The Detroit Lions are back in the friendly confines of Ford Field today for a big NFC North matchup against the Chicago Bears with a chance to improve to 8-8 on the year and keep their playoff hopes alive.
Here are five things I'll be watching out for in today's contest:
1. FORD FIELD ATMOSPHERE
Ford Field has certainly been a big home-field advantage for the Lions during their 6-2 stretch the last two months. It was a sellout crowd with standing room only for three consecutive weeks from Weeks 12-14. Today is the final home game at Ford Field and again it's a sellout crowd with standing room only tickets sold. The Lions will be wearing their throwbacks and it's a division opponent, so I expect a loud crowd trying to give the Lions every edge they can.
After a rough start, credit to the Lions players and head coach Dan Campbell for turning it around and giving the fans a fun ride over the last month. Something tells me they'll pay it forward by being a big factor in the game today.
2. LIMITING FIELDS
The Lions had been much better defensively against the run the last two months leading into the defensive debacle in Carolina last week. Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn have pledged this week the defense will be much better and both said they have a good plan in place for the Bears. Chicago comes into today's matchup with the league's No. 1 rushing offense at 179.7 yards per game.
Quarterback Justin Fields is the catalyst for the Bears rushing attack. In Detroit's 31-30 Week 10 win over Chicago, Fields rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Chicago had 258 rushing yards (7.4 average) as a team in that contest. Detroit has to do a much better job of containing Fields and the Bears' rushing attack this time around at all three levels if they want to come away with a win and set up a huge matchup in Green Bay next week in the regular season finale.
3. CAN GOFF STAY HOT?
What might have gotten lost in last week's loss to Carolina was the fact that Lions quarterback Jared Goff threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns to nearly single-handedly keep that game from being a blowout.
Goff has been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL in the month of December. Can he keep that rolling into January? Goff ranked 1st in interceptions (0), 1st in 300-yard games (3), 2nd in QB rating (109.3), 2nd in passing yards (1,277), 2nd in passing first downs (68), 3rd in 25-yard-plus completions (9), 4th in passing touchdowns (9) and 5th in completions (106) in December.
The Lions are healthy upfront and at wide receiver, and Goff is playing his best football of the season at the perfect time.
4. DEFENSIVE LINE PLAY
Talk to any player on Detroit's defensive line and they'll tell you their play wasn't nearly good enough last week. They didn't make any excuses and owned up to it. Not only did Carolina run for 320 yards, but Detroit's defensive front didn't have a single sack or even a hit on Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold.
Today needs to be a bounce back game for the guys up front. They're the first line of defense against Fields and the rushing attack. And when Fields does drop back to throw, they have to do a good job of collapsing the pocket and speeding up his clock.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Friday, December 3, 2022.
5. MORE WILLIAMS
Rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams was still rehabbing a torn ACL during the first matchup with the Bears. He's returned to the lineup the last four games but hasn't been a huge part of the offensive game plan over the last month. He had a 41-yard touchdown grab in the win over the Vikings Dec. 11, but he's played a total of just 45 snaps in four games.
Campbell said this week the plan is to utilize Williams more moving forward. He's been working with Goff one-on-one during special teams periods at practice and after practice to help build their chemistry.
Detroit has a talented receiver corps with DJ Chark coming on strong the last month and Amon-Ra St. Brown steadily doing his thing. Kalif Raymond has been a playmaker for them too. There's only one football to go around, but Williams' speed can be such a difference maker. It would be nice to see him incorporated into the offense a little bit more and give Lions fans a glimpse of what the future might hold for this young man.