This time it's for real

Looks can be deceiving. <P> The Detroit Lions enter Soldier Field today with an NFL-record 24-game road losing streak. The Lions ranked dead-last in the league last season in total offense and rushing yards per game.

As much as those numbers might give Bears fans hope for optimism heading into today's regular season opener, remember this isn't last year's Lions. Known as the whipping boys of the NFC North, the Lions can create plenty of problems.

Remember Steve Mariucci and his staff have a year under their belts. Lovie Smith is a rookie head coach with a rookie defensive coordinator in Ron Rivera and a starting quarterback in Rex Grossman who has played 10 "real" quarters.

The Lions have two talented receivers in Charles Rogers and rookie Roy Williams. QB Joey Harrington enters his third season as the starter and now has the weapons on the outside. Throw in rookie running back Kevin Jones and the Bears defense -- with or without a hobbled R.W. McQuarters -- has its hands full.

The cornerback went from questionable to probable for the game with a right hamstring injury he suffered in the preseason.

"Injuries happen. They happen to all of us," McQuarters said Wednesday. "That's the nature of our business so you just deal with it. Right now I'm just dealing with it. Hopefully I can play (today), but who knows."

McQuarters was being picked on regularly in the preseason, while teams respected second-year corner Charles Tillman on the other side. Now if McQuarters can't go, the Bears are forced to use Todd McMillon and rookie Nathan Vasher. Both struggled mightily in the preseason.

The Bears will have to be prepared for four-receiver sets and a numerous offensive personnel changes. Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said in watching tapes of last season, Harrington threw to certain guys all the time. But during the preseason, Rivera said, Harrington was spreading the ball around and seems more confident in the offense.

"If you look at the west coast (offensive) teams, that's part of it," Rivera said. "They come out and give you different personnel groups almost every down. So will they do that? I think they will. Is it something that we're going to be concerned with? No, because I think we feel pretty comfortable with our guys."

For the Bears to be successful, the defensive line will have to get pressure on Harrington, who was one of the hardest QBs to bring down last season, but tied for a league-high with 22 picks. The Bears will need defensive end Adewale Ogunleye to earn his money by getting to Harrington and for the rest of the front four, notably rookie Tommie Harris, to get some pressure inside. If Harrington has time to throw against an already weak secondary, it could be the end of the losing streak.

Offensively, Grossman has to keep the Lions defense honest by completing some passes downfield. Chicago's offense thrived off of Thomas Jones' running during the preseason, but he needs Grossman's help to be successful.

"His job is to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers. That's all we ask of Rex," Bears offensive coordinator Terry Shea said.

Detroit at BEARS
Noon, today.
TV/Radio: FOX, WFLD-TV (Ch. 32)/WBBM-AM (780).

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