Thanks to a missed field goal by Bears kicker Connor Barth with three seconds left, the Lions left Chicago Sunday with a 27-24 win and their third-straight victory, moving them to 6-4 on the season.
With the win over Chicago the Lions are 3-0 in the division, with each win coming on the road. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but the Lions did what they needed to do to get the victory and go into a potential division championship game against the 8-2 Minnesota Vikings this Thursday.
Much like last week against Cleveland, the Lions came out sleepwalking in the first quarter. The Bears outscored the Lions 10-0 and drove the ball at will on offense. Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the second overall pick of this year’s NFL Draft, led an 80-yard opening drive that resulted in a field goal.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford fumbled on the subsequent Lions drive and a 50-yard run by Bears running back Jordan Howard led to an easy one-yard touchdown pass from Trubisky to tight end Adam Shaheen with three minutes left in the first.
The Lions have made a dangerous habit all season of laying an egg in the first quarter. They rank 22nd in points scored in the first quarter, and 28th in first quarter points allowed. Howard torched the Lions defense to the tune of 69 first quarter rushing yards on only five carries. The Lions’ struggles against the run didn’t stop after the first quarter.
After opening up the season as one of the strongest run defenses in the league, the Lions run defense has fallen apart in the past couple weeks. Last week, the lowly Browns pounded the rock for a whopping 201 yards on the Lions, and this week, the Bears exceeded that with 221 yards on the ground.
Not only has the loss of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata hurt the Lions run defense, but the true value of defensive end Ziggy Ansah was on display today. The former pro-bowler has faced nagging knee and back injuries all year causing him to be inactive the past two weeks. Not coincidentally, those two weeks have also been some of the worst performances of the season for the Lions’ run defense.
Everybody knows the impact a healthy Ansah makes on the pass rush, but he is valuable as a run defender as well. Ansah’s 6-foot-5 frame and athleticism allows him to set the edge on run plays with ease and his fill-ins look completely outmatched doing so. Rookie defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga had a less-than-satisfying performance in Ansah’s place, including an ugly roughing the passer penalty in the fourth quarter and being on the receiving ends of pancake blocks on Chicago running plays in the second half. If Ansah doesn’t return to his 2015 ways, the Lions need to revamp the defensive line this offseason.
The narrative was similar to how it had been all year on offense. Stafford had another good game throwing the ball, going 21-for-31 with 299 yards and two touchdowns.The run game put up a sad 65 yards on 24 carries. Both statistics have to do with the oft-criticized offensive line.
Stafford was sacked only three times this game, but during that dreadful first quarter, he spent virtually the entire time on his back. The Bears pass rush overwhelmed Detroit’s line. Stafford was hurried into incompletions throughout the first, and had a sack fumble.
Once the second quarter started, Stafford spent more time upright which led to three touchdowns.
Detroit offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter changed up the playcalling in the second quarter, and it worked. Stafford began standing in the pocket and firing off the ball quickly, making decisions faster than the Bears defense could rush him. Stafford threw for 153 yards in the second quarter and wasn’t sacked.
Cooter also had two great calls on Detroit touchdown plays in the second. A beautiful 28-yard toss from Stafford to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. came on a play-action stop-and-go route that left the Chicago defense frozen. Cooter also drew up a nifty pass play with 20 seconds left before halftime where the offensive line and wide receivers all went left, allowing running back Ameer Abdullah to break to the right and be wide open for a 2-yard go-ahead touchdown reception.
The Lions have fixed the red zone troubles from the game against Pittsburgh and Cooter deserves a lot of credit for adapting his playcalling.
The Lions run game was once again pitiful. Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are both running hard and making guys miss when they can, but there’s no room to run. This falls on the offensive line, which is inexcusable as one of Detroit’s primary investments since general manager Bob Quinn was hired last year. This was the first time the Lions’ best five linemen were starting together, so they will need to improve with experience if the Lions want to be real contenders.
Thursday’s Thanksgiving tilt against Minnesota will be on a national stage and is a must-win for the Lions if they want to win the NFC North over the red-hot Vikings. The game will air at 12:30 p.m. and can be aired on FOX.