With the addition of Darrell Bevell to the Detroit coaching staff and his offense built around “running the ball to set up deep passing,” and with the injury to Kerryon Johnson and the apparent distaste the Lions have for all their other backs, this team has become something we never thought we would have said about a Patricia/Bevell pairing: a pass-heavy unit. In fact, the Lions’ 65.97% pass play rate across their last three games would rank third in the NFL if it had been in place for the entire season. The Lions are no longer “running to set up the deep passing.” They’re just “deep passing.”
Unfortunately for the Lions, they’ll be taking on a Bears team that is boosting the league-average catch rate by 7%, but that is doing so by shaving 14% off the league-average aDOT. Only four teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Bears — making volume (optimally intermediate volume) the best way to pile up pass catcher points against them. Note the reception totals required to produce the notable stat lines below:
9-131-0 Michael Thomas
8-83-1 Paul Richardson
With Kenny Golladay seeing recent target counts of 9 // 2 // 8 // 7 (and relying on big plays for his production), his hot streak will be put to the test in this spot.
Optimally, the Lions want to use both Golladay and Marvin Jones primarily on downfield routes, but Jones has the more variable usage in this offense and is the likelier bet between the two for double-digit looks (recent target counts of 5 // 13 // 5 // 10), especially if the Lions turn some of their usage to the shorter areas of the field.
Of course, there is no law requiring you to roster a Lions receiver against a Bears defense that has allowed only three touchdowns to wideouts (third fewest in the league, behind only the Patriots and Bills), but Danny Amendola has recent target counts of 1 // 11 // 8 // 5; as noted late last week, he should see several more of those higher-target games down the stretch (though obviously the matchup hampers the chances of this actually mattering this week).
Perhaps the most interesting piece here is T.J. Hockenson, as the Giants stud rookie has been getting more involved lately, with recent target counts of 6 // 5 // 1 // 7. Hock is still seeing almost all of his targets within five yards of the line of scrimmage, and the Bears rank top five in football in preventing yards after the catch, so some things will have to break right for upside to emerge; but the Bears have been getting hit by tight ends this year, with the fifth most catches and the fourth most yards allowed to the position.
Ultimately, we’ll likely see the Lions lean pass-heavy once again while generally sticking to their downfield-focused approach and simply experiencing lower efficiency than they have most recent weeks — which would put the Lions in their Vegas-implied range of 19.5 points, and would make this offense as a whole unattractive from an “upside at the price” perspective. But if the Lions are able to adjust enough, they might be able to get one player going with concentrated looks on shorter-area routes.
While the Lions have been leaning more heavily toward the pass, the Bears have been trying to figure out ways to not rely on (number two overall pick) Mitchell Trubisky, with this team giving 31 and 17 touches to David Montgomery the last two weeks and asking Trubisky to throw only 35 and 21 times in comparison. We hypothesized that the Bears would still lean run-heavy against the Eagles (who are banged-up in the front seven and healthier than before on the back end, but are still a solid run defense as a whole), and after that proved to be the case, there’s no reason to expect anything different against a Lions defense that ranks 18th in DVOA against the run while having allowed the 10th most rushing yards (4.5 yards per carry), the third most receiving yards, and the second most touchdowns to the running back position. Between carries and targets, 264 plays have been directed toward running backs against the Lions — an average of 33.0 per game. Only the Redskins and Dolphins have faced more plays directed toward running backs per game, making Montgomery (73.4% of snaps the last two weeks, with a touch on a monstrous 38.7% of the Bears snaps) intriguing this week, especially at his still-depressed price.
Through the air, the Bears can be summed up as: Allen Robinson and (almost) no one else. While A-Rob saw only five targets last week, the Bears ran only 44 plays (for a point of reference: the Lions are allowing the most opponent player per game in the league this year, at 69.5), and Trubisky threw only 21 times. Robinson had seen target counts of 7 // 7 // 9 // 16 // 7 coming in, and he should be in the seven to nine target range again here. The matchup is slightly below-average against a solid Detroit secondary (Robinson should mostly square off with Darius Slay in the Lions’ man-heavy scheme), but Trubisky remains the biggest obstacle.
The (almost) above (in the “(almost) no one else”) ties into one other player who’s actually interesting in tourneys, and that’s Taylor Gabriel, who has seen a respectable 16.1% target share the last two weeks and will be taking on a Lions team that has allowed the third most pass plays of 20+ yards. Gabriel had a 53-yarder last week and a 22-yarder the week before (and had a near-miss in that game on what would have been a long touchdown). This team is looking for anything that can get them going, and Gabriel will continue to get his shots.
JM’s Interpretation ::
David Montgomery is the only piece from this game that stands out to me as a potential staple, but there are plenty of additional ways to approach this game. With the Lions willing to attack downfield, there is a chance Golladay or Jones produces. With the Lions potentially focusing shorter-area, Jones or Amendola could emerge with a solid score. And with the matchup favoring Hockenson, he could be the one to produce. It’s fairly likely that one of the four pieces from the Lions has a really nice game, as this passing attack is too heavily concentrated and too good to not get someone there; but a slate-breaker is by no means guaranteed in this matchup, and a couple duds could come out of that group as well, making them difficult to bet on outside of game stacks.
I do like the idea of a game stack here (with this game obviously behind spots like Arizona // Tampa, but with this game boasting the pieces necessary for a shootout to develop). The defensive strength and offensive ineptitude of the Bears keeps a shootout from being the likeliest scenario, but it’s certainly not an outlandish bet. If building for that scenario, I like Gabriel and A-Rob as well. If one of the pieces on the Lions breaks off a monster game, one of these two is likely to produce a really nice score as well.
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