The Detroit Lions are on the road for a second straight week taking on the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field today.
These two teams squared off just three weeks ago with the Lions scoring a come-from-behind victory with 17 unanswered points in the final 2 minutes and 59 seconds at Ford Field. Detroit is looking to keep their comfortable three-game lead in the NFC North and stay with Philadelphia, San Francisco and Dallas for the best record in the NFC.
Here are five things to watch out for in today's NFC North showdown:
1. DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENTS
Detroit's defense has been in a little bit of a rut since the bye, seeing their points allowed per game jump from 22 before the break to just over 30 in their last four games. Detroit has just four sacks over that stretch and have given up too many chunk plays. New Orleans connected on five pass plays of 20-plus yards last week.
"Well, big plays are always frustrating," Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said this week. "The thing that I try to do is look at the big picture. We're one of the top teams in the league as far as not giving up explosive plays. So, I always try to point back to that and what did we do before to not give those things up, and our guys understand that."
Bears quarterback Justin Fields is a big play waiting to happen both as a runner and passer. He is going to take shots in the passing game today, and if the defensive line doesn't contain him in the pocket, we've seen him create big plays with his legs. The Lions have to limit the big plays today.
2. RUN GAME IMPORTANCE
It's strength on strength today as Detroit's fourth ranked rushing offense (137.3 yards per game) matches up against a Bears' defense that enters the contest tied for the NFL lead allowing just 79.0 yards on the ground per game.
Detroit's offense is at its best when they can establish the ground game and run all their play-action packages off it. David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs might be the best running back duo in the league, and when they get rolling this offense is a juggernaut.
Chicago's offense is third in the NFL in rushing (137.7) and Detroit's defense ranks fifth (93.1) against the run.
It's going to be cold and windy in Chicago today so both teams are going to want to establish the run. Whoever does it better ups their chances of walking away victorious.
3. CONTAINING FIELDS
The last time the Lions played the Bears Week 11 they needed a come-from-behind effort in the final four minutes to beat the Bears. Fields rushed for 104 yards in the contest and completed 16-of-23 passes with a touchdown and 105.2 passer rating.
Despite missing four games with an injured thumb, Fields ranks in the top 10 among NFL quarterbacks with seven touchdown passes of 20-plus yards. He's a dynamic athlete and the Lions need to rally to the football when it's in his hands and be very disciplined in their rush to limit his chances of getting out of the pocket and making big plays with his arm and legs.
4. O-LINE SHUFFLE
Lions Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow has been ruled out with a knee injury which means right guard Graham Glasgow shifts over to center and someone will have to step into the right guard spot and play well.
Rookie Colby Sorsdal stepped in last week when Ragnow went out and he played well overall. He's a rookie, so there's always going to be some ups and downs, but it feels like he's starting to settle in a little bit. Detroit's going to need the big guys to be the catalyst for their run game and keep quarterback Jared Goff clean in the passing game. Chicago ranks last in the NFL with just 17 sacks on the season.
5. THIRD QUARTER FIXES
The third quarter has been a problem for the Lions for most of the year for whatever reason. The offense ranks second in first-quarter scoring (7.3 points), 10th in second quarter (7.9) and fourth in the fourth quarter (8.2). They drop all the way to 20th in the third quarter, averaging just 3.8 points per game in those 15 minutes this season. Detroit's eight points scored on their first possession of the second half are the third fewest in the NFL.
It's the same thing on defense with Detroit, ranking 16th in first quarter points allowed, 14th in the second quarter and 17th in the fourth quarter. They rank 29th in third-quarter points allowed (6.3). Detroit needs to be better in the third quarter today.