The Chicago Bears go into their thanksgiving divisional game knowing it’s their last chance to catch the playoff train in the NFC, while the slipping Detroit Lions are trying to find some offensive rhythm again after struggling the last two games, even more so than the rest of the season.
The Lions became known over the last three seasons as an excellent offensive team with Matthew Stafford bombing away, knowing Calving Johnson will be there to make the catch. Things have changed this season. Not just injuries, but Stafford himself exposed again and again as a mediocre quarterback. The same can be said about Jay Cutler, but the expectations, at least from people outside the Bears franchise, were a little lower.
A surprising fact about the two quarterbacks is how similar their numbers are. They both average 7.1 yards per attempt, their total QBR is very close (56.3 for Cutler, 53.3 for Stafford) and Cutler has thrown for just one more first down. And yet the Bears are 5-6, while the Lions are 7-4, which right now leaves them outside of the playoff picture due to inner calculations. It’s probably the difference made by the Lions’ defense, 10th in the NFL in passing yards and first in allowed rushing yards. The Bears are giving up just under 370 yards per game.
But back to the Lions offense, which hasn’t scored a touchdown in two consecutive games. They’ve scored more than 24 points only once this season, and that was in week 1. They’ve won five of their games by seven points or less, suggesting that their record could have been very different if it wasn’t for some brave comebacks, not to mention some luck going their way. Mike Smith botching the London game comes to mind as one of those examples.
The Bears are on the rise, winning two games by the score of 21-13, finally giving their home fans something to cheer about this season. Both of those wins have come against Minnesota and Tampa Bay, not exactly reassuring as they head into Detroit, where the Lions are 4-1 this season. Cutler is playing wild football again, throwing into coverage and giving up on the short game unless it’s to Matt Forte, which has been enough to win five games this season.
Forte is probably the key for the Bears. He has 822 rushing yards and 598 receiving yards, a career high. Earlier this season it felt as if he’s being under-used. That’s no longer something anyone shares, and probably the only way for Marc Trestman to keep his job and give Cutler more than the option of throwing downfield to Marshall and Jeffery is involving Forte in the plays as much as possible, with Martellus Bennett catching only eight passes in the last two wins combined.
More desperate team for the win? Both have to win if they’re thinking about making the playoffs, but it’s probably more of a boon on Detroit, who have a record that’s probably lying about the identity of the team and its quality. The Bears looked like a team heading towards the offseason for major changes two weeks ago. Now there’s a sense of nothing to lose filling their ranks. If they do a good job of protecting Cutler against the excellent Lions’ offensive line, maybe they’ll actually pull off a third straight win.