Much has changed for the Detroit Lions since their 24-14 loss to the Bears at Soldier Field on Oct. 3.
They got a tie.
In the process, they've also gotten to know coach Dan Campbell better and the rest of the NFL has seen what he wants to do offensively and defensively. Campbell has taken over play calling from Anthony Lynn and has shown to be decidedly more conservative, resulting in two low-scoring games, a 16-16 tie with Pittsburgh and 13-10 loss last week to Cleveland.
Detroit had been blown out three straight games prior to this.
The Lions have faults at numerous spots in their lineup but there also are positions where they appear strong moving forward. Some of those are spots with younger players.
They have added former Rams receiver Josh Reynolds and can be expected to try to exploit him against a Bears secondary void of slot defensive help, but so far how they deploy him best remains a mystery.
For a team with its own problems, matching up with several players becomes a difficult assignment for the Bears and one which could decide Thursday's game considering the short amount of time both teams have had to prepare for it.
Bears S Tashaun Gipson vs. Lions TE T.J. Hockenson
The Bears couldn't control Mark Andrews on Sunday as he made eight receptions for 89 yards and Hockenson is an NFC version of the Ravens tight end. Baltimore got Andrews open out in the flat or to the wide side of the field at will, usually one on one. The Lions will see this and attempt the same tactics. Defending Hockenson with either Christian Jones or Alec Ogletree in short range or Gipson and backup slot cornerback Marqui Christian downfield can be difficult. He has 54 receptions for 499 yards, as the Lions have had trouble getting him open more downfield but that's more the result of their offensive play caller and overall problems on offense. The fact the Bears have chosen Gipson to cover tight ends and left Eddie Jackson back more is apparent from the average depth of target when he has been targeted by QBs. This year it's 4.1 yards downfield. In 2020 it was 12.5 yards downfield. In fact, while in Jacksonville in 2018 it was 11.0 y ards and with Houston in 2019 it was 13.2 yards. Gipson is better used downfield in coverage. It shows in his completion percentage allowed, as well. At 75%, the tight ends are catching passes in the short range and trying to head upfield. Gipson's 12.9% missed tackle rate doesn't make for a strong combination.
Bears OLB Trevis Gipson vs. Lions RT Penei Sewell
The rookie first-rounder, Sewell, is coming off one of his better games and did not allow a pressure, according to . Gipson has had to become a starter because of Khalil Mack's season-ending injury and appears capable of rushing the passer in longer down-and-distance situations but has been vulnerable against the run or if pulled into short pass coverage. Gipson has missed on 18.5% of his tackles so the drop off is obvious—Mack had no missed tackles this season. The Bears will put in Cassius Marsh to spell Gipson but experience similar problems then. Whether they try to fit Bruce Irvin into the edge rusher rotation remains to be seen.
Bears LG Cody Whitehair vs. Lions DL Michael Brockers
Despite a very low Pro Football Focus grade (45.3) compared to the rest of his career, Brockers remains the chief threat on the Lions defensive front and it's a group which has improved greatly over the last five weeks. Brockers, the former Rams defensive lineman, is a disruptive force with his size and athleticism at 6-foot-5, 297 and often stunts with outside rushers. A real problem for the Bears here is Brockers using his long arms to knock down Andy Dalton passes. Like the rest of the Bears offensive line, Whitehair had a shaky start to the season and has rebounded. PFF calls him the 31st best guard of 78 rated this season in the league with a 66.4 grade, the second-lowest PFF score of his career. Whitehair has allowed three sacks and committed three penalties this season.