This week marks the return of the Detroit Lions to the national stage, as they head to Chicago for Monday Night Football looking to capitalize on some positive momentum following last week's comeback in Philadelphia. The meat of the NFC North schedule still remains for Detroit, so a win this week would go a long way towards setting the team up well for a second half run at what looks to be a wide open division.
What must the Lions do to get the job done this week with everybody watching? Here's five things to watch which will go a long way towards determining that.
1. Can Detroit Get Off To A Better Start? We've seen the Lions rally from plenty of incomparable deficits on the road. The problem, though, is the Lions keep putting themselves in the position to need such epic comebacks. How good would this team be if they could put together a sustained 60 minutes start to finish? This week, that question may have to be answered if the Lions want to win their second straight road game. With their tough defense, Chicago doesn't cough up leads much in the fourth quarter, especially at home. In this road contest, the Lions need to get off to a more controlled, consistent start and not allow things to snowball. If they can get off to a good start while sustaining their great second half play, Detroit will be in good shape to get the job done.
2. Mikel Leshoure And The Running Game. Against Philadelphia, Detroit had their best rushing output of the season, grinding out 138 yards on the ground. In the fourth quarter, that helped wear down Philadelphia's defense, and the passing game benefited, as Matthew Stafford was able to have time in the pocket to find open receivers. This week, the Lions take on the number one rush defense in the NFL. If Leshoure and Joique Bell are able to give Detroit anything close to last week's output, the Lions' offense will have a much easier time operating efficiently. Last season, the Bears limited the Lions to just 80 yards at Soldier Field. A better output would work wonders for the offense.
3. Detroit's Defensive Line Against Chicago's Offensive Line. The Bears know the Lions' defensive linemen are nasty, but as one member of their offensive line said last week, "we can be nasty, too." Heading into an important divisional game, that's just the kind of talk fans should want to hear. As everyone knows, Chicago often has trouble protecting Jay Cutler. Against the Eagles, the Lions' defensive line made some clutch plays while pressuring Michael Vick. This match up is going to be perhaps the best (and most important) of this game. If the Lions play like they did last week and the Bears struggle, it will be an interesting night for Chicago's passing offense. Watch for the Bears to try and get Matt Forte involved with short passes and quick outside runs to limit the impact of several dominant pass rushers.
4. The Turnover Battle. Last week, the Lions won it convincingly and it helped demoralize the Eagles at home. They snagged their first two interceptions of the season and made more impact plays happen by getting to the quarterback. Now, the challenge will be to keep the turnover train rolling. Chicago's defense is a top four team with regard to turnover margin, and Detroit's offense has done a good job preventing huge mistakes thus far. Last season, two interception returns for touchdowns helped bury the Lions in the Windy City, so they will need to eliminate the big play from Chicago's defense by playing it safe. Conversely, they must force Cutler and the Bears' offense into making a few mistakes of their own as well.
5. Underdog Attitude. Right now, the Lions are nobody's darlings. They were picked to do much better in 2012, and have started the season out on the wrong foot. While last week definitely raised some eyebrows in a positive way, nobody is picking Detroit to follow up that performance with a win in Chicago. Most pundits have the Lions losing in ugly fashion, because that's what they always do at Soldier Field. Perhaps this will help the Lions have a bit of an edge as underdogs. The longer they can hang around in a rowdy atmosphere, the better their chances of snatching away a win which would surprise plenty of people.
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