Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears: Five things to watch

Chicago sits atop NFC North

ALLEN PARK — It’s the second straight division game for the Lions who failed miserably at the Vikings last week.

It doesn’t get any easier, going up against the Chicago Bears (5-3), the leaders in the NFC North. The Vikings are in second (5-3-1) with the Packers (3-4-1) in third and the Lions (3-5) in the basement.

The Lions have won their last two games at Soldier Field but this team is different and still difficult to figure out due to inconsistent play week in and week out.

It will be a little tougher without two key starters who are sidelined with injuries. Cornerback Darius Slay (knee) and right guard T.J. Lang will be out.

The Bears have won all five of their games against less-than-stellar teams. One of those teams is the Seahawks (4-4), who smacked the Lions two weeks ago. The Bears also beat the Cardinals (2-6), Tampa Bay (3-5), Jets (3-6) and the Bills (2-7). That’s a combined 14-28 win-loss record.

If the Lions have any hope of turning around this season and matching their 9-7 record from last season, defeating the Bears would be a great place to start.

Five things to watch:

1. The offensive line must adjust and provide more protection for Stafford who was sacked 10 times by the Vikings. It was not all on the line, but they didn’t help. Patricia said it was lack of fundamentals and execution that led to the wretched loss at Minnesota last week. So he planned to get back to basics at practice this week. “I like our offensive line a lot. These guys work extremely hard. The offensive line is a hard group to play in. Like you said, my background with the o-line, I understand that, again, I think I’ve mentioned this before, when you try to see the game through the same set of eyes five different way, it’s not easy,’’ Patricia said. This week they’ll be without Lang and they’ll be facing big-time Bears disruptors DT Akiem Hicks and LB Khalil Mack.

2. Matthew Stafford has had a rough go in the last two weeks, both losses. In that span he has completed 68.4 percent of his pass attempts for 509 yards which is not bad considering he was sacked 13 times. He has taken the blame for some of those sacks and maybe he held on too long trying to make something happen. But also it’s tough to throw to receivers who can’t get open. He also lost one fumble in each of the last two weeks. “I’m sure if you sort out certain numbers and don’t really take into account game situations, you can kind of make them say whatever you would like,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said when asked about Stafford. “Our job is to do what we can do to score points to help our team win games. It’s on us to keep ourselves in a good game situation so that we do have multiple avenues available to us to attack a defense. Sometimes we have this year and sometimes we have been a little bit further behind than we should be.’’

3. Grabbing a lead early, once again is key. The Bears have outscored opponents 120-51 in the first half — 75-23 in the second quarter. The Lions need a good start, especially with the way they’ve played the last two weeks, to have a chance of winning. Stafford used to be able to fight back and come from behind in the fourth quarter, but not sure that’s much of a possibility this season. “I think it’s on our list of musts every week, is to start fast. And that’s as a team. I’m a big part of that team, I understand that, and doing what I can do to help us get points,’’ Stafford said. “Converting third downs, hitting big shots when we get it, just making sure that when we have those opportunities from the opening kickoff that we’re ready to go. The more I can hit the throws and make the right checks, all that kind of stuff, the better we’re going to be.”

4. The defense has to stop the run and the Bears have a dynamic duo in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen who are two different kinds of backs. “Jordan Howard, a big powerful guy, downhill type of back, who has enough speed, keeps the ball rolling for them. Tarik is very dynamic, very explosive, (he can) do it all, he runs between the tackles, he runs outside, he runs routes, catches passes, screens, they get him involved a lot of different ways,’’ safety Glover Quin said. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us. We have to identify who’s in the ball game and understand how to play against each guy’s skill sets because they are two dynamic players.’’ And he noted that at times both backs are on the field together.

5. Mitchell Trubisky is a young quarterback who has shown much improvement over last season, completing 64.2 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He’s also mobile quarterback.  “If things break down and he runs and there’s a receiver open, he’s going to throw it to that receiver as he’s advancing towards the line of scrimmage. He has more of a tendency to put the ball away and go with it as opposed to trying to get outside the pocket, reset, look downfield and throw the ball,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said.

PREDICTION: Bears 24, Lions 17

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Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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