Looking ahead to Sunday's season opener:
Spread: Lions -2.5
Moneyline: Bears +115 | Lions -136
1. Take advantage on the right.
The Lions will be without starting right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and will have third-round pick Jonah Jackson starting at right guard. While the Bears are almost certainly going to be without Robert Quinn, that shouldn’t take away from a major mismatch they’ll have in lining Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack up over Jackson and backup tackle Tyrell Crosby.
Expect Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to try to minimize the impact of Hicks and Mack (Mack, by the way, is officially questionable, but he seems likely to play). That might mean running D’Andre Swift or Adrian Peterson more frequently to the left, or trying to get passes out quick, or committing extra blockers to stop Mack with, likely, Barkevious Mingo lining up at the other OLB spot. But even with extra help, Hicks and Mack should be able to handle a rookie and a backup to drive the Bears’ defense on Sunday.
2. Allow Mitch Trubisky to win from the pocket.
Matt Nagy made note of Trubisky’s growth in staying in the pocket and hitting middle-of-the-field throws during training camp, and it was one of the reasons why he beat out Nick Foles to start Week 1. Nagy still needs to do more to scheme around Trubisky’s strengths – which include getting him out of the pocket and on the run – but on plays designed for Trubisky to sit in the pocket, read the defense and make a good decision, he needs to do those things.
The good news for Trubisky’s ability to win from the pocket: Detroit hasn’t blitzed, or pressured, him much in recent games. Trubisky only dealt with 13 blitzes on 71 drop backs against the Lions last year, per Pro Football Focus, and Detroit didn’t do a good job of pressuring him when they didn’t blitz. This is just as, if not more, important than whether the Lions play more zone or stick with man coverage against Trubisky. But if the Lions change things up and send more pressure, Trubisky and the Bears’ offense will have to be prepared to make the right checks and reads – otherwise, his dominance over Detroit might come to an end.
3. Score first and have a lead at halftime.
The Bears were never able to get into an offensive groove in 2019 in part because of their horrendous play in the first two quarters. As a team, the Bears averaged 4.5 yards per play in the first quarter and 4.7 yards per play in the second – then 6.4 yards in the third quarter, before dropping to 4.8 in the fourth. Only 331 of the Bears’ 1,020 plays (32 percent) came while the team was leading; in 2018, a shade over 50 percent of the Bears’ plays happened with a lead.
So if the Bears really want to find their offensive identity, and find it quickly, they need to get out to a fast start in Detroit and keep their foot on the gas. Fortunately, Nagy’s offense has fared well against Patricia’s defense over the last two years. The Bears can still win at Ford Field if they fall behind early, but if you want something truly positive to grasp onto from this game, it’d be a touchdown on the first drive of the game.
Prediction: Bears 24, Lions 17.
Until Patricia proves his defense can stop Nagy’s offense, I’m siding with the Bears – even if they’re not favored. The likely absence of Kenny Golladay (hamstring, doubtful) and the definite absence of Vaitai are bigger than Quinn probably not playing Sunday (I initially had Bears 24-21 before Golladay was listed as doubtful). Trubisky should fare well against the Lions, and does with a clean, crisp win to start the season.
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