NFL Nation Game Day Live: Thanksgiving edition

November, 27, 2014
Nov 27
Happy Thanksgiving! Follow along below for the latest coverage from our NFL Nation reporters on this week’s Thursday matchups.

Bears, Lions announce inactives

November, 27, 2014
Nov 27
DETROIT -- The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions announced their lists of inactives for Thursday's game at Ford Field.

Chicago’s list of inactives includes cornerback Terrance Mitchell, linebacker Darryl Sharpton, linebacker Lance Briggs, guard Eben Britton, defensive end Trevor Scott, receiver Chris Williams and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff. The club held out Ratliff all week because of a knee injury suffered last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Briggs left that same game with a groin injury.

Bears general manager Phil Emery said Thursday on the WBBM pre-game show that Briggs will be "out for an extended period of time."

Detroit’s inactive list includes quarterback Kellen Moore, running back Reggie Bush, offensive tackle Riley Reiff, guard Larry Warford, defensive end Larry Webster, receiver Ryan Broyles and defensive end Nick Fairley.

Bush missed the past three games with an ankle injury, and said he didn’t participate in the team’s loss to the New England Patriots last week because team doctors didn’t feel the running back was ready to take a full hit on the injured ankle. Bush said Tuesday that he expected to play.

Reiff, meanwhile, injured his ankle on the first play of Detroit’s loss to the Patriots. But he practiced in a limited capacity on Wednesday. The full extent of Reiff's injury is not yet known.
First off, there’s no belief from this vantage point Detroit is the real deal, and it wouldn’t be a surprise with the team on a two-game skid to see the Lions revert back to being the aimless club we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years.

With that said, the Lions -- who haven’t scored a touchdown on offense since Nov. 9 -- still appear to be in better shape than the Bears, who won unconvincingly last week against a horrid Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. With both offenses struggling going into this game, it should come down to defense, the field-position battle and turnovers -- all areas in which Detroit could hold the edge.

The Lions rank 10th against the pass and first against the run, and they’re allowing just 17.3 points per game while Chicago’s 21.5-point average on offense is good for 20th. Detroit will stuff the run early, forcing the Bears into passing mode, which will further complicate matters for the visitors. Don’t forget Jay Cutler leads the league in turnovers (18), and you can expect the Lions to lay some punishment on the quarterback if the Bears are forced to throw the ball. That could lead to short fields and possibly interception or fumble-return touchdowns for the Lions.

So far this season, teams have scored 82 points off Bears turnovers, and the struggling offense has been shut out in the first quarter of six consecutive games. When the Bears finish on the negative end of the turnover margin, they’re 1-6 this season.

My prediction: Lions 24, Bears 21.

The NFL Live crew make their picks for Chicago at Detroit.
The Chicago Bears announced Wednesday they placed offensive lineman Brian de la Puente (ankle) on the injured reserve, and promoted defensive tackle Brandon Dunn to the active roster from the practice squad.

A five-year veteran, de la Puente started four games at center in place of Roberto Garza, before making his first start at left guard on Nov. 16 in a win over the Minnesota Vikings. De la Puente started in Chicago’s 21-13 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, too, but suffered an ankle injury.

Offensive lineman Eben Britton (illness) and right tackle Jordan Mills (ribs) returned to practice Tuesday. So it’s likely Mills starts in his customary spot against the Detroit Lions on Thursday, while Michael Ola, who started last week for Mills, will slide over to left guard. Britton is also an option at the vacant left tackle spot.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Willie Young heard Matthew Stafford called him “one of my favorite teammates” Tuesday and the former Detroit Lions defensive end -- now with the Chicago Bears -- started to laugh.

Young, who left the Lions in free agency during the offseason, was actually one of the more well-liked players in the Detroit locker room during his four years with the Lions, but, yeah, Young thought Stafford might be trying to fete him just a little bit.

“Absolutely, yeah,” Young said, laughing. “Yeah. He’s buttering me up on that one. Matt Stafford, man, he was a cool guy. He came to work every day, put the work in. Obviously he’s a very talented quarterback. He doesn’t make too many bad decisions, I would say. I know this year he hasn’t been because they’ve been on the winning side of things.

[+] EnlargeWillie Young
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsFormer Lions defensive end Willie Young has been a force as a Bear, compiling eight sacks.
“He’s obviously a respected quarterback, get rid of the ball fast, make pretty good decisions, has some good guys in the backfield running the ball for him. But I could see why he might be trying to be kinda nice to me right now because he’s a little low on protection right now. I don’t blame him for being nice right now.”

Stafford is smart to try to get on Young's good side, as Young has flourished since leaving Detroit in the offseason. Finally getting a chance to be an every-down defensive end in his fifth NFL season, he is 13th in the NFL in sacks with eight -- two more than he had in his four seasons with the Lions. Considering the Lions could end up starting two rookies on the offensive line Thursday if Cornelius Lucas replaces the injured Riley Reiff at left tackle, and Young could have a big return to his old stadium.

Young was a seventh-round pick out of North Carolina State, but ended up as mostly a rotational player until last season, when he played every game after a season-ending injury to Jason Jones. Having had to learn behind Kyle VandenBosch, Cliff Avril, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Andre Fluellen in various forms helped him as he watched from the sidelines.

“Don’t get it wrong now, is it tough sitting on the sidelines, not playing, knowing that you have what it takes to be a player, yeah, it’s tough, it’s real tough,” Young said. “But I was able to figure out a way to deal with that and take everything that I could from the game, from the sideline standpoint. It just bettered me as a person and obviously as a player.”

It’s a progression Lions players expected when Young received more snaps, especially after he made the leap from 11 tackles in 2012 to 47 in 2013, which helped set up his free agency move.

Young said Tuesday he didn’t know if the Lions made him an offer during free agency or if they even called his agent to inquire about his services. He just knows his agent told him he was headed to Chicago on a new deal.

When asked about Young and free agency, Lions coach Jim Caldwell wouldn’t say whether or not he had wanted to bring Young back this season or not, but complimented his pass rushing ability.

His old teammates, though, saw exactly what Young could do from the beginning and figured this type of leap might come from him.

“Everybody saw what he could do from the jump,” Fluellen said. “I’m actually not surprised at all. He has a special talent and he has a really good attitude for the game.

“I’m not surprised at all.”

This Thanksgiving is a Fuller family affair

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
Kyle and Corey FullerCourtesy of Fuller familyWith their sons playing on opposite sides Thursday, the Fuller's parents got creative with jerseys.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Vincent Fuller went to the tailor Friday night to pick up a special order -- one 20-plus years in the making.

Fuller has four children. They all play football. All played at Virginia Tech. Three of them now in the NFL. Yet this week could be a first for the family and a rarity in the NFL.

On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, the Fullers hope they'll see two of their four boys on the field at the same time when Corey Fuller's Detroit Lions face Kyle Fuller's Chicago Bears. The extra hope is they would match up against each other since Corey is a receiver and Kyle is a cornerback. So Vincent Fuller and his wife, Nina, had two jerseys custom-made.

"We just wanted to represent both our kids," Vincent said from Maryland on Saturday. "Me and my wife are the only ones who have it. We're going to have a Chicago and a Detroit jersey mixed with No. 23 and No. 10 on the same jersey."

Whether or not Kyle and Corey actually line up against one another is in doubt. Kyle hurt his knee Sunday, leaving his status in doubt, although Chicago coach Marc Trestman said he was "hopeful" Kyle would play Thursday.

If it happens, it'll be the culmination of two brothers starting their sibling competitions in the basement of their home playing carpet football and baseball. Of the four Fuller brothers, Corey and Kyle are the closest in age, less than two years apart. The two competed in everything along with their younger brother, Kendall, who plays for Virginia Tech.

In that basement, the two groomed their future competitiveness with rug burns on their knees and tears in their eyes whenever one of them would lose an argument, usually with Kendall serving as de facto referee.

It also honed the start of their trash-talk, which Vincent said started about this game in September when Kyle intercepted two passes against San Francisco. He said Corey texted Kyle and typed he wouldn't do that against the Lions.

[+] EnlargeCorey Fuller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Lions' Corey Fuller will play against his brother Kyle on Thanksgiving.
"I'm like, ‘Man, it's September and you're already going to talk trash already,'" Vincent said. "But that's how they are. It's all in fun. They love each other. They help each other out. They got each others' back.

"But it's all in fun."

The fun would increase Thursday if Corey and Kyle line up opposite one another.

Thinking about the possibility last week, Corey broke out into a big grin and started laughing. He said they never discussed the possibility as kids or in college, either, especially when Corey first went to Kansas to run track before transferring to Virginia Tech to start playing football again.

"If I run out there and see Kyle, my first play, I might laugh," Corey said. "Not laugh at him, just laugh at the fact that this is real. I'm playing my brother in an NFL game.

"But then, from there, it's I got to do what I got to do to help the team, and he's got to do what he has got to do. It'll be like any other game competing. So we'll see."

Not quite like any other game. Corey said he and his brother would absolutely talk trash to each other on the field and might even throw in some extra nudges and shoves for brotherly measure. Just like in their basement.

"It's going to be pretty cool," Kyle said last week. "I'm definitely looking forward to it. It makes it even more fun with it being Thanksgiving because the whole family will be there."

Almost. Kendall will be at the site of the Fuller family's last four Thanksgiving dinners and Nina and Vincent's destination Friday morning -- Blacksburg, Virginia. Otherwise, everyone is expected in suburban Detroit on Wednesday night and Thursday for pregame and postgame Thanksgiving meals.

Vincent said Kyle received permission from the Bears to stay in Detroit on Thursday night to have dinner with the family. Depending on the outcome of the game, that dinner consisting of turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, turnips and Nina's famous sauerkraut dish might be even more interesting.

"I don't know what's going to happen Thursday, but I can imagine what dinner is going to be like," Vincent said. "Especially if they do go up against one another and Corey gets a pass on Kyle or let's say Corey's thrown the ball and Kyle deflects the ball or intercepts the ball.

"I can imagine what's going to go on."

Without a doubt, there will be trash talked. Laughs had among the 15 family members and friends expected to show. Because right now, the Fullers will potentially see two of their own play on Thanksgiving Day and for a family forever focused on football, not much can be better than that.

NFL Nation Chicago Bears reporter Michael C. Wright contributed to this report.

How they match up: Bears at Lions

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26

Chicago Bears (5-6) at Detroit Lions (7-4)

11:30 a.m. CT Sunday at Ford Field on CBS

Lions vs. Bears preview

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
videoWhen: 12:30 p.m. ET, Thursday Where: Ford Field, Detroit TV: CBS

The Detroit Lions broke their Thanksgiving Day hex last season when they annihilated NFC North foe Green Bay. At the time, the Lions looked like a team potentially heading for the playoffs after stopping a two-game skid.

The Lions didn't win a game the rest of the season.

This season, the Lions face a Chicago Bears team that has won two straight and, much like Detroit, has a bunch of offensive talent currently failing to meet expectations. Does one of these teams break out Thursday?

ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Lions reporter Michael Rothstein break down what could happen in this divisional Thanksgiving clash.

Rothstein: Chicago has a ton of offensive talent on paper, but this team has not put up the offense that one would think. What has been the main culprit here?

Wright: A few things, but the main issues throughout this team's struggles have been quarterback Jay Cutler, who has a penchant for committing turnovers, and the play calling. Cutler leads the league in giveaways, and in all but one of this team's losses this season, the quarterback turned over the ball multiple times. Yet in all but one of the team's victories, Cutler didn't throw an interception. So there's definitely a correlation there, as the Bears are 3-10 during Marc Trestman's tenure when they finish on the negative side of the turnover margin and 1-4 when the turnover margin is equal. Obviously, the Bears could minimize Cutler's exposure to potential turnovers by leaning more on the ground game with Matt Forte averaging 4.2 yards per attempt. But what happens is the Bears too often abandon the running game for the pass, which is understandable given all the weapons on the outside. Once the Bears start throwing it all over the yard, Cutler starts turning it over and opposing defenses capitalize (opponents have scored 82 points off Chicago's turnovers), which in turn makes it impossible to rededicate to the ground game because by then the offense is usually trying to overcome a deficit.

What's your take on the perception that Jim Caldwell has been too conservative, and do you see him loosening up some with this team trying to snap a two-game skid?

Rothstein: It's interesting because he wasn't at all against Miami, when the Lions attempted two fake punts in a half. Since then, the offense has looked completely out of rhythm, passes are getting dropped again, Stafford is under duress and Calvin Johnson is going through only the second three-game stretch of his career where he has caught less than 50 percent of his targets. But being at home cures a lot of things for Detroit typically, and that alone should help. Theoretically.

Switching to defense, what has gone into Willie Young's success with Chicago? He was emerging with Detroit, but how has his game grown?

Wright: You've been around him, Mike. You know the type of guy he is. Young's ascension is a product of the work he's put in, and the Bears just happened to bring him aboard at the perfect time in his career. Obviously it helps Young to have a veteran such as Jared Allen around to teach him some of the nuances of the game. But Young has also benefited from working with martial arts expert Joe Kim. The Bears brought in Kim as a consultant to work with the defensive linemen on hand-fighting techniques, and that's helped the group as a whole. Throw in Allen's tutelage and Young's own work ethic and you see why he's been able to put together a breakout season.

Can you provide a rundown on what's taken place with the guys Young will face, the offensive line? I know the group has struggled pretty much all season, but Riley Reiff's situation probably complicates things with the Lions looking possibly to start a couple of undrafted free agents at the tackle spots.

Rothstein: Between injuries, a small change in how the team blocks this season and just struggles with personnel, it's gotten really rough for the line. Let's start with the injuries. Right guard Larry Warford -- probably Detroit's best lineman -- is still out with a knee injury. LaAdrian Waddle, the right tackle, is healthy now but has been in and out of the lineup all season with injuries. Reiff, the left tackle, hurt his knee Sunday against the Patriots and his status is in doubt for Thursday. So the cohesion has barely been there. Also, some of the concepts have changed with how they block and how long it takes both the routes and runs to develop due to play calls, so it has put some other pressures on the line.

For so long, the Bears have used Peanut Tillman on Calvin Johnson. Tillman's out. How do the Bears deal with Johnson and Golden Tate now?

Wright: To me, that's one of the most significant concerns for the Bears entering this game. As you already know, rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller's availability for this game is uncertain with him suffering a knee injury in the win over Tampa Bay. Fuller had been playing with a broken hand and a hip pointer prior to his latest setback. Fuller's injury didn't appear to be significant initially. But if Fuller can't go, the Bears would likely go with undrafted rookie Al Louis-Jean, who possesses similar size to Tillman (6-foot-1, 187 pounds). But would you want to put an undrafted rookie on Johnson? Tim Jennings (5-8) would likely struggle matching up with Johnson. So Chicago would be in a tough spot if Fuller isn't able to play. If the Bears are forced to go with Louis-Jean, the corners would probably stay on their respective sides with the defense giving the corner to Johnson's side safety help over the top, along with extra help underneath, whether that's from a linebacker or the nickel.

The Lions have lost two in a row for the first time all season, and surely there's some level of concern starting to creep in internally. This is uncharted territory for 2014 at least, but do you believe the Lions are better equipped to deal with this type of adversity now with Jim Caldwell calling the shots?

Rothstein: Theoretically, yes, although the personal foul penalty by C.J. Mosley and then the antics from Dominic Raiola at the end of Sunday's loss to New England did have me questioning whether Caldwell's message is truly getting through. The players still seem to believe in him and in the way he goes about things, which is always trying to stay calm and not showing signs of panic. This helped earlier this season when Detroit had three straight come-from-behind wins in October and November to help put them in this position. It's why Thursday is so big. Lose three straight and thoughts of another free fall might be more than just percolating around the edges.


Bears’ offense needs faster starts

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright discusses a challenge facing the team’s offense.

ESPN Chicago picks: Bears at Lions

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26

The Bear Facts: Week 13

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25


Jeff Dickerson, Michael C. Wright and Tom Waddle break down why protecting Jay Cutler will be the key for the Bears to beat the Lions on the road.

Jeff Dickerson discusses the potential issues that the Bears will have lining up against the Lions' defense, such as protecting quarterback Jay Cutler and creating opportunities for running back Matt Forte.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Playing four years (2010-13) in Detroit, Chicago Bears defensive end Willie Young witnessed firsthand how aggressive Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh can be on game day, even after the whistle.

Teams must always account for Suh (four sacks) in the trenches, but a certain personality is required to match Suh’s special brand of intensity.

Enter Bears second-year Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long.

Young smiled when asked if Long had a high enough motor to go toe-to-toe with Suh.

“Have you seen this guy [Long] after touchdowns?” Young asked. “This is a 300-pound man and he’s in the back of the end zone; that’s like a 60-yard sprint. Wow. It’s never ending. He’s probably somewhere jumping on top of the building with his helmet on, with no shirt on, in the snow. That’s the kind of guy Kyle Long is.

"So it’s going to be a very exciting matchup, man. It’s going to be that kind of game. I’ll be standing up a lot to watch that one.”

Drafted the same year as Suh (seventh round), Young had only six regular-season sacks in 48 career games (15 starts) in Detroit before jumping to the Bears in free agency.

Through 11 games, Young is arguably the Bears’ best offseason investment, leading the defense with eight sacks.
The fifth-year veteran is eager to boost his sack total at the expense of another former teammate: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (sacked 33 times in 415 pass attempts).

“You practice against this guy all week, day after day when I was in Detroit,” Young said. “Obviously the quarterbacks are untouchable. They tell you not to touch the quarterback. You can’t touch the quarterback. That’s too close. Get away from him. Well, fortunately I don’t have to worry about that stuff Thursday. They’ll be a lot of flying around, teeing off on guys and guys taking shots. This is a big game for both of us.”
Jay Cutler recognizes he can’t stand in the pocket too long Thursday at Detroit against a pass rush Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman described as “relentless.”

 So expect the Bears to rely on the quick passing game against the Lions with some screens sprinkled into the mix and very few deep shots downfield.

“Can’t hold onto anything,” Cutler explained. “One, two, and you’ve got to get to number three pretty quickly. They do a great job of collapsing the pocket. They’re coming off the edge, and they’ve got the big guys in the middle that are forcing the guards and everybody right into your lap. They make it really difficult.”

The Lions enter Thursday’s contest with the NFL's third-ranked defense, which allows 17.3 points per game. Detroit is No. 10 against the pass and tops in the league against the run (3.2 yards per attempt allowed).

So the hope is the Bears can utilize strategies similar to what New England did in its 34-9 victory over the Lions. Detroit plays a 4-3 scheme, similar to what the Bears faced the past two games against Minnesota and Tampa Bay, which should help them to prepare in this short week.

What sets apart the Lions though, according to Trestman, is their defensive line.

“Their speed [represents a major challenge],” Trestman said. “They’re physical. They’re penetrators. They’re relentless to the football. That’s where it all starts for them -- up front -- not just the way they play the pass, but they play the run extremely well as we all know.”

Led by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Detroit’s defensive line allowed two rushing touchdowns in the loss to the Patriots. But prior to that, the group surrendered just two touchdowns on the ground in the previous eight games combined.

Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer believes optimal hand placement along the offensive line will be key in opening holes for the rushing attack, as well as in protection.

“We have to do a great job of using our hands against these guys. They’re very violent with their hands and they’ve prescribed to the thought process of ‘Man, we’re going to go to the quarterback first and then we’re going to play the run,’” Kromer said. “Well, what that does for them is it gives them a lot of penetration. So if one guy allows penetration in the run game, then it’s hard to cut back or cut forward, whatever you’re trying to do. So you’re really trying to keep them on their side of the line of scrimmage as best you can in the running game and in pass protection. You’ve got to get on them fast. They are relentless. They don’t stop. We’ve seen them over and over, hitting quarterbacks. So we just want to make sure we’re aggressive with their D-line; we’re matching their aggressiveness.”

Because of the way Detroit’s front four plays, it gives the secondary confidence knowing quarterbacks have to get rid of the ball quickly.

“They know the quarterback can only look one way or maybe two ways and the ball is coming out,” Cutler said. “They know they’re not going to get pump-faked or looked off a long time because the D-line gets there. So they do a good job of anticipating when the ball is going to come out.”

The Patriots achieved success against the Lions by spreading them out, moving the ball and utilizing quick throws with just enough runs “to keep them honest,” Trestman explained.

Cutler called the prospect of throwing the ball downfield against the Lions “difficult.”

“You watch them on film and a lot of teams are doing different things,” Cutler said. “Not a lot of people are taking shots, because there’s just not a lot of time. We’re going to have to invent some ways to get creative and find ways to push the ball down[field] a little bit because it’s going to be really hard to dink and dunk these guys 5-[yards] at a time all the way down the field.”