Detroit Lions Film Room: Running Backs May Hold Keys to Victory


Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

A few of the key matchups I’ll be paying close attention to as the Detroit Lions head into their big Week 10 divisional matchup surround the running backs for each team. The Chicago Bears are currently missing key components on their offense (Jay Cutler) and defense (Lance Briggs), yet they still hold a 5-3 record and share a spot atop the NFC North. This game is big for a lot of reason, but the main one being that whoever comes out on top will lead the NFC North outright for the time being. If the Lions win, they’ll pull away from the Bears with a 2 game cushion heading into the homestretch.

Both Reggie Bush and Matt Forte are not only good running backs, but also receivers out of the backfield, making them the ultimate dual threats on their respective offenses. In the week four meeting earlier this season both running backs had their opportunities for big play. Forte ran for 53 yard touchdown early in the 2nd quarter, only to have Bush counter with a 37 yard touchdown run of his own.

Lions Running Backs vs Bears Defense

The Bears have been giving up an average of 127.5 rushing yards per game (29th in the NFL), and over the last three weeks that average bumps up to 177 yards per game. During their last meeting in week four the Lions racked up 159 yards on the ground–with 139 of those coming from Reggie Bush. If the Bears don’t want a repeat performance, they’ll need to their safeties to play much more disciplined against the run.

On this play the Bears roll their coverage at the snap, bringing safety Chris Conte down as the eighth man in the box and having Major Wright play the deep middle of the field.

As you can see, Conte does a nice job of being in position to make the stop for what should be a minimal gain.

Reggie Bush does a great job at making Conte miss and getting to the next level in the open field. Now, fellow safety Major Wright has an opportunity to come in and clean up Conte’s mistake.

But once again the safety takes an awful angle towards Bush and he escapes yet again for 10 yards. Look for the Lions to try and establish the run early on in this game. Both of the Bears safeties have missed a combined 14 tackles so far this season and are near the bottom of the league in tackling efficiency according to Pro Football Focus. If Bush and Bell can hit the ground running (both literally and figuratively) they’ll have a chance to open up things in the passing game for Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.

Matt Forte in the Passing Game

Through 8 games Matt Forte already has 316 receiving yards on 40 catches. To put that in comparison, he had 44 catches for 340 yards all of last season. And even with other receiving targets like Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett, Forte is still getting his due in the passing game. With all of those weapons it’s easy to see how even backup quarterback Josh McCown has had success in the offense, especially with a threat out of the backfield like Forte.

On this play from the Monday Night Football matchup against the Packers, the Bears line up with four split receivers and the Packers counter with their nickel defense.

All four receivers run intermediate to deep routes and Forte sneaks out of the backfield. The Packers play man defense on the outside, but because Martellus Bennett takes two defenders with him, Forte is left all alone in the flat. The play results in 33 yard gain.

As I mentioned earlier, the Bears are in no short supply of offensive weapons. It will be important for the Lions to account for everyone on the field, including Forte as the checkdown option.

I will be very interested to see how these two dynamic running backs affect this game on Sunday. Both got their fair share during the last matchup, and depending on what the defenses do to take away the other weapons it could be a big day for both running backs.

 *All images were created using NFL Game Rewind, unless otherwise noted. (subscription required)