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4 things to watch in Bears-Lions game


The Bears (3-7) will look to snap a five-game losing streak Thursday when they visit the winless Lions (0-9-1) at Ford Field in Detroit. Here are four storylines to watch in the Thanksgiving game:

(1) How will the Bears offense perform with Andy Dalton making his first start in 10 weeks?

With rookie quarterback Justin Fields sidelined due to an injury to his ribs, Dalton will start his first game since Week 2 against the Bengals, a 20-17 win he exited in the second quarter due to a knee injury. The veteran quarterback hopes to build off last Sunday's performance versus the Ravens, when he replaced an injured Fields early in the third quarter and sparked an offense that had been shut out in the first half for the first time this season. Dalton threw touchdown passes of 60 and 49 yards and posted a 107.3 passer rating in the 16-13 loss.

With such a quick turnaround from Sunday to Thursday, the Bears didn't conduct any regular practices this week, holding walk-throughs instead. While that presented a challenge with a different 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 talking through everything and making sure we're on the same page of how we want things run and how we want to execute on some of these plays … It's a lot of just talking through it. There's a lot of mental stuff that you go through."

(2) Will the Bears be able to establish their running game?

Running back is arguably the Bears' strongest position, boasting the dynamic 1-2 punch of 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" during Montgomery's absence, has gained 364 yards and one TD on 86 attempts.

The Bears rank sixth in the NFL in rushing, while the Lions defense is 31st against the run, an enticing mismatch at least on paper. If the Bears can run the ball successfully, it should put them in third-and-manageable situations and help them sustain drives. Last Sunday against the Ravens, they converted only 2-of-11 third-down plays and possessed the ball for just 21:10.

The Lions defense has improved since Detroit's bye week, allowing only 29 points in a 16-16 tie with the Steelers and a 13-10 loss to the Browns. But the unit has permitted 236, 145 and 184 yards rushing in its last three games.

(3) Will the Bears eliminate the costly defensive breakdowns that have contributed to deflating back-to-back losses?

Against both the Steelers and Ravens, the Bears offense capped 75-yard drives with late go-ahead touchdowns only for the defense to immediately surrender the winning points in the final seconds. Last Sunday versus Baltimore, a blown coverage 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 busted coverage," said defensive coordinator Sean Desai. "It was a miscommunication, a frustrating miscommunication on a lot of levels, and anything that's reflective on the field is reflective on me. I've got to make sure the guys do a better job of that … The unfortunate part is we played that coverage a dozen times in that game probably before that and executed it correctly. But it's inexcusable, and I think the guys know that it's unacceptable, and we've got to make sure that we don't do that."

The return of safety Eddie Jackson would provide a huge boost to the secondary and the defense. The fifth-year pro is listed as questionable 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 with 6:00 remaining snapped a 16-16 tie and gave the Bears a 23-16 victory.

(4) Will the Bears defense be able to contain an improved Lions running game?

Second-year 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 attempts versus the Browns. The former Georgia star is also an adept receiver out of the backfield; he and the Chargers' Austin Ekeler are the NFL's only 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 in predictable passing situations, it'll give the defense a chance to ignite re-energized pass rush. After failing to record a sack in back-to-back games against the Buccaneers and 49ers, the Bears have produced 10 sacks versus the Steelers and Ravens and enter Week 12 tied with the Vikings for the NFL lead with 31 sacks.

Despite allowing another late game-winning score, the Bears showed improvement on defense against the Ravens. After permitting at least three touchdowns in four straight games, the unit held Baltimore to just one TD. Veterans Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn had monster games, helping to make up for the absence of key teammates. But with Khalil Mack and Danny Trevathan on injured reserve and Akiem Hicks set to miss his second straight game with an ankle injury, the Bears will need more than just Smith and Quinn to step up against the Lions.

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