The Detroit Lions kick off the home portion of their NFC North schedule in Week 11, welcoming the Chicago Bears to Ford Field on Sunday. It’s the first of two divisional home game in four days for Detroit.
The Bears have been an enigmatic team in 2023. On their way to a 3-7 record, they’ve dealt with injuries and a recent trade that bolstered their defense.
To help dive deeper into this week’s opponent, I called upon Bears Wire editor Alyssa Barbieri for some questions and answers about Chicago.
What impact has Montez Sweat had on the Bears defense?
While it’s only been two games, Sweat’s impact on Chicago’s defensive line has been significant. For the league’s worst pass rush, Sweat’s presence alone forces opposing offenses to double Sweat, freeing up opportunities for others along the line, including Yannick Ngakoue, DeMarcus Walker and Justin Jones. Sweat hasn’t recorded a sack with the Bears yet, but his pressure rate has been impressive. In last Thursday night’s win over the Panthers, Sweat had eight pressures, which marked the most pressures by a Bears pass rusher since Robert Quinn in 2020. Sweat should only get better with more experience and opportunities in this defense.
What all changes for the offense if Justin Fields returns and Tyson Bagent goes back to backup duty?
Fields will return to action for the first time since Oct. 15 after suffering a dislocated right thumb. While Bagent was an effective game manager, Chicago’s offense was limited in the downfield passing game. Leaning on a productive run game was certainly beneficial – and something I expect the Bears to attempt to do Sunday – they lacked the explosiveness that Fields brings to the table.
With Fields back in the lineup, it gives Chicago’s offense the ability to stretch the field vertically and horizontally in the run game, including designed QB runs, rollouts, boots, etc. Fields had plenty of success with his legs against Detroit last season, so that’s something else the defense will have to contend with. I also expect DJ Moore to be more involved and impactful in the passing game with Fields’ return.
How is the Bears rookie class looking so far?
For the eight draft picks on the roster, they’ve all seen action this season. First-round right tackle Darnell Wright has been the most impactful, where he’s impressed with his physicality and athleticism. He’s gone toe-to-toe with some top pass rushers and held his own, and it’s clear Wright has the potential to be a franchise right tackle for Chicago. Defensive tackles Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens have improved as the season has progressed, where they continue to rotate with starters Justin Jones and Andrew Billings.
Cornerback Tyrique Stevenson has been a starter since Day 1, where he’s been a focal point for opposing offenses that steer clear of Jaylon Johnson. Stevenson has been a physical player both in coverage and against the run, and he continues to develop with each passing game. Others like running back Roschon Johnson, receiver Tyler Scott, linebacker Noah Sewell and cornerback Terell Smith haven’t seen as many opportunities, but they’ve had their flashes.
What’s one area or player where the Bears don’t get enough credit outside of Chicago?
I don’t think the Bears get enough credit for their run defense, which has been a top unit all season after being among the worst last season. Adding Andrew Billings to the mix has been instrumental, and it’s why Chicago didn’t waste time signing him to an extension mid-season. The Bears have the NFL’s second-best run defense, which is allowing 76 rushing yards per game. They’ve held teams under 100 rushing yards in eight of 10 games this season.
As far as players go, kicker Cairo Santos is one of the most underrated kickers in the NFL. He’s been a pillar of consistency, correcting a kicker issue that had haunted the Bears since Robbie Gould’s release in 2016. This season, Santos has connected on 15-of-16 field goals (93.8 percent) and 19-of-20 extra points (95 percent). Since joining the Bears in 2020, Santos has made 90.3 percent of his field goals, including a franchise-record 40 consecutive field goals.
Who wins and why?
I’d love nothing more than for the Bears to keep this closer than the two touchdowns I’m predicting. The return of Justin Fields should help, but the Lions offense could have a field day against a porous Chicago passing defense. It would take a herculean effort — including mistake-free football by the Bears and some missteps by the Lions — against one of the NFL’s best teams. Lions 34, Bears 20