The Bears are hopeful starting right tackle John Tait (knee) will return after missing the last three games. Aaron Gibson was a stopgap at best the last few weeks in his absence. Line play has suffered, as the Bears have lost left guard Ruben Brown for the season, and right guard has been unsettled all year. On the right side, Mike Gandy was ineffective, injured, and then cut. The perpetually injured Rex Tucker came off yet another injury to return, where he too was ineffective and then met a new injury and was placed on injured reserve. The current guards are expected to be Terrence Metcalf and Steve Edwards. Both players were tackles coming out of college and were expected to maul in the running game. At left tackle, the return of Marc Colombo has meant a challenge for the struggling Qasim Mitchell. Both players saw action last week and neither was effective. The Bears are hoping that Colombo will continue to get better and take ownership of the spot. Whoever sees action there will have their hands full with James Hall, who has quietly put together a huge season rushing the passer (11.5 sacks) after only having 11.5 sacks in his previous 4 campaigns.
Fullback Bryan Johnson's foot is likely to require surgery and he is not expected to return this season. Jason McKie has filled in well for him. Running back Thomas Jones has not appeared on the injury report in several weeks, but has not shown the same burst since his turf toe injury. Losing linebacker Boss Bailey opened an opportunity for Lions' rookie Teddy Lehman to start. He hasn't disappointed, and made a big play in the first contest with the Bears. His speed is a key factor, especially since Offensive Coordinator Terry Shea singled out his corps as lacking "fast twitch" players when compared to other offenses he has observed. Cornerback Fernando Bryant (ankle) has missed significant playing time this season, and is questionable this week. The Lions have given considerable playing time to several depth players recently in their secondary, especially cornerback Keith Smith and safety Terrence Holt.
Look for the Lions to study recent film of the Bears and determine that blitzing off the edge is the way to go. Meanwhile, the Bears will look to find a way to put points on the board after yet another embarrassing output last week against the Texans. They have not been patient with their running game. If they hope to have any chance keeping James Hall off of Chad Hutchinson, they will need to successfully run the ball. While the Bears kept running the ball in the first half of last week's game, pass protection was good. As soon as the mix of run to pass was tilted to the air, things got bad for Hutchinson. It's time to figure these things out and plan accordingly.
The Bears' linebacker corps is decimated by injuries. Brian Urlacher's season came to an end this week as he was put on injured reserve. He will be replaced by Hunter Hillenmeyer. Hillenmeyer played well enough backing up Urlacher earlier in the season to secure a spot on the strong side when Urlacher had returned to action. The challenge gets tougher as young and hungry rookie Kevin Jones (938 rushing yards) has emerged as a force to be reckoned with. Jones was recently named as an alternate for the Pro Bowl. The injuries at linebacker forced Marcus Reese into the lineup. Reese is an undersized linebacker who struggles against the run. If he can't get the job done, the hook might be quick to revert back to Joe Odom, who wasn't impressive in previous starts this season. Odom was nicked up last week as well. Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye has been on and off the injury report all season with a lower leg injury. He's back on the report this week. If he struggles, Michael Haynes will see additional reps. Haynes has flashed big play ability when given an opportunity. Wide receiver Tai Streets has missed some practice time this week but is expected to play. He and Az-Zahir Hakim have combined for 56 receptions. They have done their best to fill in opposite rookie sensation Roy Williams after Charles Rogers was lost early in the year.
The Lions will miss wide receiver Eddie Drummond, not as a receiver but as a special teams superstar. Drummond was their top kick and punt return specialist, and had four returns for touchdowns through the first 11 games. Drummond was placed on the injured reserve this week. Reggie Swinton has been adequate as his replacement. Additionally, the recent loss of long snapper Jody Littleton was a costly one. His replacement, rookie Don Muhlbach, had a poor snap on an extra point that would have sent last week's game into overtime.
Expect the Lions to test the Bears' run defense which ranks 25th in the league. Look for the Bears to find ways to get to quarterback Joey Harrington. Harrington used to be one of the most difficult quarterbacks to sack, but has been an easier target this season. This is likely due to his hanging in the pocket longer to make things happen. He's had mixed success, upping his touchdown pass total to 17, but his completion percentage is still rather low at 55 percent, especially for a West Coast Offense-based scheme.