Larry Mayer and Eli Kaberon of ChicagoBears.com discuss the Bears players they'll be watching on both sides of the ball in Saturday's road game against the Detroit Lions.
Offense: Receiver Kendall Wright
The Bears offense took a major step in the right direction last Sunday in Cincinnati, and Wright was a huge part of the resurgence. The veteran receiver caught 10 passes for 107 yards from quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to help the Bears amass season highs in points (33), first downs (29) and yards (482). The two will look to continue to develop their rapport Saturday in Detroit.
"Kendall's such a smart, savvy player," said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. "I was in Tennessee when we drafted him. I'm a huge fan of his. Just the choice routes, the things that he's able to do, Kendall's going to win when you give him options. But it's also Mitchell understanding based on coverage where the window's going to be. Is it a first-window throw? Is it a second-window throw? Is it quarters? Is he going to be an out-breaker or is he going to sit down? Those are things that we have to work through with these guys."
On Saturday at Ford Field, Wright and the Bears will face a Lions defense that ranks 27th in the NFL against the pass and features cornerback Darius Slay, who leads Detroit with five interceptions and 17 pass breakups.
Defense: Safety Eddie Jackson
The rookie fourth-round draft pick again showed his ball skills and playmaking ability in last Sunday's win over the Bengals when he generated the game's only two turnovers. Jackson intercepted an Andy Dalton pass that deflected off receiver A.J. Green and later created another takeaway by masterfully ripping the ball away from Green and recovering the fumble.
"He's got good football instincts," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said when asked about Jackson's forced fumble. "That's a good football play; to have the awareness that, ‘hey, the tackle is secure,' to rip that ball out and stay inbounds. There are a lot of things that went on in that play that he was aware of. He's an instinctive player, which I think was shown there on several levels."
Jackson is the first Bears rookie since Mark Carrier in 1990 to generate at least two games with two takeaways. The Alabama product had an interception and fumble recovery—returning both for touchdowns—in a 17-3 win over the Panthers Oct. 22 at Soldier Field.
The Bears will need Jackson and the rest of their secondary to make more impact plays Saturday in Detroit. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,683 yards with 23 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 97.9 passer rating that ranks eighth in the NFL. Stafford, however, has thrown four of his nine picks in his last three games.
Offense: Running back Jordan Howard
In Howard, the Bears have a clear tone setter on offense. When the second-year back is running well and picking up yards on early downs, Chicago has a terrific chance of success. The Bears have run the ball 185 times this season on first-and-10, fifth-most in the league; in comparison, the team's 112 pass attempts in the same down and distance are the fewest in the NFL. Most of those first down runs go to Howard, who is fourth in the NFL with 604 rushing yards on first-and-10, thanks to his ability to keep his legs moving and always falling forwards to gain extra yards.
The Lions have struggled versus the run this season, allowing an average of 4.25 yards per rush attempt. With that in mind, Howard should be able to get going early and often. When Chicago and Detroit met on November 19 at Soldier Field, Howard ran for 125 yards on 15 carries and scored a touchdown; his 8.3 yards per attempt set a career high. Given how important he is to the unit's overall success, expect the offense to feature a heavy dose of No. 24 on Saturday.
Defense: Nickel back Bryce Callahan
He may not even be in the starting lineup, but the Bears nickel back will be sure to have an important role for the Chicago defense Saturday. Facing a fast Lions offense on the Ford Field turf, the Bears are going to need to utilize their own speed to keep up. That means that Callahan could see extensive playing time. He was on the field for 81 percent of the defensive plays last week against the Bengals, doing his part to limit Cincinnati to just 164 net passing yards.
Versus the Lions, Callahan may very well have some matches with Detroit's top receiver, Golden Tate. The Lions move Tate around a good amount and occasionally have him lined up in the slot. Tate and fellow wide receiver Marvin Jones both have more than 850 receiving yards so far this season, as the Lions pass it frequently. While Chicago's outside corners are sure to get plenty of work too, it may be up to Callahan to patrol the middle of the field and make sure Stafford isn't able to pick apart the Bears defense.