LIONS // BEARS OVERVIEW
The 3-5 Lions are technically still in the playoff hunt, though the first-place, 5-3 Bears will look to put an end to that when Detroit travels to Chicago this week. This game matches a pair of ball control teams (the Bears rank third in time of possession, while the Lions rank seventh), with a big edge going to the Bears on either side of the ball. Through eight games, the Lions rank 22nd in points per game while the Bears rank fourth in fewest points allowed per game. On the other side, the Bears’ offense ranks quietly ranks fifth in points scored per game (behind only the Chiefs, Saints, Rams, and Patriots), while only nine teams have allowed more points per game than Detroit. Matt Patricia’s defense ranks 27th in drive success rate allowed, and only three teams have been worse at scoring touchdowns in the red zone than the Lions. With the Bears returning Khalil Mack this week — one week after Matthew Stafford took an incredible 10 sacks against the Vikings — this shapes up as a tough spot for the visiting team.
LIONS PASS OFFENSE
Chicago has been tough to pass on this year, ranking fourth in fewest yards allowed per pass attempt, while allowing the lowest quarterback rating in the league. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady both managed to carve up this defense for three touchdown passes, but the Bears have allowed only seven touchdown passes in their other six games, while picking off 14 passes on the season (second most in the league). Even after a pass rush lull in the absence of Mack, the Bears rank seventh in the NFL in sacks. Sacks had not been a major issue for the Lions before the departure of Golden Tate, but it may take Stafford another week or two to adjust to the absence of his favorite outlet.
As noted the last few weeks, the Lions are attempting to become a more run-oriented offense, though that will be difficult this week against a Chicago squad that has allowed the fifth fewest yards per carry in the league and is the only team in football that has not yet given up a running back touchdown on the ground. Opponents have skewed toward the pass against Chicago this year, in order to attack the lesser of this team’s two strengths.
Marvin Jones quietly saw disappointing usage last week, in spite of his eight targets, as five of his targets came within about eight yards of the line of scrimmage (with no targets coming more than 20 yards downfield) — a far cry from the immense “upside” role that is typically Jones’ calling card. On the other hand, of course: eight targets has value, and Jones’ red zone role is secure, with 11 targets inside the 20 (to only five for Kenny Golladay). Naturally: Jones’ low-upside usage could also be just a one-week blip, rather than a precursor of things to come with Golden Tate’s short-area game absent from the team.
After averaging over 8.0 targets per game through the Lions’ first five contests (with three touchdowns scored in these games), Golladay has seen target counts of 2 // 1 // 4 in their last three games (failing to crack even 50 yards in any of those games, and failing to find the end zone). Spots like this are never comfortable, but it is worth pointing out that the trade of Tate signals confidence in Golladay’s development, and it seems likely that his targets will rise in the weeks ahead. T.J. Jones saw only two targets last week on 36 snaps (51.4% snap rate), with the Lions leaning heavily on multiple-back alignments and two tight end sets. Golladay is going to be on the field for nearly every play — and he is the guy the Lions feature on the intermediate routes over the middle of the field against which the Bears can be susceptible.
Michael Roberts and Luke Willson combined for a 3-29-0 line on six targets last week, in one of the better tight end matchups in football. The Bears are one of the more challenging tight end matchups.
The other main piece in the passing attack is Theo Riddick, who had zero carries but eight targets last week (which he turned into a 7-36-0 line). Riddick lined up at receiver 14 times and in the backfield 25 times, giving him a hybrid role in this offense as a valuable outlet on third downs — though he’ll obviously need to bust a long play and/or score a touchdown in order to return any serious value.
This offense wraps up with Kerryon Johnson, who continued to (mercifully) operate ahead of LeGarrette Blount, with 39 snaps for the rookie to 11 for the washed-up veteran. Johnson saw 12 carries and three catches (five targets), and he has room to add a few extra carries if this game stays close. As noted above: the Bears have been one of the toughest teams in football to run on, and they are the only team that has not yet allowed a running back to score on the ground.
BEARS RUN OFFENSE
Life does not actually work like this, but…if we take away the 70-yard run Dalvin Cook had against the Lions last week, this run defense held Latavius Murray and Cook to a 19-50-1 line on the ground (2.63 YPC), after holding Chris Carson and Mike Davis to a 35-138-1 line (3.94 YPC) — showing marked improvement with Snacks Harrison added to the center of this unit. Of course: the 70-yard run that Cook had remains part of the equation against the Lions. As noted two weeks ago when Snacks was added: it takes more than one player to make a run defense good, and there are still issues on the second level for the Lions that can expose them to big plays on the ground.
With Detroit tightening up on runs up the gut but remaining susceptible to big plays, this is a “tough to get excited about” spot for Jordan Howard, who has only one run all season of 20+ yards, and who has not topped 82 rushing yards in a game. After Howard worked on his pass-catching skills in the offseason and was featured in this role early in the year, he has seen his workload scaled back dramatically, with four targets and only one reception across his last five games.
Outside of an outlier game against Tampa (13 carries), Tarik Cohen has seen exactly five or six carries in all but one other game (a four-carry game early in the year) — providing him with a few opportunities to break off a long play against this run defense, but without any floor added to this equation. Naturally, the best bet for upside from Cohen is pass game involvement, as he has four games this year with 69+ receiving yards (to go with four other games under 20 receiving yards). The safest bet for targets is a back-and-forth affair (i.e., if you roster Cohen, you are essentially betting on the Lions’ offense putting up points — which you should account for by also rostering at least one of the upside pieces on that side of the ball), though Matt Nagy did go out of his way in that Week 4 blowout win over Tampa to get the ball into Cohen’s hands, feeding him 13 carries and eight targets in a 48-10 victory.
BEARS PASS OFFENSE
The Cardinals and Raiders are the only teams in football that have faced a lower pass play rate than the Lions — a trend that has continued even with the addition of Harrison to the Lions’ front. No team has faced fewer pass attempts than the Lions — and as such, the Jaguars are the only team that has allowed fewer passing yards.
The frustrating component, from a DFS perspective, is that the Lions have proven to be extremely attackable through the air this year, with 16 passing touchdowns allowed (only nine teams have allowed more, in spite of the low volume), 8.5 yards allowed per pass attempt (fourth worst in the league), the second deepest aDOT allowed in football, and an opponent catch rate that ranks sixth worst in the league. If a team chose to attack Detroit through the air, they would have success — but so far, Aaron Rodgers (52 passes) and Brock Osweiler (31 passes) are the only quarterbacks who have topped even 27 pass attempts against this team. Trubisky has recent pass attempt numbers of 26 // 31 // 50 // 29 // 20 — with that 50-pass outlier coming in a shootout against the Patriots. This creates significant volume concerns, as the Lions will almost certainly have to perform well on offense in order for volume to pile up for the Bears’ passing attack. Same as with Cohen: rostering Bears pass game components is essentially “a bet on the Lions doing well on offense.” If making this bet, you should account for it by layering in one or two Upside pieces from that side of the ball.
If we take away the Patriots game, targets among pass catchers during this stretch look like this:
The best way to attack the Lions is over the middle of the field, where Miller primarily operates. He has yet to top 49 yards in a game this season.
The best Upside bet is Gabriel, who continues to see targets downfield. His floor is low, but his ceiling is solid if he connects on a deep ball or two.
I may not end up using any players from this game, but I’ll have tourney interest in Golladay for the slate-winning upside he can provide at a low price if the targets suddenly show up, and I’ll also have tourney interest in Jones for the large workload at an affordable price. Floor in this matchup is thin, but Randall Cobb, DeSean Jackson, Albert Wilson, and Josh Gordon have all topped 100 yards against the Bears. Neither Golladay nor Jones sets up particularly well in this matchup, but there is really no one else for the Lions to throw to if they fall behind.
You could also argue for Riddick as a salary saver, but a lot of guesswork goes into the play — and the matchup is difficult against a Bears team that has not gotten hit by any pass-catching backs beyond James White.
Given the way teams consistently attack the Lions on the ground (and given the thin upside Howard carries), a bet on the Bears is a bet on the Lions keeping this game competitive throughout. If making that bet, I would likely roster Golladay (and possibly even Jones) on the Lions, while rostering Cohen on the Bears. Whenever Bears games remain close, Cohen is the guy who has the greatest chance of popping off, as this team is using him in consistent and creative ways. Behind Cohen, it would be a guessing game among the remaining options, but the matchup is not prohibitive on any of these guys.