DETROIT LIONS (5-11) VS CHICAGO BEARS (7-9)
SOLDIER FIELD, CHICAGO, IL 1:00PM EST.
ALL TIME: LIONS LEAD 83-60-5
LAST MEETING: DETROIT 12 - CHICAGO 10
INJURY REPORT: Detroit Lions - OUT: LB Boss Bailey (knee); T Matt Joyce (elbow); TE John Owens (ankle)
PROBABLE: LB James Davis (ankle); DE Kalimba Edwards (groin); S Brock Marion (knee); DT Cory Redding (shoulder); RB Paul Smith (shoulder)
OUT: CB Jerry Azumah (neck); LB Marcus Reese (hamstring); G Rex Tucker (elbow)
QUESTIONABLE: CB R.W. McQuarters (hamstring); LB Brian Urlacher (hamstring)
PROBABLE: TE Desmond Clark (hamstring); P Brad Maynard (hamstring); RB Anthony Thomas (side)
(ALLEN PARK) - The Lions couldn't have asked for a better opponent on a better day than to draw the Chicago Bears - a team that starts a second-year quarterback, that is installing a new offense and that just traded their best receiver - even if it is on the road for opening day.
Detroit's three-year long (24 game) road losing streak can be snapped Sunday if the Lions can win several key matchups while establishing the run.
Conversely, they must prevent the strong Chicago offensive line from pounding on them while trying to force second year quarterback Rex Grossman into mistakes.
"I'm sure they're going to try to jump some routes on us or bait me into thinking I have something open when really they're all over it - things like that," said Grossman.
"I've just got to be smart and understand what we're trying to do on offense. Hopefully I'll see things clearly and make good decisions out there. That's my goal for the game is to make good decisions and when the opportunities come, I have to make a play."
For the Lions, they have protected rookie Kevin Jones to a fault this preseason. Seldom seen and seldom run during the preseason, the Lions believe they have a star in the making in the Virginia Tech star and hope to unleash him on Chicago Sunday.
"I'm just waiting to see what will happen this weekend and then judge it from there," said Jones.
"This is the first regular season game. After I experience it, I can tell you about it. I don't expect it to be too much different from the preseason. Of course it's going to be a little more live and I'll get more carries and things like that but that will help me out. I think I'll get into my rhythm better and I'll be able to read things easier."
Detroit hopes Jones can give them the running threat they haven't had since Hall of Famer Barry Sanders retired and Billy Sims was slashing through opposing defenses.
For his part, Lions coach Steve Mariucci still isn't saying if Jones will start ahead of second-year back Artose Pinner, but both will play.
"I don't know [who's going to start]," said Lions head coach Steve Mariucci. "We haven't decided that yet. It is not going to matter because those two guys (Jones and RB Artose Pinner) - Rock 'em and Sock 'em - are going to be alternating in there. Shawn Bryson will start in certain personnel groups as well. It'll be Kevin and 'Tuse."
Despite Chicago having installed the West Coast offense under new head coach Lovie Smith, their strength lies in their big offensive line consisting of Quasim Mitchell, Ruben Brown, Olin Kreutz, Mike Gandy and John Tait.
Chicago hopes to run the ball with new starting running back Thomas Jones enough to establish a passing game with Grossman looking to his No. 1 target, former University of Michigan wide receiver David Terrell.
Tackle Stockar McDougle vs Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye - After recording 15 sacks for the Miami Dolphins last season, the Bears acquired Ogunleye for their top receiving threat Marty Booker.
"We thought going after 'Wally' was very big as far as what we would like to do defensively," said new Bears head coach Lovie Smith. "We'll blitz and do different things, but I still think the base, the foundation that you lay really on the defensive side of the football is with your front four."
"We felt like we needed another pass rusher and to be able to get a player like that - the draft is over and you're getting ready to go to camp so you think it's over," continued Smith. "For us to be able to get a guy like that was something else. After he got here, too, to see what type of person he is. We couldn't ask for anything more. We're building around him along with other defensive players."
McDougle will draw the task of keeping Ogunleye out of the Lions backfield. An early litmus test for McDougle. If he can show that he can handle a high profile pass rusher like Ogunleye consistently, he can legitimately ask for the big bucks that top right tackles receive. If not, the future could be Kelly Butler at right tackle.
For this week, it will be crucial for McDougle to establish the line of scrimmage because Detroit would love to run right at Ogunleye who is a top pass rusher, but not as good against the run.
Wide receiver Charles Rogers vs. corner Charles Tillman - Lions quarterback Joey Harrington's favorite receiver throughout the preseason was Rogers and for good reason. With a year in the West Coast system, Rogers knows the holes in defenses and has the sticky hands and speed to make defenses pay.
"This will be my first time playing against Chicago and my first time playing in Soldier Field," said Rogers. "The Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears have a great history so I'm just glad to be a part of that rivalry."
Tillman has a tendency to get too agressive and often gets flagged for pass interference. Fortunately for him, he's backed by two quality safeties in Mike Brown and Mike Green, but look for Rogers to try to exploit Tillman's overagressive nature into some big plays for Detroit.
Fullback Cory Schlesinger vs. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher - Urlacher is one of the NFL's poster boys, which is the reason why Schlesinger relishes the opportunity to get after him.
"It's always a great challenge," said Schlesinger. "We kind of know each other pretty well. It's always fun to go out there and go against anybody that gets a lot of media attention like he does. It's always a challenge and I'm always up for it."
Detroit wants to get their offense in gear immediately. Not just their passing game, but their rushing game which was among the worst in the league a season ago. If Detroit can stay balanced, controlling the clock with short passes, it should result in a productive day.
"If we're going to do anything and be a balanced offense, it all starts up front with the running game and the line," said Lions guard Damien Woody.
"Kevin (Jones), Artose (Pinner), everybody, it's going to take a big effort from everybody. It's going to set up everything else. There's no need to have all these big fast targets outside if we can't run the ball so that's what we're looking to do first and foremost, get the ground game going. We definitely have a talented unit up front. Now it's just about putting everything together."
Don't underestimate the impact of tight end Stephen Alexander, now completely healthy and looking like a revelation, matched up against inexperienced Joe Odom. Look for Harrington to exploit this matchup.
"We had a lot of success in the preseason but it was in short spurts," said Harrington. "I'm looking forward to see how we respond after halftime, after a couple three and outs. It's a young group of guys and I want to see how people respond in a game situation."
If Detroit cannot move the chains, they'll count on Nick Harris to punt them out of trouble. Last season, Harris had his best career days as a first-year player in Detroit, averaging 44 yards per punt.
Detroit's defense must not allow Chicago's Thomas Jones and Anthony Thomas to establish the run against them. Detroit has struggled, even in the preseason against the run.
New starter Jared DeVries has historically been good vs. the run, but has added little in the pass rush. Completely healed Kalimba Edwards needs to give Detroit something as a situational edge rusher to prevent Grossman for sitting all day in the pocket and picking apart the Detroit defense.
Dre' Bly continues to set the tone for the Lions defense and hopes to bait the inexperienced Grossman into throwing the ball his way. "We finally get to suit up and it means something," said Bly. "We're looking forward to the game Sunday. I know my teammates are. We'll start off the season with a division game. We just have to be ready.
Bly is likely to be matched up against Terrell, leaving Fernando Bryant matched up against Bobby Wade.
PICK: The streak ends here. Detroit 27 - Chicago 13