really good, and maybe not so good."
Battle in the trenches: Contending with the Bears' restocked defensive front seven will be tough duty for the Lions' offensive line.
The Bears dropped to 32 sacks last year after getting 50 in 2018. Adding Robert Quinn in free agency, Akiem Hicks back from an elbow injury that limited him to five games and the expectation that Khalil Mack will rebound from 8.5 sacks in 2019 are reasons the Bears should improve their sack total.
"Just going to be terrors on the two edges," said Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. "I think that's where it starts. You have to be able to handle those guys – not let them wreck the game. We have to find a way to be able to manage those guys."
The Lions might dodge Quinn though, as he's listed as doubtful for today's game with an ankle injury.
Snap judgments: The linebacker rotation warrants watching. How many snaps Reggie Ragland gets; if Jarrad Davis is used more as a pass rusher; if Jamie Collins Sr. makes an impact in all three phases – pass rusher, run stopper and coverage.
A case for Trubisky: It isn't just the three-game winning streak against the Lions and the nine TD passes that should get more respect for the Bears' much maligned QB. He has won games – an 11-3 record on the 2018 team that won the North with a 12-4 record and an 8-7 record in 2019 on a team that lacked impact on offense and had a falloff on defense.
My predictions for 2020:
The Vikings win the NFC North, with the Lions second at 10-6 and in the playoffs as a wild card.
Stafford hits the 5,000-yard passing mark, with a minimum of 35 TDs, and remains in the MVP conversation all season.
Most important of all, the NFL season is not paused because of COVID-19. That would also mean that all the sports leagues continue playing.
My pick for Sunday: The Lions have to ride their passing game early in the season, and they're equipped to do it. The key is winning the battles against what can be a disruptive Bears front seven. Win there, and the Lions win on the scoreboard.
Lions 26, Bears 13.