CHICAGO – Lions-Bears Final Thoughts: Caution signs for teams heading in opposite directions; pass-rush impact, when healthy, from Ziggy Ansah and Khalil Mack; Lions wary, and should be, of Bears' run game; Random Thoughts and sticking with my pick:
The Bears are feeling good about themselves, and they should. They start the second half of their season in first place in the NFC North with a 5-3 record and a two-game winning streak.
They're also looking ahead a little to a stretch of three straight games in 11 days against division opponents – Lions and Vikings at home, and Lions at Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day. There's some danger in looking ahead. Things can change fast in the NFL – especially in a crowded division like the NFC North.
"I'd say the next three games are very important," said veteran Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara. "We're trying to focus on one, just because we're going to play the Lions two times in the next three weeks.
"As long as we take care of the first one, and go 1-and-0 each week, I think everything will take care of itself. And it will get us to where we want to go."
While the Bears are thinking of stringing wins together, the Lions are trying to get back on the winning track. After an impressive road win over the Dolphins made their record 3-3, they've had uninspired performances in losses to the Seahawks and Vikings to drop to 3-5.
Realistically, as the Lions start the second half of their season they look like a team that's hanging on to the hope of a turnaround. Things already have changed fast twice for them – from the 0-2 start to 3-3, then the two losses that have put them in last place in the North.
The Lions need another change – fast.
"It's a division game ... they count two," middle linebacker Jarrad David said of the urgency of the game.
"Every point in the game, every moment of the game, you're locked in."
On the run, Bears: The Lions have had their problems stopping the run this year, and they get a double dose from the Bears.
Jordan Howard is a power runner who eats up yards. Tarik Cohen is the big-play threat and sometimes will take a direct snap from scrimmage. Cohen also might pull up and throw the ball. He threw two passes last year and completed one for a touchdown.
"Very different players, but dynamic and explosive in their own ways," said Lions linebacker Devon Kennard. "We definitely have to be aware of what each guy likes to do, and when they're in the game."
Cohen hasn't thrown the ball this year – yet. Beware.
Add quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as a third genuine running threat, and there's constant pressure on the defense.
Trubisky has rushed for 302 yards in eight games. Among quarterbacks, only Cam Newton has more rushing yards, with 352 in nine games. Trubisky has averaged 7.9 yards per attempt to Cam's 4.7.
Meanwhile, the Lions' run game, once so promising, has withered – 34 yards against Seattle, 66 against the Vikings, and in the last two games a long run of eight yards – on an end around by Kenny Golladay last week – and an average of 2.7 yards per attempt.
Sack exchange, Ansah and Mack: The expected return of Bears linebacker Khalil Mack means there's no relief for a Lions' offense that surrendered 10 sacks and seven additional quarterback hits in last week's loss to the Vikings.
Mack was a one-man sack machine in the first four games before injuring an ankle that limited him in two games and kept him out of the last two. Mack had five sacks, four forced fumbles – one in each game – and an interception return for a touchdown.
Ziggy Ansah has shown what he means to the Lions' defense in his limited playing time.
He had one sack in 19 snaps in the opener against the Jets, missed the next six games with a shoulder injury, and returned last week against the Vikings to record one sack in 12 snaps.
Two sacks in 31 snaps shows the impact Ansah can make when he's available, even at less than full strength.
On Bears' record: They've gotten to 5-3 by beating the Seahawks (4-4), Cardinals (2-6), Bucs (3-5), Jets (3-6) and Bills (2-7). That adds up to a combined won-loss record of 14-28. Their three losses have been to the Packers (3-4-1), Dolphins (5-4) and Patriots (7-2) – three teams the Lions have beaten and whose combined record is 15-10-1.
What's it mean? Tell you after today.
On Bears in the NFC North: They've lost 10 straight division games, are 1-9 in their last 10 games with the Lions and have lost the last three.
What's it mean? Tell you after today.
On Lions' offense: They scored a touchdown on their first possession against the Seahawks, with 2:15 left in the first quarter. Since then they've scored one touchdown – a span 107 minutes, 15 seconds over seven-plus quarters. One man's opinion: I'd like to see the Lions run the no-huddle offense more.
On special teams: Something should change with the firing last week of coordinator Joe Marciano. One change: Cut down penalties that have negated good returns. Chris Burke of The Athletic (who must have a lot of time on his hands) calculated that 14 penalties on special teams have cost the Lions 237 return yards. They're not good enough to give back that many yards.
On sticking with my pick: It's prove-it time for the Bears – time to prove that they're legitimate division contenders. Based on records and performance, tougher tests are ahead for the Bears, but their 1-9 record against the Lions in the last 10 games means they can't take this game lightly. The Lions are searching for a positive identity. It would be an upset if they find it against the Bears.
Pick: Bears 23, Lions 20.