DETROIT LIONS VS CHICAGO BEARS
DETROIT: WR/KR Eddie Drummond (ankle/knee), P John Jett (calf) and WR Charles Rogers (collarbone) OUT. S Corey Harris (neck), S Terrence Holt (concussion), T Stockar McDougle (shoulder) CB Jimmy Wyrick (ankle) QUESTIONABLE. QB Joey Harrington (finger) PROBABLE.
CHICAGO: WR Marty Booker (ankle), WR Ahmad Merritt (neck) out. TE Desmond Clark (toe), DE Phillip Daniels (toe), LB Warrick Holdman (ankle), RB Adrian Peterson (ankle), QB Kordell Stewart (leg), RB Anthony Thomas (foot) and DT Keith Traylor (knee) QUESTIONABLE. S Mike Green (groin) PROBABLE
SERIES: CHICAGO 82-59-5
LAST MEETING: Former Michigan State product Paul Edinger booted a 22-yard field goal into a swirling win to defeat the Lions on the last play of regulation 20-17 in the infamous "We'll take the wind" game of the Marty Mornhinweg regime.
(ALLEN PARK) -- They're going to switch starting quarterbacks.
At least the Chicago Bears are switching. Kordell Stewart, signed as a free agent in the off-season from Pittsburgh, will head back to the bench for the second time in two weeks and in as many seasons. Meanwhile, veteran Chris Chandler will start at the quarterback for the Bears this Sunday against the Lions at Soldier Field in downtown Chicago.
While Chandler is not a running threat, he is a better passer and more adept at reading defenses than Stewart. And while some in the media think that Bears' coach Dick Jauron could be "playing possum" in his selection of quarterbacks, Lions coach Steve Mariucci fully expects that Chandler will start and play most of the game.
I dont expect Dick (Jauron) to lie. If they say hes starting [Chandler], hes going to start. Do I expect him to go the whole way? Well, we practiced for Kordell (Stewart), some of that stuff today, in case he plays. We prepare mainly for Chris, and then a few special wrinkles for Kordell.
Stewart who is suffering from a "deep thigh bruise" gave way to Chandler as the starter in last week's 24-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. While fans are chanting for first round draft pick Rex Grossman of Florida, Jauron had made the right call and steadfastly refused to play the rookie, but with the pressure mounting, as it did on Marty Mornhinweg and Matt Millen last season for Detroit with Joey Harrington, the former Lion at the helm of the Bears seems to be closer to relenting and playing Grossman.
Meanwhile, Mariucci had a quarterback decision of his own to make. After some inward wrangling and some input from the powers-that-be above him, the coach decided to stick with Harrington, the NFL's 31st rated passer in an attempt to win the team's first road game in three years.
Its hard for me to comment on [all 16 games of the road losing streak], it really is, said Mariucci. Ive seen some of them on film, not all of them and I cant tell you the circumstances. I can only talk to you about our Green Bay, our Denver and our San Francisco games. All good opponents, and on those given days they outplayed us. Green Bay beat us good. The other two teams I thought we played pretty evenly. We just have to play better on the road against good teams against everybody.
Mariucci said earlier in the week that he would try to scheme and game plan to get his receivers off the line of scrimmage and create some separation from opposing defensive backs. It appears that Mariucci is going attempt to do this by giving more playing time to third-year man Scotty Anderson and veteran Shawn Jefferson at the expense of both Az-Zahir Hakim and Bill Schroeder.
I dont see it where one guy is going to get 60 snaps and the backup gets four. I think the load will be shared a little bit more evenly than that.
And Mariucci insisted there is going to be more competition for playing time and those that produce in practice...and in the games will get the ball more. Youve got Az (Hakim), who is still battling some injuries, and Shawn Jefferson, who just got back to practice today from being home. Billy (Schroeder) and Scotty (Anderson), too, they will all share the load. Youll probably see Scotty more than you did last week and Shawn Jefferson more than you did last week too.
The Bears had expected to get Marty Booker back in this contest after he was unable to play in Seattle following a severely sprained ankle, but Booker has been ruled out. That will hurt the Bears because Booker is one of their top playmaking receivers.
Anthony Thomas, the former first round draft pick and former University of Michigan star, has been upgraded to questionable and likely will get some snaps against Detroit.
Defending the Bears
Look for Chicago to continue to stick with their ball control offense against Detroit's not so stellar defensive unit (25th ranked run defense). Chicago will trot out Rabih Adbullah and rookie Brock Forsey as their running backs.
Forsey is an unknown to most Lions fans. The 6th-round pick from Boise State rushed for 1,611 yards after making the team as a walk on. This organization has a lot of tradition, especially at running back. It's a cool thing to be a part of. The anticipation of actually being in there, I'll be a bit tense. After the first play, once you're in there, your mind kind of goes into game mode and you phase out everything else.
Do not at all be surprised though, if this duo does not catch fire, that Thomas gets more snaps as the game progresses. Chicago is intent on establishing the run game to keep Detroit's defense from pinning its ears back against Chandler in obvious pass situations.
Without Booker, Chandler will still have a good group of receivers to throw to including Dez White (23 catches 295 yards 1TD), former University of Michigan product David Terrell (14 catches for 107 yards and 1TD) and tight end Desmond Clark (19 catches for 166 yards and 1TD). Detroit hopes that veteran corner Otis Smith can rebound from a three TD torching at the hands of Dallas wide receiver Terry Glenn and cover one of the Bears trio leaving the other for rookie corner Rod Babers who continues to improve. Chicago will likely shy away from Detroit's best player, corner Dre' Bly, who returned a fumble for the Lions only touchdown in last week's 38-7 drubbing by Dallas.
While Detroit's Dan Wilkinson is having a fine year after being signed as a free agent, Detroit could use better production from linebacker Earl Holmes and defensive ends James Hall and Robert Porcher. Holmes needs to stay at home and not over run traps and mis-direction.
Detroit likes the play of Shaun Rogers who sheds blockers and helps stuff the run in the middle and Wilkinson is benefiting from the double team on Rogers, but Porcher and Hall have yet to show anything in the pass rush and little against the run. With Kalimba Edwards and Cory Redding getting healthy, someone is going to lose some playing time.
While Detroit's rookie linebacker Boss Bailey has played well in pass coverage, he will be challenged by Clark. It would help Detroit's cause if Barrett Green became more productive in both the run game and passing game. The team has slowed contract extension talks with Green who has underachieved throughout his four year career after being converted from strong safety.
No matter how it turns out, we're really going to have to run the ball on [their] front four and keep our defense off the field, said Bears offensive coordinator John Shoop.
Detroit will take a different approach. Look for quarterback Joey Harrington to be super conservative with the ball underneath after he nearly lost his job with his third straight two interception performance which spotted Dallas fourteen points. If he's going to make a mistake this week, it'll be throwing the ball down the field.
Harrington will look to his running backs more in the passing game and if no one is open, he'll throw it into the group like he did earlier this season. Watch for Detroit to also try to throw the ball deeper than they have in the past. Detroit will try to use receivers Scotty Anderson and Bill Schroeder in the intermediate zones that they seem to have forgotten about in their west coast offense. An occasional 'bomb' is also not out of the picture. None of Detroit's receivers rank in the top 40 of the NFL.
However, Detroit's Jeff Backus will have a challenge keeping Bears defensive end Phillip Daniels out of the Lions backfield. An outstanding pass rusher, Daniels is expected back for the Bears just in time for Sunday's contest after being sidelined with a sprained toe.
Detroit will try to revitalize a run game that has bordered on morbid since the loss of James Stewart. Olandis Gary (NFL rank tied for 37th) and Shawn Bryson (NFL rank 35th) have split the load, but maybe it's time for Detroit to give 20 carries to little Avon Cobourne and see what he can do.
What do you want to talk to me for," asked Cobourne, "I ain't doing nothing. Detroit saw something in the speedy little back, maybe he can do something against Chicago.
What has happened to tight end Mikhael Ricks (12 catches, zero vs. Dallas) is one of the bigger mysteries of the 2003 season. Ricks never saw the ball against Dallas and undrafted rookie Casey Fitzsimmons was seemingly on the field more than last year's pro bowl alternate.
Ricks says he just wants to be ready when his number is called, but something strange is happening. Ricks can get down the field although he isn't much of a blocker. In the words of Aretha Franklin 'use what you have, to get what you want.'
Detroit needs to make better use of Ricks even if he isn't what they want in a tight
There aren't many times when the kicker on the other side of the field is superior to Lions veteran Jason Hanson but this is one of those times. Bears kicker Paul Edinger has supplanted Hanson as the best kicker in the division and one of the best in the NFL.
Detroit is at a disadvantage in the special teams battle with punter John Jett out of the lineup. Nick Harris struggled in his first appearance as a Lion and it can only get worse playing outdoors.
While Joey Harrington was named the starter, if he gets off to a poor start, don't be surprised if Mariucci shuttles Mike McMahon in to get a spark. Harrington is likely on a shorter leash than ever with Mariucci. While this is a perfect time for Detroit to get a road win, Chicago is also thinking this is the perfect time for a home win.
While it goes against everything he's shown this season, I think Harrington will come out and play a stellar game now that he knows he's not untouchable in Detroit. Pressure can be an amazing motivator.
This game, between two of the NFL's worst teams, is likely to be decided by who makes the most errors. That doesn't bode well for a mistake prone Lion team that looked like Keystone cops against Dallas last Sunday.
One silver lining in all of this that Lions fans can take heart is that if Detroit loses this one, it puts Matt Millen, the worst GM in all of football, one step closer to being out of the door.
Detroit 17 -- Chicago 16