1. Light up the final 15 minutes. The Lions have only allowed four touchdowns in first quarters over the first eight weeks of the season, and the Bears’ offense has only scored one touchdown in the first quarter this year. So while the Bears’ aim is to start fast on offense Sunday, it’s unlikely to happen.
That means taking advantage of a Lions defense that gets worse as games go on. Detroit has allowed as many touchdowns in the fourth quarter as it’s allowed in the first half (11) this year, though the Bears have only scored one non-garbage-time touchdown in the fourth quarter.
So this is Part I of the something’s-gotta-give nature of Sunday’s game. Either a Lions defense that’s been bad in the fourth quarter shuts down a bad Bears’ offense, or a Bears offense that’s been bad in the fourth quarter beats a bad Lions defense. Chances are, this game will be close going into the final 15 minutes, so this is the most important thing the Bears can do.
2. Generate explosive plays. Eleven percent of plays against the Lions’ defense have been “explosive” this year, one of the highest rates in the NFL, per SharpFootballStats.com. Only the Falcons, Bengals, Dolphins, Giants and Raiders have allowed explosive passing plays at a higher rate than the Lions, while Detroit has allowed 25 explosive runs — 10 more than the Bears defense’s league-low total.
The flip side to this: The Bears are the second least-explosive offense in the NFL — behind the Dolphins — generating an explosive gain on six percent of their plays (for reference, league average is about 10 percent, but over eight games of plays a four percent difference is significant).
The Bears gouged Detroit’s defense last year at Soldier Field for touchdowns of 45, 36 and 26 yards, and Trubisky also completed five passes gaining 20 yards or more, including a 55-yarder. Matt Nagy and the Bears believe there are some schematic things they can carry over from that game last year into Sunday, even if his 2019 offense hasn’t shown the ability to consistently create those chunk plays.
3. Convert third downs. We’ll present this for the final something’s-gotta-give key: Third down percentage.
Lions defense: 48.1 (30th)
Bears offense: 31.4 (28th)
Even meeting in the middle and converting about 40 percent of their third down tries (say, seven of 17) on Sunday would be a major improvement for the Bears, not only on offense, but on defense.
Detroit has a good offense, even if it lacks an effective run game, and Matthew Stafford is good enough to force the Bears to score 20 or more points to win. But if the Bears’ offense can just stay on the field for a few extra minutes every now and then, it’ll give the defense some much-needed rest that could pay off later in the game.
Prediction: Bears 23, Lions 20. This would represent the Bears’ second-highest scoring game of the year (behind Week 3 at Washington — garbage time points vs. New Orleans don’t count), and yet would probably feel a little disappointing. Detroit is allowing 27 points per game, and falling short of that for an offense in dire need of positive results wouldn’t be a complete success.
Still, don’t discount what a win could do for the overall vibe around Halas Hall. It wouldn’t mean everything is fixed or that the Bears are on their way to the playoffs, but it would prove — if only for a week — the value in sticking together and sticking to the process.
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