Thanksgiving is synonymous with football. Somewhat regrettably, this year’s holiday will kick off with the Bears (3-7) against the Lions (0-9-1) in a matchup that will be missing Justin Fields, the most exciting young player on either team.
Bears fans will tune in nonetheless. Andy Dalton will start Thursday for the Bears while Fields rests his injured ribs. The Bears need a win to break their five-game losing streak and the Lions, well, are still hunting for their first win.
Here are five things to watch Thursday.
1. Matt Nagy’s future
Speculation ran wild this week when a report surfaced that Thursday’s game might be coach Matt Nagy’s last in charge of the Bears. He denied that Tuesday, calling the report inaccurate. He did not, however, say that he had been assured he will coach out the season.
So his future remains in limbo.
Really, nothing much has changed. Nagy’s future has been in doubt, whether officially or not, for several weeks (arguably since last year). What’s clear is that the Bears really need a win. Like, really, really need a win. A loss to the hapless Lions might be the final nail in the coffin.
2. Andy Dalton’s return to the starting job
Dalton’s return isn’t going to be long term. In a perfect world, this will be his only start. The health of Fields’ ribs will determine that, though.
Look for the Bears to prepare a game plan much like they did in Weeks 1 and 2, when Dalton was the starter. They will want him to release the ball quickly. Let Darnell Mooney work in space, like he did on last week’s 60-yard touchdown run. Let the running game dictate the tempo behind running back David Montgomery.
Dalton and Fields are not the same quarterback. Their game plans shouldn’t be either. The good thing is this Bears offense was built around the idea that Dalton would be the starter.
3. Will the Bears defense rebound?
The Bears defense played a great game Sunday against the Ravens – until the final two minutes. The Ravens didn’t score a touchdown until the final minute. The breakdowns in the secondary were egregious, particularly on the blown coverage that went for 29 yards on third-and-12.
Defensive coordinator Sean Desai knows it must be better in a key moment like that. He said the team ran the same coverage a dozen times in the game and never had a mistake quite so bad as that.
“It’s inexcusable and I think the guys know that it’s unacceptable, and we’ve got to make sure that we don’t do that,” Desai said.
If ever there was a team to rebound against, it’s the Lions. They are 30th in scoring (16 points per game) and 27th in total offense (312 yards per game). Their leading receivers are tight end T.J. Hockenson (499 yards) and running back D’Andre Swift (420 yards). Not a single player at the wide receiver position has reached 400 receiving yards on the season.
4. Can the Bears keep getting pressure?
Bears outside linebacker Robert Quinn had 3.5 sacks last week, bringing his season total to 10 sacks in 10 games. The Bears will need more of that this week. The Lions allow pressure on 25.8% of dropbacks, per Pro Football Reference, which is seventh-worst among NFL teams.
Lions rookie tackle Penei Sewell, the seventh overall draft pick, has moved over to right tackle and performed well in recent weeks. Left tackle Taylor Decker battled injuries all season, but played every snap in each of the past two games.
The Bears, as a team, had six sacks against Baltimore. Can they keep it up this week?
5. Is David Montgomery poised for a big day?
This feels like the type of game where it might be wise to hand off to the running back a whole bunch. The Lions defense ranks 31st against the run, allowing 140.5 rushing yards per game.
Bears running back David Montgomery has played in two games since returning from a knee injury, but has not been the focal point of the attack. Montgomery ran for 63 yards on 13 carries against Pittsburgh and 58 yards on 14 carries against Baltimore.
Playing with their backup quarterback against a winless opponent, the Bears don’t need to overthink the offensive game plan Thursday.