The Lions and Bears meet on Thanksgiving for the 19th time in their history, as the trio of today's holiday games kick off in Detroit with a good old-fashioned NFC North rivalry on a short week for both clubs.
The Lions are looking for their first victory of the season after starting 0-9-1 and coming off a tough loss in Cleveland. The Bears are stuck in a five-game losing streak and have to turn it around quick or they'll be out of the NFC playoff race.
Here are five things to watch out for in today's matchup:
1. AVOID THIRD & LONG
The NFL identifies 3rd & long as 3rd & 6 or more yards. The odds of getting a first down in those situations aren't high across the league. The two teams best at it – the Chargers and Rams – convert them just 37.3 and 35.6 percent of the time, respectively. Detroit ranks toward the bottom of the NFL, converting in those down and distances 18.9 percent of the time, which ranks 27th.
The problem is the Lions face those situations far too often. Only Denver (80) has faced more third and longs on the year than Detroit's 74. Detroit's run 17 times in those situations (leads the NFL) and have only been successful gaining the first down four times.
One key today against a Bears' defense that ranks top 16 in third-down efficiency is to be much better on first and second down to avoid those long third downs. The Bears are tied for the NFL lead with 31.0 sacks on the year, which means they're great at pinning their ears back and will come after Detroit in those third-and-long situations.
2. SWIFT TRIFECTA?
Not since Kevin Jones in 2004 has a Lions running back had back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances until second-year running back D’Andre Swift accomplished the feat the last two weeks with 130 and 136-yard rushing performances against two pretty good defenses in the Steelers and Browns.
Can Swift make it three in a row with 100-plus rushing yards today against another good defense?
Swift showed in Pittsburgh he can handle the load as he carried the ball 33 times while Detroit was shorthanded without Jamaal Williams and Jermar Jefferson for most of the contest. The following week in Cleveland Swift got just 14 carries and 17 touches total.
Swift is Detroit's top offensive weapon right now. He says he can handle anything the Lions want to put on his plate, including more touches. Will Detroit ride him a little more today hoping to ignite the offense and send this holiday crowd home happy with their first victory of the year?
3. DARING DAN
Head coach Dan Campbell has taken over play-calling duties the last two weeks. He admitted Monday he's still learning on the job as a first-time play caller, and while we've seen some good things in the run game the last two weeks, Detroit's only scored 26 total points and the vertical pass game has been virtually non-existent.
Campbell has been a little bit conservative with his play calls the last couple weeks. This is the same coach who went for three fourth-and-shorts in an opening game loss to the San Francisco 49ers and dialed up two fake punts and an onside kick Week 7 vs. the Rams. For the season, Detroit leads the NFL with 23 fourth-down attempts.
But last week he opted to kick a field goal on a 4th and 1 play at the Browns' 25-yard line with nine minutes left and trailing 13-7. A little later, he opted to run the ball on 3rd and 14 with just two-and-a-half minutes left in the game trailing 13-10, and punted on the subsequent 4th and 9. Detroit never saw the ball again.
A lot of times coaches are damned if they do and damned if they don't, but Campbell has to stick with who he is, and up to this point that's certainly leaned toward the more aggressive side of the pendulum.
4. OPENING UP PASS GAME
Goff was playing through an injury in Pittsburgh Week 10 and Boyle was making his first career start last week in Cleveland, and the weather conditions were wet and rainy in both instances, but Campbell and Co. have to find a way to unlock more from this passing attack. Boyle attempted only four passes that traveled more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage last week. Detroit ranks 30th in passing entering today's contest, averaging less than 200 yards per game.
The Lions have been good running the football (ranked 16th; 114.2 yards per game), but teams are going to start really loading up on the run, possibly starting with a very good Bears defense today, if the Lions don't start proving they can be more of a threat throwing the football.
5. PLAN AT QUARTERBACK
Campbell said Tuesday it's leaning towards Goff returning as the starting quarterback for the Lions today after missing last week with a strained oblique muscle. Goff was feeling much better, and took part in walkthroughs all week after sitting out practice last week.
Bears head coach Matt Nagy announced Tuesday Andy Dalton would start today for Chicago at quarterback. Starter Justin Fields suffered an injury this past Sunday vs. Baltimore and had to be replaced by Dalton in their 16-13 loss to the Ravens. Dalton threw two long touchdown passes in defeat and finished with a passer rating over 100.0. He's an experienced player, and there isn't expected to be much drop-off between him and Fields for the Bears.