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Pregame Warmup

4 things to watch in Bears-Lions game


The Bears will look to record their third straight win and remain in first place in the NFC North Sunday when they host the Lions. Here are four storylines to watch in the game:

(1) Will the Bears defense continue to perform at a high level?
The defense enters Sunday's game against the Lions on a major roll after dominant performances in back-to-back wins. The unit allowed season lows with 207 total yards and 12 first downs in a 24-10 victory over the Jets and followed by producing four takeaways, two touchdowns and four sacks in a 41-9 demolition of the Bills.

Coach Matt Nagy is pleased that the defense has been playing fast and physical and with a ton of confidence. "They've been playing well and they know that they need to play even better and keep turning it up as we play these division games," Nagy said.

Sunday's game is the first of three division contests in a 12-day span for the Bears, who enter Week 10 in first place in the NFC North with a 5-3 record. They're preparing this week to face Lions veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has completed 67.8 percent of his passes this season for 2,111 yards with 14 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 96.5 passer rating that ranks 14th in the NFL.

"They're similar on offense to what they've been in the past," said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. "He still slings the ball pretty damn good. He can throw it both from a release standpoint, different platforms, accuracy, arm strength as good as damn near anybody in the league, and I still see that."

The Lions allowed 10 sacks last weekend in a 24-9 loss to the Vikings and will play Sunday without guard T.J. Lang (neck). "They really hadn't given up many [sacks] prior to [last Sunday]," Fangio said. "So it's probably a little bit of an anomaly there. The Vikings didn't do anything special to get them other than they did a really good job of rushing their four guys. I don't see it being a trend for them, but we'll see."

(2) How will Bears second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky*fare Sunday?*
After passing for 354, 316, 330 and 220 yards in his previous four games, Trubisky connected on 12 of 20 passes for 135 yards last Sunday in Buffalo, season lows in all three categories. But that had more to do with the fact that the Bears defense scored two touchdowns, which contributed to the offense running only 46 plays, 20 fewer than its season average. Trubisky, who still led the unit to three touchdowns in the romp, likely will have more opportunities to throw the ball Sunday against the Lions.  

Trubisky enters Week 10 having completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 1,949 yards with 16 TDs, seven interceptions and a 96.1 passer rating. He has also rushed for 302 yards, the second by an NFL quarterback behind the Panthers' Cam Newton.

Trubisky is a more seasoned quarterback than the one who started this year's opener in Green Bay. "I just feel like I have more command of the offense and command of the huddle and just feel like I'm a good leader for this offense," Trubisky said. "I'm just very confident going out there and leading my guys. There are still areas I have to improve within my game and I'm still growing in that. But I feel comfortable and confident with where I am as a leader with command of this offense, getting in and out of the huddle, seeing things post-snap. It's all starting to slow down."

Nagy is pleased with the progress that Trubisky has made and feels the quarterback will take the next step when he masters how to read defenses and understands "how to fit what we do offensively into what he sees within three seconds of the snap."

3) How much of a difference will outside linebacker Khalil Mack and receiver Allen Robinson IImake in their return from injury?
After sitting out back-to-back wins against the Jets and Bills, Mack and Robinson practiced all week without restrictions and will return to game action Sunday against the Lions, which should provide a major boost on both sides of the ball.

The rest figures to help Mack, who was named the NFC defensive player of the month following an outstanding September during which he registered five sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception that he returned for a touchdown in four games. Mack wasn't as effective while trying to play through an ankle injury in losses to the Dolphins and Patriots. But after a few weeks of rest, he figures to revert to his previous form.

Sitting out regular-season games for the first time in his five-year NFL career wasn't easy for Mack. "He wants to be out there," Nagy said. "But sometimes in these types of situations, we have to protect a player from the player. You get guys that want to be out there and want to be playing and doing everything that they can. That's OK; I love that part of it. But we need to make sure that on the health-side of it, are we doing the right thing for him and for our team?"

Robinson, meanwhile, also returns after missing the last two games. In the first six contests, he caught 25 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns. The veteran receiver has been described as a "security blanket" for the Bears offense. "There's that comfort level," Nagy said. "He's a leader in that wide receiver room and our guys feel that."

(4) As the Bears begin a crucial stretch of their season, will they reverse a negative trend against their NFC North rivals?
The Bears have lost 10 straight division games, with their last win coming on Halloween night in 2016 against the Vikings. They've lost nine of their last 10 to the Lions, six of seven to the Vikings and 15 of 17 to the Packers. They know they'll have to reverse that trend to remain atop the NFC North as they prepare for a stretch of three games against the Lions, Vikings and Lions again in a 12-day span.

"This is going to be real now," Nagy said. "For us to play three games in 12 days, and two games 80-something hours apart, that's going to test you. It's very important that our players understand that we only focus on Detroit, but in the back you understand mentally, physically, emotionally, you've got to take care of yourself."

"These next three games will tell a lot about who we are and where we're headed," Trubisky said. "But we've got to take them one at a time, so we're just focused on Detroit this week. There's a lot of opportunity up ahead, so we've got to just take them one game at a time and take advantage of every opportunity we get."

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