Chicago Bears (3-3) at Detroit Lions (3-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Tim Ryan
SERIES: 152nd meeting. Bears lead the Lions 84-62-5, including a 38-6 romp in Week Two. The Lions won both meetings in 2004, including a disputed 19-13 victory at Ford Field in which an apparent TD pass from Chad Hutchinson to Bernard Berrian with 1:33 remaining was disallowed even after the replay official challenged the call on the field. Bears players still insist that Berrian had both feet down inbounds and possession of the ball, and replays seem to indicate the same.
2005 RANKINGS: Bears: offense 28th (11th rush, 30th pass); defense 3rd (4th rush, 9th pass). Lions: offense 27th (21st rush, 27th pass); defense 9th (13th rush, 12th pass)
PREDICTION: Lions 17-16
KEYS TO THE GAME: The health of Lions DT Shaun Rogers could be critical considering Bears RB Thomas Jones rushed for 139 yards in the first meeting against a far healthier Detroit defense. The Lions will also be without CB Dre Bly, but don't expect Chicago to attempt too many shots downfield against a defense with 13 interceptions unless the Lions are able to stuff the running game. The teams are playing for first place in the NFC North, and a loud home environment could give the Lions a leg up against rookie Bears QB Kyle Orton. The key for Detroit is sustaining drives against one of the league's best young defenses. However, RB Kevin Jones is averaging just 55.3 rushing yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry at home this season. Considering the Bears have allowed just one touchdown in 13 red-zone possessions this season, the Lions must get improved production from their ground game to capitalize on opportunities.
FAST FACTS: Bears: Have held consecutive opponents without a touchdown for the first time since 1987. ... Seek to become first franchise with 650 regular season victories. Lions: K Jason Hanson has converted his last six field-goal attempts from 50 yards or longer. ... Have a three-game home winning streak in series.
--RB Thomas Jones (sprained knee) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday but is still listed as probable and is expected to start on Sunday. He's been on a reduced practice schedule for three weeks but has rushed for 228 yards on 48 carries the past two Sundays.
--LG Ruben Brown (chest) returned to practice for the first time since he was injured on Oct. 9 but remains questionable and isn't expected to play Sunday.
--WR Bernard Berrian (thumb surgery, torn ligaments) is out 6-8 weeks and is expected to be put on injured reserve soon.
--P Brad Maynard practiced on Thursday after missing Wednesday and is expected to play on Sunday despite a nagging calf strain.
--WR Justin Gage should be back on the field after being inactive last week because of Bernard Berrian's thumb surgery. Gage began the season as a starter but has just two catches.
--DT Shaun Rogers did not practice Wednesday or Thursday but Lions coach Steve Mariucci did not rule the Pro Bowl defensive lineman out of the game Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Rogers has a knee injury, suffered last Sunday at Cleveland, but might be able to play with minimum practice time if he is physically up to it.
--PR/KR Eddie Drummond got more practice time Thursday than he's had since suffering a hyperextended knee three weeks ago. If he is healthy enough to play, he probably would return kickoffs and might also get playing time at wide receiver, where the Lions have been hit hard by injuries and the suspension of Charles Rogers.
--WR Roy Williams worked out in individual drills wearing his helmet but did not participate in any team drills because of the ongoing nature of his quadriceps injury. Coach Steve Mariucci says Williams will not play until he is able to practice at least once at 100 percent.
--FS Terrence Holt sat out the Lions' Thursday practice after being involved in a practice field collision a day earlier. Coach Steve Mariucci said he expects Holt to play Sunday against Chicago but wanted to give him time to rest after taking a jolt in the hip area.
--LT Jeff Backus got limited work in practice Thursday because of a sprained left ankle suffered two weeks ago against Carolina. Backus played at Cleveland on Sunday despite getting virtually no practice time but came out of the game without doing additional serious damage and is likely to play against Chicago next Sunday.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
If the next stage in the development of rookie Kyle Orton as an NFL quarterback includes improvement in completing the long ball, no one will be happier than Pro Bowl wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad.
Last year's NFL receiving yardage leader is averaging just 11.2 yards per catch, more than 2 yards less than his career average and almost 4 yards less than last year.
Orton has made huge strides in eliminating mistakes since his five-interception game against the Bengals. He's thrown just one pick and four TDs in the three games since then, but he still is struggling to connect on deep routes, even when receivers are open.
"You have a guy who hasn't played at this level," Muhammad said. "It takes time. I think it happens faster for some people, and for some people it doesn't happen as fast. But whatever the learning curve is for Kyle, only he can determine that, and the coaches have to evaluate that. Until that time, everyone else is going to have to pick up the slack."
Muhammad said there's a limit to how much practice will help him and Orton become more efficient collaborators.
"Practice is a lot different than games, so he has to learn how to hit those in the games," Muhammad said. "He's got to learn how to find the open guy and hit the open guy on the deep balls in the game. You can come out and practice when there's not pressure, but when that pressure's on in the game, that's where he has to find his comfort (level). How long it takes him to get to that point, I don't know."
Last season Muhammad led the NFL with 16 touchdown catches. He has just one this year, and his longest reception of the season is 28 yards. That's also the longest pass completion of the season for the Bears. But offensive coordinator Ron Turner believes it's only a matter of time before Orton starts clicking on the longer passes that the Bears need to stretch defenses that will only become more and more dedicated to stopping their running game.
"I think we're close," Turner said. "I think it's a matter of just keep doing it. As I have said all along, we wanted to establish the running game and keep that going. Getting the ball down the field would be the next part that comes."
Orton is confident that the solution is just around the corner. He's been working overtime on his footwork and expects the deep part of his game will improve sooner rather than later.
"It's one thing throughout my career I've been really good at is being real accurate on my deep balls," he said. "I think a little bit has to do with just being with the guys for just a couple months. It's going to get better, and I'll be completing most of those balls."
Cory Schlesinger isn't making any outrageous predictions, but conventional wisdom says Sunday could be a three-face mask game for the Lions' 11-year veteran fullback.
"I don't know," Schlesinger said. "I went through two last week; I'll at least go through one."
Schlesinger, who stands 6-0 and is listed at 247 pounds, is known among the Lions equipment men for demolishing face masks. He is the lead blocker for the Detroit running backs, and he is back to full-time duty after missing five games with a broken left fibula. He also plays on three special teams, and he approaches every block with 100 percent effort.
If he wrecked two face masks in part-time duty against the Cleveland Browns, imagine what he'll do playing virtually the entire game against Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.
The Schlesinger-Urlacher battles have become almost legendary since Urlacher came into the NFL in the 2000 season.
With Schlesinger out of action for the Lions' game against the Bears on Sept. 18, Urlacher admitted that there was something missing in preparation. He said playing against Schlesinger was a measuring stick because he felt he was playing against one of the NFL's best blocking fullbacks.
Schlesinger has some of the same feelings about Urlacher, and couldn't be happier to be making his return to full-time duty against Urlacher and the Bears, with the two teams battling for first place in the NFC North.
"It's always exciting to play against a high-profile guy like him," Schlesinger said. "If you want to get on TV or really stick out, you've got to hit guys like him and you've got to hit them really hard."
The Chicago game has extra meaning for the Lions because of their poor showing in the 38-6 loss at Soldier Field.
"They beat the heck out of us in Chicago so we definitely have to come back and prove (we're) not the team that they beat," Schlesinger said. "We've got to come back and play a much stronger game. It's also a division game and our goal is to win the division this year.
"If we want to win the division, we have to come out and win this game."