Gameday Preview: Lions (0-1) at Bears (1-0)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Lions' receivers are going to have to make more plays than they did in the season opener, especially going against a stout run defense that will focus on neutralizing RB Kevin Jones early. Many more notes as we preview Sunday's contest between Detroit and Chicago.

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Detroit Lions (0-1) at Chicago Bears (1-0)
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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 09/17/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Jay Glazer
SERIES: 153rd meeting in the second-longest rivalry in NFL history. The series began in 1930 when the Lions were the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans. They won the first game, 7-6, but the Bears hold an all-time edge of 85-62-5. The Lions lost both of last year's games, 38-6 and 19-13 in overtime.
2006 RANKINGS: Lions: offense 25th (30th rush, 13th pass); defense 10th (14th rush, 15th pass). Bears: offense 7th (12th rush, 6th pass); defense 12th (17th rush, 12th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Lions' receivers are going to have to make more plays than they did in the season opener, especially going against a stout run defense that will focus on neutralizing RB Kevin Jones early. If Chicago has a defensive weakness, it's in the secondary, but the Bears mask it well by getting consistent pressure on the passer. Offensively, QB Rex Grossman is coming off his best game as a pro in large part because he involved the running backs and TE Desmond Clark heavily in the passing game. He'll likely need to rely on them again to complement WRs Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian because DT Shaun Rogers and the Lions' run defense largely shut down MVP Shaun Alexander last Sunday.

FAST FACTS: Twelve of the past 16 meetings have been decided by eight points or less. Lions: P Nick Harris has had at least one punt down inside the 20-yard line in 19 consecutive games. ... QB Jon Kitna is 15-4 as a starter when he has a passer rating of 100.0 or better. Bears: Grossman's grandfather, Rex, played four games as a linebacker for Detroit in 1950. ... Muhammad needs two touchdown receptions for 50 in his career.

PREDICTION: Lions 13 - Bears 6

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Lions:

  • WR Az-Zahir Hakim might get playing time on a limited basis in the Lions' game Sunday at Chicago. He knows the slot position in Mike Martz's offense but has been working as a wideout in his first week of practice this week.
  • RT Rex Tucker, who missed most of training camp and the preseason with a knee injury, has practiced this week with the first offense and is likely to return to his starting job this week against the Bears at Chicago.
  • LG Ross Verba did not participate in the team portion of the Lions' practice Thursday and is listed as doubtful for the game Sunday at Chicago. With two days of practice remaining, it appeared unlikely he will be ready to play against the Bears.
  • LB Ernie Sims, the Lions rookie starter on the weak side, apparently will be fined for a hit on Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in the season opener Sunday. Coach Rod Marinelli said the team had received a letter from the NFL and he wants to make sure Sims understands the limitations of hitting the quarterback.
  • QB Jon Kitna will go into the Lions' game at Chicago on Sunday with a passer rating of 75.2 and a completion mark of 56.8 percent. Kitna did a good job of taking care of the ball in the season opener but did not get the Lions into the end zone either running or passing.

    Bears:

  • SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer (concussion, questionable) practiced with a specially protected helmet, which could help his chances to start on Sunday.
  • LB Brendon Ayanbadejo, one of the NFL's best special-teams players, is expected to fill in on the strong side if Hunter Hillenmeyer (concussion, questionable) doesn't play. That would probably limit Ayanbadejo's play on special teams.
  • FS Danieal Manning will get his first NFL start Sunday if Chris Harris (ankle, questionable) cannot play. Manning had an interception after replacing Harris last week but dropped another potential pick.
  • FS Chris Harris (ankle, questionable) practiced on Thursday.
  • DT Tommie Harris (ankle) was removed from the injury report.

    INSIDE THE CAMPS:
    LIONS:

    Az-Zahir Hakim waited and waited, and his waiting finally paid off.

    Hakim, a wide receiver who played a significant role in the successes of the St. Louis Rams of 1999-2001, is back with the Detroit Lions but, more importantly, he has been reunited with offensive guru Mike Martz.

    Martz was the offensive coordinator of the Rams when they won Super Bowl XXXIV and their head coach when they returned to the Super Bowl two years later; he is now the Lions' offensive coordinator.

    And Hakim, who left the Rams for a lucrative free-agent deal in 2002 with the Lions, feels like he has a new lease on his NFL life.

    "I was very patient," Hakim said. "It was almost to a point where, if I wasn't able to play back in Mike Martz's system, then, you know, I didn't ... I couldn't see myself really putting my cleats back on."

    It is uncertain exactly how Martz will use Hakim in the current Lions' offense. Hakim, who played three seasons for the Lions and one season at New Orleans (2005) after leaving St. Louis, was not in camp during the summer but kept himself in shape and might contribute on a limited basis as soon as the Sunday game in Chicago.

    Coach Rod Marinelli is obviously expecting some help from the veteran receiver.

    "He's got a great feel for this offense, the details of this offense - the speed that you have to play at, the cuts, the breaks, all those things," Marinelli said.

    "I think he brings a veteran presence to the group, which we need also. That's good."

    The Lions' receiving corps is still in a state of flux. Former first-round pick Charles Rogers was released, another first-round pick, Mike Williams, was a healthy inactive for the season opener.

    Roy Williams and Corey Bradford are the starters with Mike Furrey getting most of the time at the slot receiver. If Hakim plays the same role with the Lions that he had in St. Louis, he will probably work primarily as a slot receiver but Martz indicated Thursday that Hakim might line up as a wideout also.

    Hakim caught 36 passes for 677 yards and eight touchdowns on the Rams' 1999 Super Bowl championship team. He had 53 receptions for 734 yards and four touchdowns the following year.

    Hakim's most productive season for the Lions was 2003 when he caught 49 balls for 449 yards and four touchdowns. He left as an unrestricted free agent after catching 31 for 533 yards and three touchdowns in 2004.

    BEARS:

    Rex Grossman showed last week that he could go into a hostile environment and succeed, compiling career bests in passing yardage and passer rating against the Packers at Lambeau Field.

    But now he has to win over the home fans, who were pretty hostile in Week 3 of the preseason, booing Grossman and the first-team offense off the field after a disappointing performance. Grossman was well aware of the fans' opinion on Aug. 25, but he wasn't offended.

    "I'm not going to lie and say I didn't hear it," he said back then. "It's pretty overwhelming. But I'm going to go about my business and get better and turn those boos into cheers. That's the only thing I can do."

    Grossman's 262 passing yards and 96.8 passer rating elevated his approval rating, but he needs to do it in person Sunday against Detroit, or the rabid crowd may want to throw him to the Lions. But dealing with difficult circumstances and criticism comes with the quarterback territory Grossman said.

    "I would be disappointed if I don't come out and play a good game, and I'm sure the fans would have a similar reaction," he said. "But I think I would be (even) more frustrated. As a quarterback, it's how you handle those situations, how you handle adversity, that makes you a great quarterback or just an average quarterback who struggles at times," Grossman said. "I would be right there with the fans, but I'm not going to let that dictate my emotions."

    And the four-year veteran also won't be affected by what's being written or said about him - for a simple reason.

    "I've tried to not read too much or listen too much or watch too much -- no offense," he said, drawing a round of laughs. "I know what's out there, but really I'm trying to do my job and I've tried to stay focused on the job at hand and stay confident at the same time."

    Grossman's throwing, and the pass catching of wide receivers Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian along with tight end Desmond Clark should give a boost to the running game, which was bogged down for much of the opener. The Bears averaged a lackluster 3.0 yards per carry in Week 1, as the Packers concentrated more on stopping the ground game. But Grossman served notice to the Lions and all future opponents that it might be dangerous to underestimate the passing attack.

    "It helps a lot because when you throw the ball, defenses have to back up," running back Thomas Jones said. "Obviously there's going to be more room to run. Safeties are back, corners are back; they're not really focused on stopping the run."

    The Bears need to be solid on the ground and through the air if they hope to develop an offense capable of helping the team advance further in the playoffs than last season's divisional-round defeat. No one knows that better than Grossman.

    "You've got to be able to throw in this league in order to win championships," he said. "No doubt we have a great running attack because of our offensive line and the running backs we have, but we have to be able to throw the ball to have a balanced offense, and our offense has to step up to have a balanced team. A lot of that is on my shoulders and the wide receivers' shoulders."

    Offensive coordinator Ron Turner has had confidence in Grossman all along, but it was a relief for him to see it after an inconclusive preseason.

    "We've felt all along that we could make some plays in the passing game," Turner said, "but we needed to go out and do it."

    Now they need to do it again Sunday for the home fans.


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