Lions vs. Bears: Biggest X-Factors in Sunday's NFC North Clash

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2013

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 20: Wide receiver Kris Durham #18 of the Detroit Lions catches a pass while under pressure from defensive back Chris Crocker #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the first half at Ford Field on October 20, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears will square off for at least partial ownership of first place in the NFC North.

In a now Aaron Rodgers-less division, the Lions and Bears have to like their chances of winning the division a lot more. Each team enters the matchup at 5-3, with Detroit holding the head-to-head advantage with a 40-32 win earlier in the season.

Chicago will look to return the favor at home in what should be a high-scoring game between two souring offenses and lacking defenses. Here are some players to watch in this potential shootout.


WR Kris Durham, Lions

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 27: Kris Durham #18 of the Detroit Lions catches a fourth quarter pass in front of Jakr Hamilton #23 of the Dallas Cowboys at Ford Field on October 27, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 31-30. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/G
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

This just in: Calvin Johnson is really good.

The last time the Lions took the field, Johnson tallied 14 catches and 329 yards against the Dallas Cowboys. Spoiled fantasy owners were left murmuring at how he could have scored four touchdowns instead of one had he not been constantly stopped at the 1-yard line.

Chicago will throw the kitchen sink at Megatron, and although they won't succeed at shutting him down, the star receiver will open up looks for others. Kris Durham is emerging as the primary benefactor.

Over the last four games, Durham has received 35 targets, catching 20 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. The 6'6" wideout who made a key catch during Detroit's game-winning drive over Dallas provides yet another towering target for Matthew Stafford. His role as the No. 2 receiver is expanding by the week.

Expect Stafford to look Durham's way often on Sunday.


LB Khaseem Greene, Bears

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 29:  Khaseem Greene #60 of the Chicago Bears tackles Jamaine Cook #36 of the Cleveland Browns at Soldier Field on August 29, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Browns defeated the Bears 18-16.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With Brian Urlacher enjoying retirement and Lance Briggs injured, the Bears are not the same defensively.

Opposing offenses are doing just fine against them through the air, but they're faring even better on the ground. The Bears have allowed 127.5 rushing yards per game, ranking them 29th in the NFL

While he's not about to fill Briggs' shoes, the Bears need some capable reps from rookie linebacker Khaseem Greene.

In his first taste of action at weak side linebacker, the fourth-round pick from Rutgers recorded four solo tackles against the Green Bay Packers. He delivered on all of his opportunities, but Eddie Lacy still finished with 150 rushing yards.

In their earlier meeting, Reggie Bush ran for 139 yards and a score against the Bear's flimsy defense. The pressure is on Greene to help fix Chicago's woes against the rush in his second career start.


DE Ezekiel Ansah, Lions

Detroit has recorded 13 sacks through eight games; only the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Giants have experienced less success bringing down the quarterback. Against the returning Jay Cutler, an amplified pass rush would help fluster the battered quarterback.

Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah notched three sacks during the first five games, but he has since failed to accumulate any more. Yet he still trails Ndamukong Suh by 0.5 sack for the team lead.

Making a speedy recovery from a groin injury, Cutler will play in this week's pivotal showdown. Perhaps he feels comfortable against a lackluster pass rush that results in a leaky passing defense. If Detroit can't dial up the pressure, Cutler will orchestrate a successful reunion with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. 

Suh receives most of the attention down in the trenches, so the Lions need Ansah to be the answer on Sunday.