OFFENSE: STAYING AHEAD OF THE CHAINS
Digging out of trouble in terms of down and distance and field position has been one of the biggest challenges for the Bears offense this season—when first and ten becomes first and twenty or second and five becomes second and fifteen, or third and one becomes third and eleven, or a sack on second and seven turns into third and fifteen. Avoiding those situations against a defense like Detroit is imperative. Don’t give their defensive line the incentive to pin their ears back and get after Jimmy Clausen. The other key is field position. Repeatedly starting drives inside the twenty has proven to be a heavy burden for the Bears, ending in punts, turnovers, and only two touchdown drives this season. If the Bears can clean up these two areas alone, it would increase their play total, help them avoid being one-dimensional, and give them a chance to open up the playbook.
DEFENSE: IMPACT FIRST DOWN
In the Week 13 meeting at Detroit, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford played pitch and catch against the Bears on first down. In the first half, he completed all eleven of his first-down throws. Overall, Stafford has not excelled on first down throwing the ball this season, with a 79.9 rating and 12 sacks. If the Lions are going to throw it on first down, then getting pressure on Stafford and finishing with a sack is paramount. Those 12 sacks are the fourth most in the NFL on first down. Stafford put together his best game of the season throwing for 390 yards and 19 first downs with no interceptions. Obviously, dealing with Calvin Johnson remains a big concern but he is far from the only weapon capable of doing damage Sunday. The Lions had their best yardage after the catch game of the season against the Bears with 211 yards, so tackling is also a big key Sunday.
SPECIAL TEAMS: AVOID PENALTIES
The Bears kickoff or kick return units have eight penalties on punt, or punt returns they have 13 penalties. On average they lead the league in special team penalties per game. Overcoming a return penalty is extremely difficult, and rarely this season has the offense been able to recover from the field position consequences. Patrick O’Donnell is finding his rhythm and punting the ball extremely well. He is flipping field position, and pinning teams inside their twenty with more regularity. Another big day from O’Donnell is needed against the Lions Sunday.
INTANGIBLES: MENTAL TOUGHNESS
Week sixteen of any season for a team out of the playoffs and stuck in a three-game losing streak with a storm of scrutiny, criticism, and uncertainty swirling around it, creates a unique challenge mentally for every player involved. With so many young players now in starting or significant roles, this is another great opportunity to rise up and be a difference maker for now and in the future. Spoiling the playoff hopes of a Lions team that gets in with a win, before their showdown with Green Bay in week 17, would give them at least something to remember and a stepping stone for better days to come for where ever their careers take them.