Bears-Lions Game Preview

We break down this weekend's NFC North contest between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions, including matchups to watch, statistics of note, keys to the game and more.

Series History

The Chicago Bears (3-0) and Detroit Lions (2-1) are first and second respectively in the NFC North. It will be the 167th meeting between the two franchises, with the Bears holding a 96-65-5 (.596) advantage in the series. The first meeting came in 1930, when the Lions franchise was known as the Portsmouth Spartans. Chicago's 96 wins against the Lions are the most against any single opponent.

The Bears have won nine of the last 10 games in the series. Chicago holds a 6-5 edge over Detroit at Ford Field since the stadium opened in 2002.

Injuries

CB Charles Tillman (knee/groin) is a game-time decision, although coach Marc Trestman said he believes the 11-year veteran will suit up.

"We're reasonably optimistic that he'll be playing," Trestman said yesterday. "He'll work out the next couple of days and continue to get treatment. But like I said, I'm optimistic. I was last week and I am again that he'll be ready to go."

If Tillman can't play, Zack Bowman, who is listed as probably with a knee injury, will get the start. CB Sherrick McManis (quad) is doubtful.

Henry Melton (knee) was placed on injured reserve this week. The Bears filled his roster spot with veteran Landon Cohen, although it's unlikely he'll dress this week.

The Lions will get RB Reggie Bush (knee) back this week, which is a big boost for their offense.

View the full injury report here.

Bears on Offense

Chicago's Offensive Rankings
Points Scored: 3rd (31.7)
Total Offense: 22nd (330.7)
Rushing Offense: 17th (105.0)
Passing Offense: 21st (225.7)

Detroit's Defensive Rankings
Points Allowed: 16th (23.0)
Total Defense: 18th (337.0)
Rushing Defense: 15th (104.0)
Passing Defense: 185h (262.0)
Turnvoer Ratio: 6th (+3)

Matchups to Watch

G Kyle Long vs. DT Ndamukong Suh
Suh has more fines than sacks this year but he's still a force on the inside. It's likely the Bears will double down on him, in the same fashion they did Geno Atkins in Week 1, yet Long will still get plenty of 1-on-1 opportunities. Suh is an aggressive, powerful pass rusher whom many consider one of the dirtiest players in the game. Long has steadily improved this year and if he can keep Suh at bay, the Bears will gain an instant advantage. It could also lead to some extracurricular activity from Suh, which will benefit the Bears.

For his part, Suh said this week he's ready to face Chicago's rookie phenom.

"We will see how well prepared he is to block me when we play on Sunday," said Suh this week. "That's their opinion. That's their choice. That's their draft. That's not anything of my concern. I just look forward to digesting whoever I have in front me."

WR Brandon Marshall vs. CB Chris Houston
Houston is an underrated cover corner who has done very well against Marshall in his career. In two meetings combined last year, Houston held Marshall to 11 catches, 123 yards and 1 TD. Against one of the premiere receivers in the league, that's not bad. Marshall is coming off his worst performance of the season – a five catch, 52-yard effort against Pittsburgh, a game in which Ike Taylor kept him in check – and could get frustrated if Houston gets the better of him.

Keys on Offense

-If Houston is able to wrap up Marshall, then Alshon Jeffery needs to again step up to the plate, as he did last week with his 7-catch, 51-yard performance. Jeffery will square off against rookie Darius Slay, who has struggled this year in coverage. This is a matchup in which Jeffery should dominate.

-Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy has been very good this season. He leads the Lions in total tackles (16) and interceptions (2), one of which he returned 66 yards for a touchdown. Keeping tabs on him will be crucial for Chicago's offensive line if Matt Forte is to have success on the ground.

-Speaking of Forte, he has feasted on the Lions during his career. In 10 games against Detroit, Forte has amassed 877 rushing yards on 181 carries (4.8 avg.) and five touchdowns. He's also added 29 catches for 322 yards and three touchdowns. If he has his typical dominant performance, it will be very tough for the Lions to corral both him and still keep Jay Cutler in check.

-And speaking of Cutler, he has also dominated against Detroit. He's 7-1 in his career against the Lions, completing 158 of 248 pass attempts (64 percent), for 1,822 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception, good for a 100.2 passer rating. Cutler is playing arguably the best football of his career and has been clutch when the Bears have needed him most. His 108.2 4th-quarter passer rating is seventh best in the league this year.

-The Lions lost DE Jason Jones for the season yet his backup, Willie Young, has played very will in limited snaps this year. He'll square off against Jordan Mills, who has struggled in pass protection the last two weeks. Expect the Bears to give Mills help in the form of TE Martellus Bennett off the edge but when he's 1-on-1 with Young, as well as Esekial Ansah, Mills must perform better than he has recently.

Bears on Defense

Chicago's Defensive Rankings
Total Defense: 25th (383.0)
Rushing Defense: 8th (88.7)
Passing Defense: 24th (294.3)
Turnover Ratio: 2nd (+6)

Detroit's Offensive Rankings
Points Scored: 6th (27.3)
Total Offense: 4th (410.7)
Rushing Offense: 26th (74.7)
Passing Offense: 2nd (336.0)

Matchups to Watch

CB Charles Tillman vs. WR Calvin Johnson
Tillman is banged up but he's expected to play. The Bears will need him, as Tillman has always played Johnson tough. Last season he held Megatron to just eight catches for 106 yards and no touchdowns in two games combined. Again, not too shabby. When Johnson and Matthew Stafford catch fire, they are nearly impossible to stop, so Tillman once again must be on his game.

LB James Anderson vs. RB Reggie Bush
Anderson has been very good this year. He leads the Bears in total tackles (29) and pass breakups (3), and is second in tackles for loss (2). Bush is a deadly weapon out of the backfield, a potential homerun hitter every time he touches the ball. Anderson will likely be tasked with shadowing Bush as a receiver, meaning it will be his job to make sure Bush doesn't exploit Chicago's defense in the open field.

Keys on Defense

-Detroit's offensive line has allowed just two sacks on the season. At the same time, the Bears have struggled to generate pass rush with the front four. The Bears pressured Ben Roethlisberger last week but they had to blitz to do it. But when the blitz didn't apply pressure, Roethlisberger hurt the defense. That would be a recipe for disaster against the Lions, who have the league's second-ranked pass offense. If the Bears are going to blitz, they'd better finish, or the Lions could have a field day through the air.

-Joique Bell is the power running back in Detroit's offense. He leads the team in yards on the ground (116) and has three rushing touchdowns. If he gets going between the tackles, that will force Major Wright into the box, which will open the deep part of the field for Megatron. Chicago's front seven must shut down Bell and Bush early and force the Lions into a one-dimensional attack, which is when the turnovers usually happen. Defensive tackle Nate Collins, in his first start with the Bears, needs be stout in the middle.

-If Johnson gets his, it's not the end of the world. The Bears have weathered the storm of two huge games from opposing wide receivers – A.J. Green's 9-catch, 162-yard, 2TD performance in Week 1, and Antonio Brown 9-catch, 196-yard, 2-TD performance last week. To hold the Lions' passing attack in check, Chicago must hold Detroit's secondary receivers in check. That includes Bush and also slot receiver Ryan Broyles, who has good explosiveness after the catch.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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