We’ve already caught up on the Lions and have handed out our full game preview. Now it’s time to take a deeper look into the game’s pivotal matchups that will determine the outcome of this December divisional matchup.
In this episode, Will DeWitt goes through his weekly five matchups and three keys that you must pay attention to in this week’s game.
First up, let’s analyze the five critical matchups.
1. Kyle Fuller vs Marvin Jones Jr. (Round 2)
Fuller did a fantastic job of handling A.J. Green last week (allowing one catch for 15 yards) and he has another big-time matchup against Jones on Saturday. In the last meeting, Jones had a big game (4 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown) right where I said he would, along that ride sideline.
However, don’t fault fuller. When Jones made his big plays, it was when Marcus Cooper entered the game. Also, in that game Fuller only allowed one reception for 24 yards. That’s solid, especially going against an offense that threw the ball 31 times.
Anytime Jones is lined up across from Fuller, keep a keen eye on that battle on the outside. Six of Jones’ eight touchdowns this season come when he is lined up on the right side, and he averages 19.2 yards per catch in that area of the field. Furthermore, Jones is averaging 87 receiving yards over his last four games.
Can Fuller limit Jones who has a knack for making big-time downfield catches? If he plays like last week, I believe so. However, the one issue with Fuller this season has been his consistency. If he has another “down” game this matchup won’t bode well for the Bears.
Edge: Marvin Jones Jr.
2. Kendall Wright vs Teez Tabor
In our discussion with ESPN’s Jeff Risdon, we learned that when Teez Tabor has played, it hasn’t been great. Well, it hasn’t been bad either. In other words, the rookie has just been average. This leads to a potentially favorable matchup for the Bears, especially with Wright in the slot who is coming off his best game as a Bear, and the best receiver performance for Chicago all season (10 catches – 107 yards).
Tabor hasn’t been targetted a ton, due to the fact that he really hasn’t played much this season until recently, but he has given up receptions on 50 percent of the balls thrown in his direction. That’s good news for both Bears Fans and Wright.
Wright has a chance to have back-to-back big games, but that will depend a lot on Dowell Loggains’ and his game plan. Does he scheme Wright open? Can he create route combinations that exploit the rookie’s lack of experience? If the Bears can find a way to confuse Tabor, have him think a little too much, Wright should be able to break free for a few big catches.
If I’m Trubisky, I’m not throwing towards Darius Slay too much in this one, and I’d much rather pick on a fellow rookie in Tabor. I have a hunch that Wright and Trubisky will continue to build some chemistry on Saturday.
Edge: Kendall Wright
3. Adam Shaheen vs Jarad Davis (Round 2)
Before the last meeting between the Bears and Lions, I had Shaheen’s matchup versus Davis highlighted. In fact, it was the first time Shaheen was included in the matchups podcast. The rookie did his part as he put together what was at the time the best game of his young career. Shaheen had four catches for 41 yards and a touchdown.
Why? Well it’s simple and it goes back to what I said in that podcast. To quote myself: “Davis struggles containing tight ends in zone coverage.”
That still rings true. Davis is still one of the worst graded linebackers in terms of coverage, and he’s still struggling wrapping players up as he has a plethora of missed tackles on the season.
Last time, Shaheen was a valuable and reliable target for Mitchell Trubisky, and I don’t expect much to change this time around. In fact, I believe Shaheen can take another step and put together another impressive outing on Saturday. He could easily have a stat line around five catches for 60 yards and a couple touchdowns. Wouldn’t that be something? It’s definitely possible, especially given the fact that the Lions have allowed five touchdowns to tight ends over the past month.
Edge: Shaheen Machine
4. Mitchell Trubisky vs Quandre Diggs
Now remember when I mentioned that Tabor has seen his playing time rise over the past couple of weeks? Well, that’s due to the fact that Lions’ safety Tavon Wilson went down to an injury, and Detroit’s solution was moving their nickel corner, Diggs, to safety.
It’s a move that has paid early dividends for Detroit. He forced two turnovers last week, as he had an interception and a forced fumble. He almost had a third, but the interception was taken away after a review of the play. Diggs has taken over the free safety role for Detroit, and in many ways, he’s proven to be a natural fit.
He’s been reading plays and reacting fast. Reading the quarterback and meeting the receiver as soon as the ball arrives – always looking to deliver a big hit.
For Trubisky, he already has to worry about the ball hawk in Darius Slay. Now he needs to also be aware of where Diggs is on the field at all times. When throwing the ball either downfield or in the intermediate range, he needs to place it not only where only his receiver can get it, but also where his man won’t get blown up by Diggs while making the catch.
Last week, the Bears did a good job of utilizing the quick passing game, and I expect Chicago to attempt to replicate that performance. Get the ball out quickly, and let guys run for big gains after the catch. Doing so will limit the potential impact Diggs can have, especially if they send multiple receivers his way to create some congestion.
Edge: Quandre Diggs (for affecting the game plan and decision making)
5. Akiem Hicks vs T.J. Lang
Hicks has not recorded a sack since October. That came way back against his former team the Saints. Since that game, he’s only tallied 15 tackles. We’ve talked in great length in previous episodes that he’s in a bad spot. He’s on the field far too much, and when he is out there, he is the primary player teams try to stop.
Last year, Hicks destroyed the Lions. He had two sacks and nine tackles in two games. In the prior meeting this season, he only mustered two lowly tackles. He has a big matchup against the former Packer in Lang whi held him in check a few weeks back. But it actually goes further. When these two squared off last season, Lang had the upper hand as he limited Hicks to only three tackles and no sacks in two games.
This will be a big-time battle in the trenches. Hicks desperately needs a coming out party. It’s actually crazy to think he still leads all 3-4 defensive ends with his seven sacks. One could only imagine what type of season he’d have if his snap count were managed better.
Lang has only allowed one sack all season to go along with 13 hurries in 430 passing snaps according to Pro Football Focus. That’s pretty solid.
Edge: T.J. Lang