With such a quick turnaround from Sunday to Thursday, the Bears didn’t run regular practices this week, instead holding walk-throughs. While that presented a challenge with another starting quarterback stepping in, Dalton relied on his 11 seasons of NFL experience to prepare for the Thanksgiving matinee in Detroit. He said he spent the week with teammates “just going through it all and making sure we’re on the same page about how we want things to go and how we want to perform some of these plays. It’s a lot to just talk through it. a lot of mental things that you go through.”
(2) Will the Bears be able to establish their running game?
Running back is arguably the Bears’ strongest position, with the dynamic 1-2 punch from veteran David Montgomery and rookie Khalil Herbert. Montgomery leads the Bears in rushing with 430 yards and three touchdowns on 96 carries, despite missing four games with a knee injury. Herbert, who proved to be a more than capable “next man up” in Montgomery’s absence, has racked up 364 yards and a TD on 86 attempts.
The Bears are sixth in the NFL in rushing, while the Lions defense is 31st against the run, a tantalizing mismatch, at least on paper. If the Bears can successfully run the ball, it should put them in third and manageable situations and help them maintain drifts. Last Sunday against the Ravens, they converted just 2-of-11 third-down plays and owned the ball for just 21:10.
The Lions’ defense has improved since Detroit’s farewell week, taking just 29 points in a 16-16 tie with the Steelers and a 13-10 loss to the Browns. But the unit has allowed 236, 145 and 184 yards in the last three games.
(3) Will the Bears eliminate the costly defensive glitches that helped drain consecutive losses?
Against both the Steelers and Ravens, the Bears offense cut off the 75-yard drives with late go-ahead touchdowns, only for the defense to immediately hand in the winning points in the closing seconds. Last Sunday vs. Baltimore, a blown cover enabled Tyler Huntley to complete a 29-yard pass to a wide open Sammy Watkins to the Bears’ 3, setting up Devonta Freeman’s winning 3-yard TD run.
“It was a failed coverage,” said defense coordinator Sean Desai. “It was a miscommunication, a frustrating miscommunication on many levels, and everything that reflects on the pitch reflects on me. I have to make sure the guys do that better. The unfortunate part is we played that cover a dozen times in that game probably before that and executed it correctly. But it’s unforgivable, and I think the guys know it’s unacceptable, and we have to make sure we don’t do that.”
The return of safety Eddie Jackson would give a huge boost to the secondary and the defense. The fifth-year pro is considered doubtful with a hamstring injury that forced him to sit out the last two games. Jackson registered an interception in each of the Bears’ Thanksgiving wins over the Lions in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, his 41-yard pick-six broke with 6:00 in a 16-16 draw to give the Bears a 23-16 victory .
(4) Could the Bears defense include an improved Lions running game?
Sophomore running back D’Andre Swift is coming off the best two games of his career, rushing for 130 yards on 33 carries against the Steelers and 130 yards on 14 tries against the Browns. The former Georgia star is also an adept backfield receiver; he and Austin Ekeler of the Chargers are the only NFL players with at least 500 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving this season.
If the Bears are able to limit the Lions ground game and put Detroit into predictable passing situations, it gives the defense a chance to ignite the renewed pass rush. After failing to take a sack in back-to-back games against the Buccaneers and 49ers, the Bears have produced 10 sacks against the Steelers and Ravens going into Week 12 with the Vikings for the NFL lead with 31 to fail.
Despite allowing one more late winning score, the Bears showed improvement in defense against the Ravens. After allowing at least three touchdowns in four consecutive games, the unit held Baltimore to just one TD. Veterans Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn played monster games, making up for the absence of key teammates. But with Khalil Mack and Danny Trevathan on the injured reserve and Akiem Hicks missing his second game in a row with an ankle injury, the Bears will need more than just Smith and Quinn to take on the Lions.
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