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Durkin's Preview: Bears-Lions

By Dan Durkin-

(CBS) For Bears fans, their biggest rival is the Green Bay Packers, even though it hasn't been much of a rivalry of late. For Bears players, their biggest rival is the Detroit Lions.

There's no love lost between these two teams who are playing against each other on Thanksgiving (11:30 am on CBS) for the first time since 1999. This game amounts to a must-win for both teams who enter Thursday's game in different states of mind.

The Bears (5-6, third place in the NFC North) have won two straight games, in very unconvincing fashion against inferior opponents. While the Lions (7-4, second place in the NFC North), on the other hand, have lost two straight games to arguably two of the best teams in football.

In reality, the Bears have nothing to lose. The consensus is this team isn't good anyway, so a loss would come as a surprise to no one. However, if they are somehow able to pull this game out, it will open the eyes of fans, if only for a moment before they settle into a tryptophan-induced couch coma.

Both of these teams do however share a common theme -- underachieving offenses.

The Bears haven't scored a point in the first quarter of six-straight games and have been shut out in the first half of three of their last five games. Slow starts stemming from self-inflicted wounds have plagued Marc Trestman's offense.

"We've got to be able to take care of ourselves first," Trestman said. "Those have really been the struggles in terms of penalties, we've got to stay onsides and do those types of things, missed assignments - just overall, just accounting for ourselves would go a long way for us to be able to have the opportunity to move the ball on our first drives."

Meanwhile, the Lions haven't reached the end zone in 22-straight possessions.

Those are trends, folks.

Given the short week to prepare and Lions prowess on defense -- they lead the league in points allowed (17) and rush defense (71 yards per game) -- this hardly seems like the week that the Bears will put everything together on offense.

Bears running back Matt Forte has had great success against the Detroit throughout his career, totaling 1,365 scrimmage yards (114 total yards per game) and nine touchdowns (six rushing, three receiving). However, running lanes will be hard to come by per offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer.

"They've penetrated offenses very well with their defensive line," Kromer said. "Then their linebackers are extremely aggressive. They're not big, but they get off blocks and they get edges. When they decide that you're running in a certain hole, or their hole that they have to fit, they do a great job of dipping their shoulder and getting under people and getting into the backfield to make the tackle. It's been rough sledding against them."

Complicating things for the Bears, the Lions are primarily a zone-coverage team, which has given the Bears' offense fits all season, which is odd considering they practice against a zone-based scheme every day. Their game day struggles have been related to penalties, blown assignments and poor individual execution.

However, schematically the Bears have been unimaginative and their receivers lack speed and suddenness to take the top off the zone. They rely more on size and strength to out-leverage defenders.

As such, defenses can crowd closer to the line to limit the space between underneath and deep defenders. Ultimately opponents are testing the Bears' patience and ability to play sustained, error-free football on offense, which they've proven incapable of as quarterback Jay Cutler's 18 turnovers lead the league and their 28 pre-snap penalties are the ninth-most in the league.

The Lions defense doesn't give quarterbacks much time to survey the field, even so, Cutler realizes the Bears are going to have to find ways to make plays in the vertical passing game.

"Not a lot of people are taking shots because theres just not a lot of time," Cutler said. "We're gonna have to invent some ways to get creative and find ways to push the ball down(field) a little bit because it's gonna be really hard to dink and dunk these guys, five (yards) at a time all the way down the field."

The Lions offense has been struggling to run the ball, averaging 80 yards per game, which ranks 30th in the league. They may get a boost this week with the possible return of Reggie Bush, who is looking for his third-straight 100-yard rushing game against the Bears.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford is aiming for his third-straight win over the Bears. Stafford has thrown an interception in six of his last seven games, but Bears secondary has struggled this season. The Bears' top performer -- cornerback Kyle Fuller (knee) - is questionable for the game, so the Lions can attack with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.

Both of these teams are dealing with a variety of injuries to key starters on a short week. This game will come down to which offensive line can control the line of scrimmage. Taking in all the variables, this game favors the Lions to end their losing streak while breaking the Bears' winning streak.

Dan Durkin covers the Bears for and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.

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