. . . I think I'll take a cue from Barry, flip the ball to the ref, and act like I've been there before. Thanks, Kevin.
As expected, the Bears almost certainly will be without linebackers Hunter Hillenmeyer (ribs) and Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) against the Lions. Both are listed as doubtful. They will be replaced by Nick Roach and Jamar Williams, respectively. Linebacker Lance Briggs (foot) and defensive end Alex Brown (ankle) are listed as questionable but should play.
Lions fans know all too well how critical it is to the Tampa 2 defense that the linebackers be both effective and disciplined, "fitting" their gaps on every down to close off running lanes. If a linebacker overpursues, is late to the play, or is simply in the wrong place, the results can be disastrous.
If the Bears, who are blitzing on an inordinate number of snaps this year, are relying on these replacements to play meticulously disciplined football, there could be a lot of room in the second level for Kevin Smith--assuming, of course, that he himself is healthy enough to play.
It's imperative that the Lions do what they did against the Vikings and Redskins, and get control of the game early. They will have to keep the ball out of Jay Cuter's hands to keep the newly-born winning streak alive. They will need to "flip the field" several times--by forcing turnovers, avoiding turnovers, and excelling in both kick return and kick coverage.
Closing my eyes, exhaling, and listening to my gut, I hear a roaring message, loud and clear: it's time for a midnight snack. Oh, that, and "The Lions don't win road games". It’s almost cliché to point that out, but it’s true. The Lions have been absolutely wretched on the road since Millen was hired; at one point they even racked up an all-time NFL worst 24 straight road losses.
In division, it's even worse: the Lions have only won three divisional road games in the last nine years. It's one thing to squeak by a collapsing Redskins team in the, uh, intimate setting of a 2/3rds-full Ford Field, but going on the road and winning in the NFC Norris? It sounds impossible for this please-excuse-our-dust roster.
. . . and yet . . . Look carefully at those links. The 24-game road losing streak was snapped against the Bears. The other two divisional road wins were also in Soldier Field. In fact, you have to go back to 1998 to find a Lions road win against a non-Bears in-division opponent--and that was a victory over the Buccaneers, who aren't even in-division anymore!
Utimately, of course, all of these historical trends don't mean anything. This about Stafford, Smith, and Schwartz, and Cutler and Forte—people these teams are built around, that weren’t even on these three years ago. This is about two banged-up defenses starting rookies and street free agents. This is about a new Lions squad suiting up against an old rival on their turf, and seeing how they measure up.
I'm going to take a page from 49ers writer Matt Maiocco and label this Sunday's matchup a "GPS Game": this game will show us exactly where the Lions are at. How much they've improved, how fast, how close they are to being competitive in the division, and how ready Matthew Stafford is to be a winning quarterback.
It may be impossible, historically speaking for a rookie Lions quarterback to lead a fresh-off-a-19-game-losing-streak mishmash of a team into rival's stadium, outplay that team's new franchise quarterback, and return to the Motor City with their win "streak" intact . . . but if it's possible anywhere, it's possible at the Lions' home away from home, Soldier Field.