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NOTEBOOK: Wagner, o-line motivated after last week's performance

Lions right tackle Rick Wagner has one of the toughest assignments in football this Sunday in Chicago.

He'll be the one mostly tasked with trying to keep Bears All-Pro outside linebacker Khalil Mack from wrecking Detroit's hopes for a win and getting to quarterback Matthew Stafford along the way.

The Lions gave up a season-high 10 sacks last week in Minnesota. Wagner had arguably his worst game of the season in that contest, as Vikings edge rusher Danielle Hunter recorded 3.5 sacks and scored on a fumble recovery, mostly playing on Wagner's side.

Wagner said last week's performance upfront has not only motivated the entire offensive line to play better this week, but him personally as well.

"It's set a little fire in the o-line room," Wagner said of last week's performance. "I'm definitely motivated to play better and I think just as a group if we play as one, we'll come out better."

Wagner, who signed with Detroit last offseason as a priority free agent, had a great start to the year. He was one of Pro Football Focus' top graded tackles through the first month of the season, receiving a positive grade in each of his first four games.

Over his last four games, however, he's received a negative grade in three of four contests.

Mack, who's missed the last two games for the Bears with an ankle injury, has been a full participant in practice this week and is expected to play Sunday. He's an early MVP candidate on defense for his performance early on this year.

Wagner does have some familiarity playing against Mack, however, which could help this week. The last time he faced Mack, in 2016 with the Baltimore Ravens, Mack had six tackles, three quarterback hits and a sack.

"It's good when you've faced a guy," Wagner said. "It's been a couple years, he's just getting better and better every year, and it's a big challenge this week."

With talented defensive tackle Akiem Hicks lining up often inside and right next to Mack, it could be tough for the Lions to provide Wagner much in terms of double-team help. It's a challenge Wagner thinks he's up for.

"In this division every week seems to be another elite rusher coming off the edge," he said. "So, that's just part of our job. We have to take a lot of pride in that. There's never an off week. Just have to prepare this week to face another of the league's best rushers."


Friday was a first for Lions rookie running back Kerryon Johnson. The Huntsville, Alabama native and Auburn alum took part in his first football practice in snow.

Preparing for Sunday's game in Chicago, which is expected to be windy with temperatures in the mid-30s, the Lions shoveled Friday's first snowfall of the year off the outdoor fields in Allen Park and practiced outside.

Johnson joked with reporters in the locker room after practice about how cold it was out there.

Unfortunately, Johnson hasn't seen anything yet. December games in Buffalo (Week 15) and Green Bay (Week 17) have the potential to be a pretty rude awakening for the rookie who said he's only seen snow a handful of times in his life.

Welcome to Michigan.


Running backs Jordan Howard (6-0, 224) and Tarik Cohen (5-6, 181) have very different running styles for the Bears, and are dynamic together in Chicago's backfield.

Howard is the bell cow for Chicago's running game, and leads them with 439 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He's recorded 1,000 yards rushing in each of the last two seasons, the only running back in team history to accomplish that his first two seasons in the league.

Then there's Cohen, who has 621 all-purpose yards over the last five games. He has 24 catches for 358 yards and three touchdowns, 35 rushes for 143 yards and a touchdown, and 120 punt-return yards.

"These are two very different but very dynamic (backs)," Lions safety Glover Quin said of Howard and Cohen. "Jordan Howard. Big, powerful guy, downhill type of back, but has enough speed. Keeps the ball rolling for them.

"Obviously, Tarik is very dynamic and very explosive do-it-all. He runs between the tackles, he runs outside, he runs routes, catches passes, screens. They get him the ball a lot of different ways. Definitely going to be a challenge for us."

The Lions have to do a good job Sunday identifying who is in the game for the Bears and how they have to defend each skillset, because both are dynamic players in their own way.

The Lions are currently ranked 30th in the NFL stopping the run and 17th overall on defense.


Chicago is entering a key three-game stretch all against NFC North foes, which is a good time to start getting healthy.

Mack, wide receiver Allen Robinson and defensive tackle Bilal Nichols all returned to practice as full participants this week after missing time.

Mack injured his ankle Oct. 14 against the Dolphins. He played the following week against New England, but missed the next two contests versus the New York Jets and Buffalo. In the first four games of the season in which Mack was fully healthy, he recorded five sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception he returned 27 yards for a touchdown.

Robinson has also missed the last two games. He caught 25 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns in his first six games.

Nichols missed the Buffalo game with a knee injury. The rookie recorded seven tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in games vs. the Patriots and Bills before the injury.

It appears the Bears will have almost everyone available Sunday.

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