After two weeks on the road, the Detroit Lions finally head back home to the comforts of Ford Field. There won't be much time to enjoy those comforts, though, as the first place Chicago Bears come knocking early on Sunday afternoon set to put their perfect record on the line.
As the Lions and Bears prepare to battle for first place, there's several important things to watch, but we've narrowed the list down to five.
1. Reggie Bush's Return. Bush, for all intents and purposes, had a much better week of practice and was able to get back on the field. Detroit likely rested him for this game, knowing they could compete with Washington sans Bush, and realizing the importance of having him rested for an NFC North battle. Can Bush be effective given his knee ailment, though? Moreover, can he survive what figures to be another hard hitting battle? Without Nate Burleson, big secondary contributions from Bush will be badly needed.
2. Henry Melton's Departure. Just as Bush returns, the Bears sustained a gargantuan loss along their defensive line with the news that Melton would be lost for the season. He brings plenty of physicality and play making, and the Lions could certainly capitalize without him around, given his backup Nate Collins is a largely untested, marginal backup. Knowing that, the Lions could test the middle of the defensive line immediately with runs and focus their attention elsewhere in quarterback defense. How well Collins plays and how much Chicago ends up missing Melton, who's recorded eight tackles, one sack and one forced fumble against the Lions during his career, might determine how well the Bears' defensive line performs,
3. The Secondaries. As detailed in yesterday's "Inside The Numbers" piece, since both Chicago and Detroit protect their quarterbacks well, pressure from either defensive line could end up being a push in this contest. Knowing that, it will be vital to watch Chicago's 24th rated pass defense and the Lions' 18th rated pass defense. Charles Tillman is dinged up for the Bears, so they might have an uncomfortable time dealing with Calvin Johnson, Bush and company. Similarly, Chris Houston and company will have to defend Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett, which is no easy task. Whichever secondary wins the battle against their excellent receiving counterparts will help their team to a victory.
4. Mistakes. Again, Chicago and Detroit are neck and neck when it comes to takeaways, so whomever makes the fewest mistakes offensively will be in good shape. Conversely, whomever forces the most on defense and then capitalizes will probably win. In games where everything else is even, mistakes go a long way towards determining the victor. From Detroit's perspective, Matthew Stafford has to be careful with his reads, and nobody can afford to put the ball on the ground against a defense which thrives on defensive touchdowns.
5. Detroit's Passing Attack Without Nate Burleson. On the heels of Burleson's freak injury, there's big questions about who else will step up for Detroit. Count on Johnson, Bush and Joique Bell to play well, but the Lions need someone else to show up in order to give the offense proper amounts of depth. It probably won't be Patrick Edwards given his ankle injury, but certainly expect Tony Scheffler, Joseph Fauria, Ryan Broyles and perhaps even Brandon Pettigrew to be featured. A big day from someone not named Johnson, Bell or Bush and Detroit might win going away.
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