Bears vs. Lions: What to Watch for on Sunday

After last Sunday's drubbing of the Packers in Green Bay, the Bears open the Soldier Field schedule with a noon showdown against the new-look Detroit Lions this Sunday. In Week 1, Lovie Smith's team looked like Super Bowl contenders in the NFC, while Rod Marinelli's crew lost despite giving Seattle all that they could handle. Here are 10 things for watch for on game day.

1. Are the Bears that good, or are the Packers that bad?
The Bears were absolutely dominant against the Packers in every capacity. The offense moved the ball most of the day, the defense pitched a shutout at Brett Favre for the first time in his illustrious career, and the special teams produced both a turnover and a touchdown. The Lions will most certainly put up much more of a fight, so Week 2 should be a better indicator of how far the Bears have come since last season.

2. Will Thomas Jones continue to share the ball with Cedric Benson?
Although Benson did not get a carry in the first half against Green Bay, he rushed the ball 11 times for 34 yards in the second half. Jones was the starter and quite obviously the featured back (21 carries for 63 yards), but is he going to continue splitting duties with Benson late in games, or was Benson's significant action last week simply a product of a blowout? The locker room has been behind Jones ever since training camp gathered in Bourbonnais, but he is still yet to separate himself as the better tailback this year despite plenty of chances.

3. Is Hunter Hillenmeyer going to be active and in the starting lineup?
Hillenmeyer missed some of last Sunday's game after suffering a mild concussion, and the training staff has been very cautious with him this week in practice. Brendon Ayanbadejo will get the start at strongside linebacker if Hillenmeyer can't go, and although he is a quality replacement, Ayanbedejo will have to surrender some of his duties on special teams. He is truly one of the outstanding special-teamers in the NFL, so he will be missed on the coverage units.

4. Can Rex Grossman continue his hot start in the passing game?
Sure, Grossman still threw one bad interception and didn't produce a touchdown in the red zone, but overall, most Bears fans were ecstatic with his Week 1 performance. He hit Muhsin Muhammad half a dozen times for over 100 yards, worked tight end Desmond Clark in the middle to the tune of five grabs and 77 yards, and he took a shot downfield when the opportunity was there and cashed in a 49-yard TD pass to Bernard Berrian. Remember he was booed off the field the last time he laced it up at Soldier Field, so he needs to win back the crowd in a hurry.

5. Is Mark Anderson a flash in the pan or a legitimate contributor?
The rookie defensive end out of Alabama shook off a nagging hamstring injury to play the final preseason game in Cleveland, and he was tearing up the backfield with regularity when he got in the game. With Alex Brown still nursing a dislocated shoulder and Israel Idonije not 100% yet after rolling an ankle, Anderson was in the rotation in Green Bay and produced a sack and a tackle-for-loss on consecutive plays. Anderson slipped in the draft because he was a little bit of a 'tweener, but he's been getting rave reviews lately.

6. Will Mike Martz's offensive wizardry re-emerge at Soldier Field?
He may be an egomaniac, but nobody can deny that Martz is one of the most brilliant offensive minds to come along in a generation. The Lions almost pulled out a huge upset against the defending NFC champion Seahawks last week, but a 9-6 final score doesn't exactly suggest that the game was a track meet. Jon Kitna is a solid veteran quarterback with potential big-play weapons around him - tailback Kevin Jones and wideout Roy Williams in particular - but if he couldn't find the end zone at home against Seattle, the odds of busting out on the road against the Bears aren't in his favor.

7. Has Rod Marinelli turned around the Lions defense that quickly?
Detroit was a middle-of-the-pack defensive unit by the numbers last year, and aside from Shaun Rogers up front and Dre' Bly in the secondary, they were devoid of household names. Marinelli has brought the cover-two system to the Motor City, and according to Bears head coach Lovie Smith, they employ about 80% of the same looks that the Bears do. Rookie linebacker Ernie Sims looks like a star in the making on the weak side, and not only is Rogers a one-man wrecking crew at times, he has a knack for finding a crease and blocking field goals.

8. Will the Bears ever find their secondary wide receiver?
Berrian made his presence felt on the opening drive in Green Bay when he got behind the defense and hauled in a 49-yard TD strike from Grossman, but that was his only catch. Slot man Rashied Davis was only able to manage one reception for eight yards, and neither Mark Bradley (hip) nor Justin Gage (ribs) was active because of nagging injuries. It looks like Muhammad can still be a primary target and Clark is still capable at tight end, but without trying to sound like a broken record, somebody has to step up at receiver in order for Grossman to be all he can be.

9. How much will Smith and Marinelli's friendship be a factor?
Smith and Marinelli go back a long way, having both served on Tony Dungy's staff in Tampa Bay and even being roommates at one time. Both of them are old school defensive coaches who have implemented the ever-popular cover-two scheme, so there will be very little one of them can do on that side of the ball that the other hasn't seen before. Smith does have the advantage, however, considering he has spoon fed his philosophy over the course of three years, while Marinelli is just getting started with his overhaul.

10. Can Soldier Field be a factor when the Lions are on offense?
This will be the first time the Bears have played before a packed-to-the-gills home crowd since last season's disappointing playoff loss to Carolina, and expectations for this team are the highest they have been in recent memory. Martz's approach involves a lot of motion, formation shifts, and calls at the line of scrimmage, so a rambunctious effort from the Chicago faithful could give the Lions some trouble since they are still learning a new offensive scheme. The defense will no doubt be encouraging the ticket-holders all day long.


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