Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan teamed up with Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to create an exercise program.
Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett breaks down Thursday’s Thanksgiving game between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears at Ford Field: 

Know the foe

Chicago Bears (7-3)

Coach: Matt Nagy (7-3 overall; 7-3 with Bears)

Key players: QB Mitchell Trubisky, WR Allen Robinson, RB Tarik Cohen, OLB Khalil Mack, DL Akiem Hicks

Last game: Beat the Minnesota Vikings, 25-20.

Last meeting: 2018 season: Bears won, 34-22.

The buzz: The Bears have won four straight, including back-to-back division games against the Lions and Vikings the last two weeks, and are threatening to run away with the NFC North a year after they won just five games. First-year coach Matt Nagy inherited one of the best defenses in the NFL, but the Bears wouldn’t be in this position if not for a much-improved offense. Trubisky, with Nagy’s help, has transformed himself into a legitimate NFL quarterback, and Chicago has one of the league’s more balanced attacks overall. Jordan Howard is averaging a career-low 52.3 yards rushing per game, but he and Cohen give the Bears a complementary 1-2 punch in the backfield. Robinson dominated the Lions to the tune of 133 yards receiving and two touchdowns two weeks ago, and rookie slot receiver Anthony Miller and tight end Trey Burton give Trubisky two more weapons in the pass game. Trubisky is dealing with a shoulder injury, so there’s a chance Chase Daniel could be forced into action.

Defensively, the Bears lead the NFL with 27 takeaways and 18 interceptions, and they’re fourth in points allowed (19.5 ppg). Mack is one of the league’s best pass rushers — it’s still amazing that the Raiders made him available in a trade this summer — but he’s just one part of a dominant unit. Hicks doesn’t get enough credit for the work he does inside, linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan seem to fly around the field, and in the back end, Kyle Fuller is having a Pro Bowl year at cornerback and second-year safety Eddie Jackson has three interceptions and two forced fumbles. The resurgence in Chicago is real.

The Lions will win if … they run for at least 90 yards. That’s not too high a bar, but it’s also a number the Lions have not reached in four of their six losses this year and one that will be tough to clear Thursday given their personnel issues on offense. Kerryon Johnson is out with a knee injury, which means the Lions will use some combination of LeGarrette Blount, Zach Zenner and Theo Riddick at running back. Marvin Jones’ knee injury complicates matters further as the Lions could be short-handed on the outside. No matter, the Lions can’t drop Stafford back to pass another 40 times against this defense or he’ll get slaughtered. They need balance from the running game.

The Bears will win if …they’re at least plus-1 in the turnover battle. As mentioned, the Bears have one of the most opportunistic defenses in the NFL thanks to a ferocious pass rush and playmakers in the secondary. They’ve forced three or more turnovers in seven of their last eight games, and generate much of their offense from the short field they create on defense. Stafford threw two interceptions and Johnson lost a fumble in the first meeting, and the Lions were fortunate the Bears only turned those mistakes into seven points. They won’t be as lucky the second time around, so it’s imperative they take better care of the ball.

Matchup to watch: Lions CB Darius Slay vs. Bears WR Allen Robinson

Robinson had far and away his best game of the season against the Lions two weeks ago, when he torched a shorthanded secondary for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Robinson caught four passes of at least 26 yards in that game, and repeatedly found himself wide open against the likes of DeShawn Shead and Quandre Diggs. Slay missed that game with a knee injury, and his absence had a trickle-down effect on the secondary. He returned and played well against a big Michigan-grown receiver in Devin Funchess last week, and should draw the assignment the Detroit native Robinson on Thursday.

Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!