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NFL Preview - Detroit (1-2) at Chicago (2-1)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Detroit Lions ended an ugly chapter in their history with last week's win over the Washington Redskins. Now, the trick for Jim Schwartz and company will be to keep the good times rolling on the road.
Detroit will travel to Soldier Field for a matchup with the longtime division rival Bears, with an eye toward putting another long-standing losing streak to rest.
The Lions have lost 13 in a row away from the Motor City since Oct. 28, 2007, when they defeated the Bears during a period that would stand up as the peak of the Rod Marinelli era.
Twenty-three or so months later, the Lions are hoping their win over the Redskins wasn't the apex of Schwartz's tenure.
The things the Lions did well were in more plentiful supply than they had been in the team's first two miscue-laden losses, to the Saints (45-27) and Vikings (27-10).
Rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had been plagued by turnovers over the first two starts of his NFL career, was 21-of-36 for 241 yards with a touchdown pass and no turnovers for the first time this season. Stafford spread his 21 completions around to eight different targets.
Running back Kevin Smith piled up 101 yards on 16 carries in the win, though he left the contest with a shoulder problem that could limit his availability for Sunday's game a the Bears.
And the defense, clearly energized by the fact that they weren't playing the best quarterback (Drew Brees) or running back (Adrian Peterson) in the league, shut down the Redskins running game (14 carries, 65 yards), kept Washington's big plays to a minimum, and held Washington to a dismal 2-of-10 on third-down conversions.
The Bears also had a happy result in Week 3, as quarterback Jay Cutler earned his first road win with the team.
After eliciting his share of criticism following the Bears' opening-night loss against the Packers, the easy-going signal-caller has pulled out a pair of come-from-behind wins to move Chicago to 2-1.
In last Sunday's 25-19 win at Seattle, Cutler rallied the club first from an early deficit of 13-0, then, with the team down 19-17 late in the fourth- quarter, engineered a six-play, 71-yard touchdown drive to give the Bears their second straight dramatic win.
The big strike was a 36-yard scoring pass to Devin Hester, one of four Bears targets who caught more than four passes on Sunday. For the day, Cutler finished 21-of-27 for 247 yards with three touchdowns, just one interception, and a 126.4 passer rating.
Despite his four-pick performance at the Packers in Week 1, Cutler has raised his season passer rating to a respectable 86.2, with a strong completion percentage of 64.4, and his six touchdown passes through three games rank second in the NFL behind only the nine tossed by Brees.
Chicago leads the all-time series with Detroit, which dates back to the 1930 season, 89-64-5, including a home-and-home sweep last season. The Bears were 34-7 road winners when the clubs met in Week 5, and took a 27-23 decision at Soldier Field in Week 9. The Lions swept the 2007 home-and-home, including a 16-7 triumph in Chicago.
Bears head coach Lovie Smith is 6-4 against the Lions as a head coach, while Detroit's Jim Schwartz will be meeting both Smith and Chicago for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Though Stafford (598 passing yards, 2 TD, 5 INT) picking up his first win was the bigger story for the Detroit offense last week, the work of running back Kevin Smith was undoubtedly a huge component in the attack's success. If Smith (204 rushing yards, 1 TD, 12 receptions) can't go on Sunday due to his injured shoulder, the team will need backup Maurice Morris (25 rushing yards, 1 TD) to step in and replicate his output. Morris carried eight times for just 10 yards in relief of Smith last week, but also scored his first touchdown as a Lion on a two-yard blast in the fourth quarter. In the passing game, Stafford spread the football to eight different targets in the win over Washington, with Bryant Johnson (8 receptions, 1 TD) scoring a touchdown on a 21-yard pass play in the first quarter, and Calvin Johnson (13 receptions, 1 TD) logging a team-best five catches for 49 yards. Rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew (6 receptions) has also been emerging as a target for Stafford over the middle of the field. The Lions have allowed five sacks of Stafford through three weeks and rank 27th in NFL total offense (292.3 yards per game) as Week 4 begins.
The absence of All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher for the remainder of the season will continue to hamper the Bears, who haven't received much luck on the injury front since Urlacher's exit. Linebackers Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee), Hunter Hillenmeyer (rib) and Lance Briggs (foot) have all been bothered by injuries this week, a situation that prompted the team to re-sign Darrell McClover on Tuesday. Starting defensive linemen Tommie Harris (knee), Anthony Adams (knee), and Alex Brown (ankle) are also at less than 100 percent, as is top tackle backup Israel Idonije (knee). The healthiest aspects of the unit at this point are the pass rush, which had three more sacks last week to raise its season total to nine, and a secondary led by cornerback Charles Tillman (12 tackles, 1 INT) and safety Danieal Manning (21 tackles, 1 sack). Brown (10 tackles) and Adewale Ogunleye (7 tackles) have two sacks each from their end spots, while Tillman and Manning come off a week in which they combined for 12 tackles. The Bears are ninth in NFL total defense (293.3 yards per game).
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
Although he has been far from perfect in his first month as a Bear, Cutler (760 passing yards, 6 TD, 5 INT) seems to be forming a comfort level at the helm of the offense. A trio of wide receivers - Earl Bennett (13 receptions), Johnny Knox (9 receptions, 2 TD), and Hester (13 receptions, 2 TD) - have all played a significant role, and Cutler seems to be developing some chemistry with tight end Greg Olsen (9 receptions, 1 TD) as well. Olsen had his first touchdown catch of the Cutler era against the Seahawks last week, finishing with five catches for 44 yards. Bennett posted a team-best 80 receiving yards in the game, and Knox and Hester each scored their second touchdowns of the year. The running game has taken a step back since Cutler's arrival, ranking 28th in the league (71.7 yards per game) and 31st in yards per carry (2.8). Complicating matters is the fact that the struggling Matt Forte' (150 rushing yards, 11 receptions) has been limited by a knee injury in practice this week, a situation that could spell more touches for Adrian Peterson (28 rushing yards) and Garrett Wolfe (23 rushing yards) on Sunday. The Bears are tied for 20th in NFL total offense (315 yards per game).
Cutler and company could be facing a Lions defense that is seriously depleted by injury, although there could be some good news on that front for Detroit. Linebacker Ernie Sims (14 tackles), who missed last week's game with a shoulder injury suffered against the Vikings in Week 2, returned to practice on Wednesday and has a chance to be in the lineup against the Bears. Less certain are defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill (ankle), safety Kalvin Pearson (quadriceps), and end Dewayne White (hamstring). Linebackers Larry Foote (28 tackles, 1 sack) and DeAndre Levy (8 tackles) played a significant role in limiting Portis' effectiveness last week, combining for 15 tackles. On the back end, backup safety Ko Simpson (2 tackles) registered his first interception as a Lion, and cornerback Anthony Henry (22 tackles, 1 INT) and safety Louis Delmas (17 tackles) combined for 10 tackles and three pass deflections. Detroit has four sacks through three games, half of those by end Jason Hunter (11 tackles). The Lions are 27th in NFL total defense (390 yards per game).
The Lions are improving, but can be considered a team with a wealth of great fantasy options at this stage. Kevin Smith would have been worth considering if he wasn't hurt, and it's tough to expect Morris to be able to contribute the numbers befitting of a fantasy starter if he is in the lineup. Calvin Johnson has been hit-or-miss, but it's important to note that he tends to play well in division games. Kicker Jason Hanson hit two field goals last week and remains a solid play.
Cutler doesn't look like he's going to approach the 4,500-yard season he posted with the Broncos last year, and he's always subject to a turnover or several, but against the Lions he's a good play. Of his targets, Knox and Hester look like they'll be the most reliable until further notice, though consistency doesn't figure to be a characteristic of the Bears receivers this year. Forte' has been among the biggest disappointments in fantasy football but if healthy, could have a breakout day against a suspect Lions "D". The Chicago defense is well worth starting against the turnover-laden Stafford, and so is kicker Robbie Gould.
Schwartz is right when he suggests that the Lions have a monkey off their back after ending the losing streak a week ago, and the win should also give the team a nice blast of confidence moving forward. It would not be surprising to see this team win between 5-7 games, and they should be competitive more weeks than not, but this does not look like a great matchup for Detroit. Stafford is going to have trouble staying out of turnovers against a solid Bears pass rush, and the Lions secondary figures to have some trouble holding the Chicago passing attack in check. The Bears aren't a complete enough team to run the Lions off the field, but they have more talent and should pull away in the fourth quarter.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bears 24, Lions 15
10/01 12:37:58 ET