Five things to watch as Lions look to bounce back against Bears; plus prediction

Lions coach Dan Campbell

While the Chicago Bears have lost eight straight, they aren’t a team that can be overlooked. That’s the word that coach Dan Campbell preached this week.

The Lions (7-8) are still clinging to a playoff dream and need a win against the Bears (3-12) on Sunday at Ford Field to keep that dream alive.The Bears were torched by the Bills, 35-13, on Christmas eve and have lost 11 of their last 12.

“This is the Buffalo Bills as far as we’re concerned,’’ Campbell said.

In their first matchup, Detroit eked out a 31-30 win over the Bears at Chicago on Nov. 13. The Lions are coming off a brutal 37-23 loss at Carolina. 

“I know these coaches, and I know these players and I know what they’re made of, and I just go back to the fact that this team is assembled for a reason. So, there is nothing that would tell me that these guys won’t bounce back,’’ Campbell said. 

Five things to watch:

1. Find a way to stop quarterback Justin Fields. In their first meeting, Fields had 13 carries for 147 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 67-yard scamper late in the game. He also passed for 167 yards, two touchdowns and one interceptions. “He is the X-factor for that team, and it shows all over the tape,’’ LIons defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “The No. 1 thing that we’ve learned (from the first matchup) is how strong this player is, and we had him wrapped up a couple times in that game. We missed a tackle on him, and listen, he’s an athletic player. He’s going to make some plays. I mean, that’s just the crux. He’s going to do that. The things that we have to do is be able to eliminate the big plays that he’s able to make, and he made a couple of plays against us. So, we have to do everything in our power to be able to stop those plays, and I’m not just talking about him running. I’m talking about him passing the ball also.”

2. Along with stopping Fields, overall the defense has to stop the run. They were pathetic against the Panthers, allowing 320 rushing yards (240 in the first half). They knew Carolina was going to run and yet they looked unprepared. And even after the Panthers got off to a fast start with their ground game, the defense didn’t appear to have any answers. They have to prove they are better than how they played that game. 

3. Lions have to find the same run game they had going early in the season. It’s been a struggle of late. In the loss at Carolina they managed just 45 rushing yards averaging 2.6 yards per carry. That won’t cut it. “So, we’re not even getting our guys back to the line scrimmage and allowing our backs to potentially break tackles or get on the post safety and that’s where early in the year those guys were so dangerous because they were making guys miss at the second and third levels and getting these 50-yard runs,’’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “And it takes everybody, it’s not just the O-line, tight ends play a big role in it, our receivers got to continue to do some dirty work and us as coaches we’ve got to look in the mirror as well and making sure we’re putting our guys in the right positions because I can tell you right now there’s a few times over the last couple of weeks we’re not putting our guys in good spots. So, we’re addressing that and we’ll make sure that we are sound and giving them a chance.”

4. Jared Goff has gone seven straight games (5-2) without throwing an interception and it’s not because he’s playing it safe. He’s found success with the deep ball. ​​”I felt like he’s been capable of making any throw, second level or deep, and like I said, it really comes down to us getting past the guys. Do we like the matchup on the outside or we feel confident we’re going to get over the top of safeties? And then, like I said, the more reps we get with these wideouts, and see them come down and make a contested catch, the more trust he has to go ahead and pull that trigger,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “I would say he probably could have done it a little bit more last game too. There were a couple other opportunities, so we’re continuing to encourage him to do that, and really start some practice for us where we’re getting in that groove.”

5. No one can say if rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams will have a bigger role against the Bears. In his three games Williams has had just one catch. He was on the field for 11 offensive snaps against the Panthers. He’s building trust with Goff but there’s a ton of competition for the ball. “We try to work in all of our playmakers. He’s certainly in that group, but I think D.J. (Chark)’s shown that he’s going to make big plays for us. (Amon-Ra) St. Brown has been our most consistent player over the course of the season. We’d be getting a lot of criticism if we’re not giving him the touches,’’ Johnson said. “Our backs are really good players when the ball’s in their hands, so I mean we have a lot of talent spread out. Each week, guys have plays in the gameplan, and it’s a matter of whether the situation, the defense allows us to get it to our primary receiver or not. So, no, I don’t think we’re pressing to force the ball to anybody. We’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, and if that means he gets a 100-yard game this week, then great, but I’d like all of our skill players to have that because really, honestly, they’re dangerous like that. All of them are.’’

(Prediction: Lions 35, Bears 21)

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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