Previewing 2021 Week 4 - DET @ CHI

Week 4 rolls around for this Detroit Lions team, and it feels like a very different one that we've seen in years past. For the first time in a long time, it feels like the Lions are actually ascending.

Through the last 3 weeks we've seen:


Game 1: A poor 3/4 followed by a heartening recovery.

Game 2: One great half to lead the NFC Championship losers from last year.

Game 3: Even accepting the drops, a banged-up secondary holding one of the more potent offenses to much less than expected (and 3 consecutive scoring drives to end the game).


All of the above teams could be reasonably regarded as playoff contenders, and the Lions are hanging with them (1/2 half against SF excluded). This is a really good - bad team. They're fighting with grit, determination and togetherness never seen under the previous regime.


And so now they roll into Soldier Field looking for that elusive first win after having it cruelly taken away by Justin Tucker last weekend.


The Bears have started this campaign 1-2 after losses against the Super Bowl candidate Rams and Browns, and a fortunate narrow win against the plucky Bengals, but only after Burrow lost his mind for a brief moment.


The most worrying aspect for the Bears was the complete lack of offense against the Cleveland Browns in their most recent game. Yes, the Browns probably have a Super Bowl calibre team on both side of the ball, but having net 1 passing yards and 47 total yards is still the second-lowest total this century. Justin Fields completed only 6 passes on 20 attempts, and yet only attempted 3 rushes in this game, despite his athletic quality.


Let's take a greater look at our NFC North rivals:


Offense


Per PFR, the Bears expected Win/Loss total so far this year is 0.5/2.5. They rank dead last in passing yards (272) and 29th in attempts (84). They're 20th in rushing yards (303) and are 28th on 3rd down conversions (32.4%). Having said all of that, QB Andy Dalton has completed 73.5% of his passes (36/49) with 1 TD and an INT. No surprise therefore, that when Jack from the Bear Down Report podcast came on our most recent show, he said that Dalton being the starter represented the best chance for the Bears to win right now.


RB David Montgomery must be accounted for. Easily within the top 15 running backs in the league, he has 4.4 yards per attempt this season with 203 yards on 46 carries and a TD earning himself a 70.4 PFF rating so far this season.


While he hasn't had the best of starts, if Dalton does start, surely WR Allen Robinson will be more of a factor in this game too. He only has 10 catches on 21 targets for a TD and a PFF rating of 60.4. The Michigan-born receiver is probably in the top 5 in the league, but hasn't been given a chance whatsoever to succeed so far with so few catchable passes being thrown his way.


If Justin Fields starts, the Lions must be alert to his athleticism on the ground. With the offensive line crumbling around him he should be using this often, and the Lions had a good warmup for that prospect whilst facing the most mobile QB in the league last week in Lamar Jackson. If the Lions D-line don't get penetration up front and force Fields to use his legs, he's a very accurate pocket passer.


EDIT: since writing this, Dalton has been downgraded to questionable and Justin Fields will be starting


Defense


Whilst this isn't the defense the Bears have had over the last 5 years, if they're underestimated, they will punish you. The front 5 especially is one to fear if they play at the top of their game, of Quinn, Nichols, Goldman, Hicks and Mack. Goldman is a big key to this game. He's an absolute monster up front, and yet due to Covid he's not played football in the last 21 months.


On the back end, this secondary is a little weaker than we've been used to, with players like Eddie Jackson not performing to that level we've been used to, but it still has Roquan Smith out there wrecking plays and one of the league's best CBs so far in Jaylon Johnson who's massively improved on last season.


Where's the game won?


It seems to be a theme every week, but perhaps it will be less so as the season progresses, but for me it's in the trenches once again. This Chicago O-line is weaker than cheaper toilet paper. BUT, unless the Lions can put Fields under constant pressure, he'll deliver some bombs to Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney, which quite frankly is a mismatch against our secondary. Stop him throwing the ball from the pocket.


Likewise, this Chicago front 5 is still built to pressure, and we know what that does to Jared Goff. Defensive TDs must be avoided against Chicago, who have struggled to score offensively. Keep Goff protected, and run the ball down their throats.


Prediction:- Lions 19 - 17 Bears


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