Final Thoughts on today's Detroit Lions-Chicago Bears rematch: Lions' backups being ready reserves; position switches not just one-for-one replacements; expectations for DeAndre Levy; Joique Bell in rare company; the experts in Picks Central:
Backups step up: The Lions' use of the 53-player roster, and then some, has sent a clear message to players looking for playing time.
When the time comes, they have to be ready to produce.
Rookie safety Miles Killebrew and veteran receiver TJ Jones are just two examples of players who've been called on and produced. The circumstances have been different for both, but their contributions have been no less important.
Killebrew has had a defined role in the use of three and four safeties of late, and he's come through. He's a sure tackler, and he had his first interception on the last play of last week's road win over the Saints.
He played only one snap in the opening game at Indianapolis, but he kept his head in the game with the anticipation that he could get playing time later in the season. As his role has expanded, he has felt like a part of the secondary rotation with help from veterans such as Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson and others.
"It's given me confidence to know what I'm doing," Killebrew said. "It's given me awareness, knowing what I'm looking for. It's allowed me to play with the guys, and have confidence when I go out there."
Like everyone, he's playing in the pressure of a playoff race, but since it's his first year he hasn't experienced any other atmosphere.
How does it feel to play under that kind of pressure?
"This is my first experience," he said. "It's my first year around. Ask me next year, and maybe I'll let you know."
It's a different matter for Jones. He spent his rookie year on the injured list and was a backup last year who got quality playing time late in the year. He started this season on the practice squad and did not get promoted to the 53-player roster until last week's game.
Jones responded with three catches for 49 yards, with a long catch of 36 yards.
No doubt, Jones had to be disappointed when he was not one of the four receivers who were kept in the mandatory cut to 53 players, but he worked to get another chance.
"When you're on the practice squad, a lot of times you may feel lost in the shuffle," Jones said. "Your opportunity may never come, or if something were to happen they may look elsewhere.
"Here, we know they promote from within. Every day you're working to catch someone's eye, or to show them that you prepare so when your opportunity comes they don't have second thoughts about bringing you up and letting you play."
Personnel Dept.: Some lineup decisions might come down to game day, and they might not be known until the offensive and defensive units are on the field. What look like simple next-man-up replacements could be more complicated than they appear on the surface. Here are three positions to watch:
Offensive line: Replacing starting center Travis Swanson would affect two positions, not one.
Rookie Graham Glasgow is the natural choice to slide over to center from left guard, where he has started the last seven games since taking over for Laken Tomlinson. Glasgow played center at Michigan, so playing the position is not foreign to him. But facing a 3-4 scheme with a tackle on his nose adds a dimension, along with making the snaps to quarterback Matthew Stafford for the first time in a regular-season game.
The center snap is the fundamental offensive play. It has to be right every time. One bad snap – as was evident when a third-down snap went over the head of Saints quarterback Drew Brees last week – can change the complexion of a game.
And if Glasgow is at center, it returns Tomlinson to left guard, where he should have a comfort level from starting five games there this year and 14 as a rookie in 2015. Plus, he divided snaps with Glasgow at left guard against the Jaguars two weeks ago.
Nickel back: Losing Quandre Diggs for the season with a pectoral injury takes away a player who has been the nickel back for the last two seasons. Adairius Barnes, who made the roster as an undrafted rookie, is the logical replacement for Diggs.
What is done to make up for the loss of Diggs remains to be seen in terms of rationing snaps between Barnes and safeties. In a typical game, Diggs played a little more than 60 percent of the defensive snaps.
The nickel back lines up primarily in the slot, which means he does not have the boundary to assist him. There is more field to cover, which puts a premium on tackling when defending the run or the pass. If the nickel back can't tackle, teams will focus on him until some adjustment is made.
"You're nothing more than a small linebacker when you move in there," said defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. "You've got to be active in the run game. You've got to be able to recognize and ready really fast in there, because it happens faster inside than it does outside."
Linebacker: There has been no announcement, but DeAndre Levy could be active and play in a backup role. After missing 11 weeks with a knee injury it is not realistic to expect him to play a full game, or to perform at the level of two seasons ago when he made second team All-Pro and was considered one of the NFL's best outside linebackers in a 4-3 scheme.
Joique Bell, turnabout: Bell won't make history today if he carries the ball against the Bears, but he'll be in select company.
As a member of the Bears, he had three carries for six yards in Game 4. Bell was signed by the Lions earlier this week to provide depth because of an injury to rookie Dwayne Washington.
According to research by Santo Lambobarda of the Elias Sports Bureau, the last player to carry the ball against a team, then have carries against the team in the same season was Tashard Choice in 2011.
Choice had seven carries for five yards for Dallas against Washington in Game 3, plus one catch for three yards.
Choice had six carries for seven yards for Washington against Dallas in Game 10, plus two catches for two yards.
He was on the winning side for Dallas, and the losing side for Washington.
Total offensive production: 15 touches, 17 yards – 1.13 yards per touch.
Message to Joique: The bar is low.
Picks Central: What the national experts see:
ESPN panel: All 10 pick the Lions. But beware – all 10 took the Saints last week.
CBS Sports panel: With the spread – 5 Bears, 4 Lions.
National columnist Pete Pricso's pick: Lions 27, Bears 13.
Elliot Harrison, NFL.com: Lions 26, Bears 20 – with this commentary: "Would anybody be surprised if the Lions came out flat, Matt Stafford played like Scott Mitchell and Detroit lost a golden opportunity to take one step closer to the NFC North title? No."
My take: "Actually, Elliot, I see a close score, too. But the only way Matthew Stafford will ever play like Scott Mitchell is if Stafford plays with his right arm in a sling and throws left-handed."
Also, Harrison's picks on the Lions have been dead on most of this season.
USA Today panel: All five for the Lions.
National columnist Jarrett Bell's pick: Lions 31, Bears 17.
Sporting News: Vinny Iyer, Lions 31, Bears 15.
My pick: Lions 26, Bears 19. Stafford plays right-handed and reminds people of himself.