Lions at Bears
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Soldier Field, Chicago
TV/radio: Fox/WJR 760
Records: Lions 3-5, Bears 5-3
Line: Bears by 6
View from the other side
Kevin Fishbain covers the Bears for The Athletic. He breaks down the Lions’ upcoming opponent for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Sunday’s game. You can follow him on Twitter @kfishbain
►Question: Mitch Trubisky wasn’t great in two losses to the Lions last season. Where has he made his biggest strides in year two?
►Fishbain: His strides are what you’d expect from a second-year quarterback — he’s more comfortable and confident, so he’s taking a lot more shots downfield, and he’s using his legs effectively. Each game he has a handful of throws that “wow” you, but also a few that draw some, “Oh no’s.” The biggest improvement for Trubisky may simply be the offense he’s in, which has way better targets and is a vastly superior scheme than what he had as a rookie.
►Question: Heard the Bears picked up some guy named Khalil Mack this offseason. He didn’t play the past two games, and the defense still streamrolled the Jets and Bills. What, if any, weaknesses does this unit have?
►Fishbain: Teams have had success stretching the Bears horizontally with the quick/screen game and hoping they miss tackles, which they did in Green Bay and Miami. That also counters the pass rush if the quarterback can get rid of it quickly. The secondary has been outstanding the past two weeks, but they gave up a lot of explosive plays in the first six games of the season, so they can be susceptible to an explosive passing play.
►Question: Where is Matt Nagy succeeding most as a first-year coach and what’s been his toughest hurdle to overcome?
►Fishbain: His creativity on offense is apparent and really challenging defenses. The Bears are sustaining drives at a much better rate than the John Fox days and keeping the team in games, even if Trubisky has his struggles and the run game can’t get going. This team really follows Nagy’s level-headed approach to the season, which is important when you’re on a two-game win streak and entering a home game as a big favorite. Some of his decisions late in games have come under scrutiny, which happens for any coach. His creativity can also best him when he gets too cute in short-yardage or red-zone situations.
►Question: The Lions defense has had issues giving up big play on the ground this year; five of 40 or more yards to be exact. Which Bears players is most likely to snap off a 40-plus yard run in this one — Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen or Trubisky?
►Fishbain: Cohen. The Bears haven’t been able to spring Howard for a big gain, and Cohen’s the explosive playmaker of the trio who can bounce things outside, away from Damon Harrison. If the Bears are able to get a lead, that’ll allow Howard to get in a rhythm and maybe he can break off a big play, but Cohen is a better candidate.
►Question: The Bears win this week if?
►Fishbain: They stop the run the way they have the past two weeks. The front seven dominated the Jets and Bills, and if they can get Matthew Stafford in third-and-long situations often, that’ll help awaken the pass rush, one that gets Khalil Mack back in the fold. The offense has the potential to score in bunches, but this is still a team that needs its defense to take over a game until Trubisky becomes more consistent. Stafford has had success against the Bears, but without a complementary run game, that’ll be more difficult.
Players to watch
►Khalil Mack, LB: Mack is what you call a game-wrecker. He’s one of the five best defensive players in football and a nightmare off the edge. He’s expected to be a full-go returning from an ankle injury and Detroit is going to have to find a way to limit his impact without taking away too much attention from the rest of Chicago’s talented front.
►Tarik Cohen, RB: At 5-foot-6, 180 pounds, you wouldn’t expect Cohen to be the threat he is, but the shifty running back can beat you between the tackles, around the edges, as a receiver or returner. Oh, and be on alert, because he’s a danger to throw it on occasion, as well.
►Akiem Hicks, DE: The Lions missed out when Hicks was a free agent a couple of years back. In Chicago, he’s developed into one of the league’s best interior linemen. His length and ability to shed blocks make him a nightmare to run against and he’s contributed three sacks and 15 pressures as a pass-rusher.