Lions vs. Bears preview: Beware of Howard's fleet feet
James Hawkins of The Detroit News breaks down Sunday’s Lions-Bears game at Soldier Field (1 p.m. Fox/ WJR 760).
BEARS TO WATCH
Jordan Howard, RB: So much for a sophomore slump. Howard ranks fifth in the league with 716 rushing yards, has cracked 100 yards in a game three times this season, is averaging four yards per carry and has four touchdowns, but hasn’t scored the past five games. However, he hasn’t been as effective and used as much in the passing game compared to last year, averaging just 5.6 yards per catch.
Akiem Hicks, DE: Chicago has seemingly brought out the most in the sixth-year pro. Hicks has already tied his career high with seven sacks, recording at least one in four of the past five games, and is on pace for 59 total tackles, which would be a career best. As the anchor up front, he has a knack for plugging gaps and is a dominant presence against the run.
Mitchell Trubisky, QB: The No. 2 overall pick is 2-3 since taking over the starting role in Week 5, with both wins coming in games where Trubisky completed just eight and four passes, respectively. He has completed 51.3 percent of his throws (59-for-115) for three touchdowns and two interceptions this season, and is coming off his best outing of the year when he threw for a season-high 297 yards and a score on 21-for-35 passing in a loss to the Packers last week.
■ Pressure paramount: After sacking Cleveland rookie DeShone Kizer just once last week, the Lions’ fluctuating pass rush should get more shots to tee off on Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky, who has been sacked 16 times in five games. If the secondary can force Trubisky to hold the ball longer and the defensive front can put the rookie in precarious situations, it bodes well for the Lions since he has a 32.0 passer rating when under pressure this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
■ Stuff the run: The Browns challenged the Lions to stop their rushing attack last week and they couldn’t as Cleveland relentlessly pounded the ball right down their throat to the tune of 201 yards and 6.1 yards per carry. Detroit better find a quick fix for the problem or else Jordan Howard, who rushed for 197 and averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the two encounters last season, should have no problem exploiting it.
■ Full roar: For the first time all season, the Lions’ surging offense should be healthy and intact. That means Matthew Stafford will have all his receivers, including deep threat Kenny Golladay, at his disposal and will get a chance to finally operate behind the retooled five-man offensive line general manager Bob Quinn assembled with left tackle Taylor Decker making his season debut last week and right guard T.J. Lang (concussion) in line to return this week.
■ Stay in the picture: The Lions have won two straight and still find themselves looking up in the NFC standings. They remain two games behind the Vikings in the NFC North and are on the outside looking in as the No. 8 seed in the NFC. The Lions can’t afford to lose momentum and a divisional game with a crucial Thanksgiving Day date with the Vikings looming.
FACTS AND FIGURES
■ The Lions have returned six total touchdowns on defense and special teams this season, the most through the first nine games since 1971 (six).
■ The Lions are 10-3 in November under coach Jim Caldwell and have won eight straight games. They’re tied with the Chiefs for the second-most wins in the month over the past four seasons.
■ Matthew Stafford has 30 career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. He joined Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (32) as the only QBs since 1970 to record at least 30 in their first nine seasons.
■ Nine of the last 10 meetings have been decided by single digits, including five by three points or less.
■ The Lions have won seven of the past eight meetings, including three of the last four at Soldier Field.
■ The Bears have scored fewer than 20 points in seven of their nine games, while the Lions have scored at least 24 points seven times.