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5 things to watch in Bears-Lions game

Bears quarterback Justin Fields
Bears quarterback Justin Fields

The Bears (3-12) will look to snap an eight-game losing streak when they visit the Lions (7-8) Sunday in Detroit. Here are four storylines to follow in the game:

(1) Will dynamic second-year pro Justin Fields continue to ascend?

Fields has blossomed into a dangerous dual-threat quarterback this season, rushing for 1,011 yards and eight touchdowns on 150 carries and throwing for 2,167 yards and 16 TDs. The 2021 first-round pick had rushed for at least 70 yards in five straight games—the longest streak by an NFL quarterback since at least 1950—before being held to a season-low 11 yards on seven carries last Saturday against the Bills.

Fields ranks seventh in the NFL and first among quarterbacks in rushing this year. The only quarterbacks who've ran for more yards in a season have been the Ravens' Lamar Jackson (1,206 in 2019) and the Falcons' Michael Vick (1,039 in 2006).

Fields had one of his best games of the year in the Bears' first meeting with the Lions Nov. 13 at Soldier Field, accounting for four touchdowns in a 31-30 loss. He rushed for 147 yards and two TDs, including a 67-yarder, and passed for 167 yards and two TDs, including a 50-yarder to tight end Cole Kmet.

While out of playoff contention, the Bears view their final two games versus NFC North rivals Detroit and Minnesota as golden opportunities for Fields to gain more experience.

"Every opportunity and every experience we can get him, expose him to, will create a better version of him," said offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. "Anytime anybody experiences something for the first time, you handle it better the next time and the third time and the fourth time and the fifth time."

(2) Can the Bears defense contain Jared Goff and an explosive Lions offense?

The Bears will look to slow down the red-hot Detroit quarterback, who has not thrown an interception in his last seven starts. Goff has passed for 3,959 yards with 26 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 98.3 rating that ranks seventh in the NFL. He has thrown for at least 330 yards in three of his last four games.

Goff and the Lions offense are especially potent at Ford Field. He leads all NFL quarterbacks with 20 TD passes at home and Detroit tops the league in scoring at home with 32.6 points per game. Goff's top target is Amon-Ra St. Brown—the brother of Bears receiver Equanimeous St. Brown—who ranks sixth in the NFL with 96 receptions and 10th in receiving yards with 1,050.

The Lions are fourth in the NFL in total yards, fifth in points, sixth in first downs and eighth in passing yards. They're also tied for the fewest turnovers (15), tied for the second fewest interceptions (7) and have permitted the second fewest sacks (21).

"We get this sheet each week," said Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams. "If the [opponents] are tops in the league, it's green. If it's somewhere in the middle of the pack, it's white. And then if you're not doing well, it's red. [With the Lions], we see green, green, green, green … They do a lot of things extremely well."

(3) Which young players will make the most of their opportunities to step up?

Cornerback Kyler Gordon has been performing well of late, especially in terms of generating takeaways. The second-round pick has registered interceptions in each of the last two games and also recovered a fumble two weeks ago against the Eagles.

With cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor both on injured reserve, Gordon has remained outside and not moved inside to nickel back in passing situations like he did most of the season. He'll look to continue to make plays on the ball in Detroit.

The injuries have also given undrafted rookie cornerbacks Josh Blackwell and Jaylon Jones a chance to get on the field, and both have responded. Jones was credited with two pass breakups versus the Bills.

A rash of injuries has forced the Bears to play most of their 53-man roster. But Eberflus hinted that they could experiment at times in the last two games of the season.

"When you're at where our roster is at right now at the end of the year, we've got a lot of guys on IR, so the combinations really aren't that many that you can do," Eberflus said. "But certainly we're going to move guys around a little bit, potentially offensive line, defensive line. But it's not any big shift. For example, we might look at [defensive tackle] Justin Jones, might be a three-technique and we might put him out at end. That's an example we might have. We've talked about doing that before."

(4) Will the Bears improve their run defense?

The Bears rank 31st against the run, yielding an average of 151.2 yards per game. Last weekend against the Bills, they surrendered 254 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries, an average of 8.2 yards per carry.

"It's a lot of things," Williams said. "First, it's, 'hey, we have to be stouter up the middle.' You can't let people run down the middle of the defense. No. 2 is you have to fit up the runs. In this defense, you have to be gap sound and guys have to read their keys first, and then go where the assignments say to go based on the coverage. And three is the secondary. It may be a 10-, 14-, 20-yard gain. It can't be a 30-yard gain. So we have to tackle well in the secondary.

"Each level has a responsibility. So you have to [have] a little bit more attention to detail and get guys on the ground when they get in the open field."

Stopping the run won't be an easy task against the Lions; running back Jamaal Williams leads the NFL with 14 rushing TDs and has gained a career-high 850 yards on 224 carries. The Bears, meanwhile, have allowed a league-high 27 rushing TDs.

Detroit also boasts a strong offensive line.

"The strength of their team is the offensive line," Eberflus said. "That's the most talent they have on their groups and certainly they've been playing very well. They've done a good job of limiting sacks and doing those types of things and obviously running the ball as of late. That's always a big part of having success is offensive line."

(5) Can the Bears play spoiler and slow down the streaking Lions?

We usually discuss four storylines; think of the fifth as a late Christmas present.

The Lions opened the season 1-6 and then went 6-1 to even their record at 7-7 and put themselves in playoff contention. They took a step back last week, allowing season highs in total yards (570) and rushing yards (320) in a disappointing 37-23 road loss to the Panthers.

But Detroit will be ultra-motivated to keep their playoff hopes alive when they return to Ford Field Sunday for their regular season home finale. The Lions enter Week 17 a half-game behind the Commanders (7-7-1) for the seventh and final wild card spot in the NFC.

Detroit ranks 32nd in the NFL in points allowed. But the Lions have yielded an average of only 20.1 points in their last eight games after permitting 33.0 over their first seven contests.

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