It is always nice to have a Bears Sunday with no stress. Last week’s victory against the Bills was the first Bears game in a long time that I actually sat more than stood.
But don’t get used to it, Bears fans.
The Bears are starting a stretch of three straight divisional games. These are tough wins no matter the records of the two teams at the time.
First up, the Bears welcome a fourth-place Detroit Lions team into Soldier Field.
The Lions are riding a two-game losing streak, but this should be a hard fought battle with a familiar foe. 10 of the last 12 games between these two teams have been decided by only one score. Seven of those games have been within four points. Unfortunately, the Bears found themselves on the losing end of nine of those twelve games.
Can the Bears flip the script on the Lions on Sunday?
The biggest positive the Bears have going for them right now is their health. After years of seemingly endless injury reports, they have been relatively healthy this season. The few injured players that were injured all had a successful week of practices.
Khalil Mack, Allen Robinson, Bilal Nichols and Ben Braunecker are all on track to play Sunday after missing games. Last year’s second-round pick Adam Shaheen is practicing for the first time since being injured in pre-season although his status for Sunday is unclear at the moment.
The return of Mack, and to a lesser extent Nichols, couldn’t come at a better time as pressuring Matthew Stafford is the number one way to beat the Lions.
On the season, Stafford has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league when able to sit comfortably in the pocket. When not pressured, he is completing 72 percent of his passes for 1,683 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions.
A dip in production when under pressure is expected for most quarterbacks, and Stafford is no different. When pressured, he only completes 54.9 percent of his passes for 428 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
In the Lions three wins, Stafford has been pressured on 28.5 percent of his dropbacks. In the five losses, he has been pressured 32.2 percent
But it is not just about creating pressure, the Bears need to get Stafford out of the pocket, out of the context of the designed play and force him to improvise. On the season, Stafford is one of the worst ranked quarterbacks by passer rating outside of the pocket. His 36.8 passer rating in these situations only beats out rookie Baker Mayfield and barely edges out other fellow rookies Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold.
Just based on the eye test, and common sense, the Bears are a better defense with a healthy Mack. But the numbers back it up as well.
In the first four weeks of the season (when Mack was fully healthy), the Bears pressured quarterbacks on 35.6 percent of their dropbacks. In the last four games (when Mack was either injured or out of the lineup entirely), the Bears only generated a pressure on 32.3 percent of opponent’s dropbacks.
While those numbers might not be drastically different, keep in mind with Mack injured or not in the lineup the Bears had to work hard at manufacturing pressures. In the last four games, the Bears blitzed on 24.4 percent of their pass rushing snaps. When Mack was healthy, they only blitzed on 14.4 percent.
With Mack fully healthy, the Bears can blitz less often while actually creating more pressure on the quarterback.
As mentioned above, the offense should also get a boost with Robinson, Braunecker and potentially Shaheen back this week. Surrounding Mitch Trubisky with more weapons will only help an offense that has shown flashes of brilliance at times. The Bears don’t currently have a “go-to” wide receiver, but the offense may function better that way.
Taylor Gabriel currently leads the Bears with 49 targets this season. His 18.8 percent target share is the seventh lowest target share for a team’s “No. 1” wide receiver. This offense works because teams have to worry about playmakers at every position and can’t focus on any one guy.
Try to take Gabriel out of the game plan and Tarik Cohen will beat you. Do the same to Cohen and Trey Burton will step up. It has happened nearly every game as five different players have led them in receiving yards in eight games. Getting back Robinson and Braunecker while adding Shaheen to the equation means even more opportunities for this offense to take the next step.
The Lions don’t have the talent on defense to stop all of the Bears’ weapons. They only have one player on defense who has less than a 97.5 passer rating when targeted. For comparison’s sake, the Bears have 11 players under that number.
While the Lions are fourth in passing yards allowed per game, don’t let that fool you into thinking they have a good secondary. Their 8.5 yards per pass attempt and three total interceptions both rank 29th in the NFL.
With the offense restocked and the Lions lackluster defense, it should be a big game for Trubisky and his teammates.
While division games are always tough, on paper the advantage seems to be with the Bears in this one. With Mack, Robinson and company back to full strength it only tips the scales more in the Bears’ favor.
The Lions have had the Bears number the last few seasons, but, as we know, this Bears team is much more talented than in years past.
The Bears are already 0-1 in the division this season, so this is a very important game. Playoff teams need to take care of business at home within the division.
While we don’t know if the Bears are a playoff team yet, a win on Sunday will have them heading in the right direction.
With the Bears healthy and overall talent level light years ahead of recent years, the Bears should be able to beat Detroit this time around and maintain their division lead.