Lions-Bears Final Thoughts: Anniversary for rookie tight end Michael Roberts in a development season; three reasons why the Bears and Lions can win and my pick; Random Thoughts, including a Lion and Bear to watch.
Michel Roberts' anniversary Sunday is one that he isn't celebrating or dreading.
He doesn't even have to shop for a present.
It will one year since his last touchdown catch – unless, of course, he makes one today against the Bears.
For the record, on Dec. 17, 2016 Roberts caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter of Toledo's loss to Appalachian State in the Camelia Bowl. As a fifth-year senior, it was Roberts' 16th TD catch of the season.
The Lions drafted him in the fourth round because of his production and physical skills.
As often happens in the NFL, tight ends don't pick up where they left off in college. And that's been the case for Roberts. He has four catches, and no touchdowns, going into today's game.
"It's humbling," Roberts said. "I come from a high-powered offense that got me the ball a lot. My rookie year, I just put my head down and work. My role in increasing each week.
"They brought me here to do what I was doing in college. I trust the process."
With veterans Eric Ebron and Darren Fells ahead of him on the depth chart – and both bigger options than Roberts in the passing game – Roberts is making the adjustment to the pro game.
Many consider playing tight end the most difficult position to learn on offense next to quarterback because of the multiple responsibilities in the pass and run games.
"Tight end is a complex position, and Mike's learning a bunch," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said this week. "He's got some talent. He works hard. He wants to be good."
Three reasons the Bears can win:
Rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky: He is coming off two games of high-percent completion rates – 80.0 in a 15-14 loss to the 49ers; 78.1 in a 33-7 romp over the Bengals. And he hasn't had an interception in four of the last five games.
Defense: It ranks higher than the Lions' in yards allowed against the run, pass, overall and in points allowed.
Run game: They can control the game on the ground.
**Three reasons the Lions can win:
Matthew Stafford: The way he's in sync with his pass catchers – wide receivers, tight ends and backs – the offense can move the ball on anybody, even under duress from the pass rush.
Matt Prater: He doesn't miss in the clutch.
History: The Lions need to win to stay in the playoff race, and Stafford is 8-1 overall against the Bears n the last nine games and 4-0 at Ford Field.
My pick: It hasn't been easy for the Lions, even in their 4-0 streak at home. The only comfortable win was 34-17 in 2014. The others have been close – 21-19, 37-34 in overtime in 2015 and 20-17 last year on Stafford's seven-yard TD scramble with 3:50 left.
The Lions are relegated to the fringe of the NFC playoff race because of their 2-4 record at Ford Field. If they want to cling to the fringe, they have to win today. They will, but it won't be easy.
Prediction: Lions 23, Bears 20. Don't leave early.
Stafford's hand, 2016 vs. 2017: He's fully loaded for the Bears, based on what he showed in the portion of practice open to the media Thursday. He had no tape on any of his fingers.
The injury to his passing hand has no comparison to last year. That injury was not going to heal without rest in the offseason, and his performance suffered. Last week he was able to play through it at a high level against the Bucs with tape on the two bottom fingers.
Bears' twin run threats: Rookie Tarik Cohen is a 5-6, 181-pound speedster who does damage beyond his size. He burned the Lions for 44 yards on nine carries and a TD in the first game.
Take a look at five key matchups for the Lions-Bears game Saturday at Ford Field.
Jordan Howard is a legitimate 224-pound tank who showed his deceptive speed on a 50-yard run in a 125-yard performance against the Lions in the first game this season. As a rookie in 2016 he had rushing games of 111 and 86 yards in the two losses to the Lions.
Ground warfare is never fun to defend in winter weather – even indoors on a football field.
Line changes: Another week, another shuffle on the Lions' offensive line. A concussion sustained by center Travis Swanson in last week's game likely means Graham Glasgow will make the move from left guard to center again. Joe Dahl is a candidate for his first pro start at left guard. He showed promise as a rookie last year in limited playing time.
Bear to watch – Akiem Hicks: A 336-pound defensive end in the 3-4 scheme, he can wreck an offense on any play with his explosive power. His style and techniques are a little unorthodox, but he's effective. He leads the Bears with seven sacks. If he finds a weakness he thinks he can exploit, he'll stay on it.
Lion to watch – Jamal Agnew: He practiced all week, and the assumption is that he'll be back to return punts and kickoffs. His ability to change field position with a big return has been missed.