NFL GAME PREVIEW

Saturday NFL Game Preview: Bears at Lions

The Sports Xchange

December 15, 2017 at 9:52 pm.

Dec 10, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA;Detroit Lions running back Theo Riddick (25) runs past Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) to score a touchdown  during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 10, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA;Detroit Lions running back Theo Riddick (25) runs past Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) to score a touchdown during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO BEARS (4-9) AT DETROIT LIONS (7-6)

KICKOFF: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, Ford Field. TV: NFLN, Mike Tirico, Kurt Warner, Heather Cox (field reporter).

SERIES HISTORY: 176th regular-season meeting. Bears lead series, 97-73-5. Detroit has won eight of the last nine, with the only Bears victory since 2012 coming last year at Soldier Field. The Lions beat the Bears 27-24 in the other game between these divisional rivals this season on Nov. 19.

GAMEDATE: 12/16/17

KEYS TO THE GAME: Defensively, the Bears are caught in a difficult situation. They’d like to play zone against Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ well-timed passing game, but they can’t afford to sit back. They don’t have Leonard Floyd or Willie Young as outside rush men, and Pernell McPhee’s status will be a game-time decision due to a shoulder injury.

So they’re going to need to blitz occasionally, and the Lions are going to play numerous four- and five-receiver sets to force man-to-man coverage. It might mean big plays one way or the other. It’s either effectively blitz, or the Lions will pick them apart in order to possess the ball, much like San Francisco did.

On offense, Chicago’s production must be there as it was in the first Lions game. The Bears must balance the attack much as they did last week, but it’s going to require gains outside in the passing game and downfield.

The Lions have one order of business on defense: Stop Jordan Howard. He ran for 125 yards on just 15 carries when these teams met in November, and he has played three pretty productive games against the Lions in his career.

The Lions have struggled mightily against the run recently — they have given up more than 100 yards five straight weeks — but can gang up on Howard with little else to fear from Chicago’s offense.

Last week, the Lions de-emphasized the running game on offense and put the game in Stafford’s hands. That might be easier said than done this week as Akiem Hicks and the Bears have a much better pass rush. Still, the Lions have opened the passing game up with Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay, and should have chances to push the ball downfield.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

–Lions RG T.J. Lang vs. Bears DT Akiem Hicks. The Lions’ offensive line has been a revolving door all year, with the team looking at starting its ninth combination. Lang has played most of the season at right guard, though injuries have hampered him. He’s currently dealing with a foot injury that kept him out of practice Tuesday and Wednesday, and he draws a tough assignment against the underrated Hicks. Hicks hasn’t had a sack since before Halloween, but he’s capable of destroying a game.

–Bears RB Jordan Howard vs. Lions LB Tahir Whitehead. Howard had his best game of the season last week, running for 147 yards and two touchdowns. He’s a volume runner who gets better the more he carries the football, and his success is key to an offense that starts rookie Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. Whitehead has taken over for Jarrad Davis as the Lions’ every-down linebacker, and he’s on his way to a second straight 100-tackle season. The Lions’ recent problems stopping the run are well-documented, so Whitehead needs to be on top of his game.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Lions CB Teez Tabor. The second-round pick was a healthy inactive for six of the first nine weeks, but he has taken on a supporting role over the last month. Tabor played a few snaps as a dime defender in October and early November, but he has been a staple in the Lions’ nickel package and has even gotten some work as the No. 2 cornerback opposite Darius Slay. Last week, Tabor played right cornerback opposite Slay, with Nevin Lawson sliding inside as a slot defender in the nickel package. The rookie is still very much in the development phase, but there’s reason to believe he can play a big role next year.

FAST FACTS: Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky had 271 passing yards and a TD and his first career rushing TD last week. He is the first Bears rookie with a passing TD and a rushing TD in the same game since 1982 (Jim McMahon). He aims for his third game in a row with a 100-plus passer rating and a TD pass. … RB Jordan Howard rushed for 147 yards and two TDs in Week 14, his third career multi-TD game. He has 1,032 rushing yards and is the first player in team history with 1,000 in each of his first two seasons. … DE Akiem Hicks has two sacks and a fumble recovery in his past three games against the NFC North. He has two sacks and a fumble recovery in the past three games against Detroit. … Lions QB Matthew Stafford ranks third in the NFL with 3,683 passing yards. He completed 36 of 44 (81.8 percent) for 381 yards last week. He has 1,707 passing yards (284.5 per game) and 12 TDs against two interceptions in his past six games at home. He had 299 passing yards and two TDs in the last game against Chicago. … RB Theo Riddick had 93 scrimmage yards and two rushing TDs in Week 14, his first career game with two rushing TDs. Since 2015, he leads NFL RBs with 178 receptions. … DE Ezekiel Ansah tied a career-high with seven tackles and had a sack last week. He has a sack in two of his past three games at home.

PREDICTION: The Bears played perhaps their best game of the year last week in blowing out the disinterested Bengals in Cincinnati. The Lions will be a bit more interested as they still have a shot at a wild-card berth, and will keep their hopes alive with another game-winning field goal by Matt Prater.

OUR PICK: Lions, 26-20.

–Bucky Dent

 

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