Last week the Detroit Lions whimpered instead of roaring after their tough loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and many fans were quick to say “same old Lions,” like they do after every loss. However, the Lions are still alive and still in a position to make themselves and the fans proud and it starts with their next match-up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Now many fans would think this should be guaranteed win but a lot of fans thought the same thing about the Steelers game last week. That’s all to say while the Buccaneers may be 2-8 they still compete every game and they can still beat the Lions. However, if the Lions follow certain steps to victory they should be able to come away with a good victory in front of their great fans.
Offensively, it all starts with a better performance from quarterback Matthew Stafford. Last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he missed multiple opportunities to connect with his wide receivers on big plays due to inaccurate throws and over throwing open receivers. He was also nearly picked off five times because of his inaccuracy and that can’t continue this Sunday. It all starts with him first taking what the defense gives him, the Buccaneers have had their struggles but they have earned five interceptions in their last three games. So Stafford can’t afford to make any in-accurate throws and most importantly he must get everyone involved. I know wide receiver Calvin Johnson has had great success this season but the Lions play their best offense when Stafford gets Johnson involved but also everyone else. Wide receiver Kris Durham, tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria must step up and play their part as well because Stafford will have to spread the ball around.
Buccaneers are wounded in their secondary right now after losing safety Dashon Goldson, so the Lions must attack and exploit this Buccaneers secondary. However for them to do that, they will not only need the players to step up but the play-calling by offensive coordinator Scott Linehan must improve as well. It would be nice if the Lions get wide receiver Nate Burlson back in action for this game because they need his skill set right now. I like Durham because he is able to make plays on the outside and in the middle due to his height and hands. However, Burleson brings that speed and elusiveness that Durham lacks and the Lions want Burleson and his skill set at that slot position right now. So if he is back for this game, it should be a plus, especially in the red-zone but the play calling has to be on point as well.
As far as Calvin Johnson goes, we all know he will be matched up with cornerback Darrelle Revis. I honestly feel for Johnson to be successful, offensive coordinator Scott Lenihan must continue to use Johnson in a variety of ways. By moving Johnson around the field, the Lions allow him to use his various strengths, such as his frame to establish position or his speed and strength to break tackles in the open field or his great hands and athleticism to making an amazing catch. Johnson will do his part but the Lions can’t count on him for everything which is why I say again that Stafford must spread the ball around and the other receivers must step up.
Which leads me to my next key which is the running game. The Buccaneers are currently ranked 9th in the NFL in limiting their opponents to 101 rushing yards a game. Last week, running back Reggie Bush was horrible while running back Joique Bell was solid. Going into this game they must find a way to offer some balance to the offense and contribute. Doing so will help the Lions pass offense succeed and helps to move the chains which leads to the Lions moving down the field, something they struggled with last week.
Most importantly, the Lions can’t afford to turn the ball over like they did last week against the Steelers and earlier this season against the Cowboys. Turning the ball over puts them in a horrible position, one they can’t afford to be in. This Lion team must also get off to a good start and even more important, they need to take the lead early and close out early. I have said all season long that the Lions fail to close-out teams and put themselves in unnecessary positions to have use heroics when it shouldn’t even come to that. So this offense needs to be prepared to step up. Finally, head coach Jim Schwartz must not leave points on the field. I don’t mind him taking risks but for the last two games he has left a total of 12 points on the field because he decides to go for it on fourth down instead of going for a field or goal or he decides to fake a field goal. That’s okay to do at times but if the Lions have opportunity to put just three points on the board, they need to do it and execute on it.
Defensively, it all starts with the pass rush being re-establish. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon is doing his best to grow and get better every game. Nonetheless, he is still a rookie and if the Lions are able to generate pressure it should help the Lions make some plays. When it comes to defending the pass, the Lions secondary must bracket wide receiver Vincent Jackson and force Glennon to beat them with his other receivers. The Buccaneers rely on Jackson the same way the Lions rely on Johnson and this week they will rely on Jackson even more with wide receiver Mike James being hurt. However, if the Lions choose to focus on Jackson which they should, the rest of the secondary must do their part and handle their own. Jackson may be their star but they have other weapons in Timothy Wright, Tiquan Underwood and Brian Leonard that they can’t allow to get going or have success.
Which leads me to the next key for this defense and it’s very important one. The Lions front seven must be able to contain the running game or at least slow it down. Now the Lion defense has done a good job this season of limiting their opponents to only 94 rushing yards a game but that’s no reason to underestimate the Buccaneers. Despite losing running back Doug Martin, the Buccaneers have been running the ball like crazy and successfully I might add. The Buccaneers offensive line has done a good job of opening holes and the backs are taking advantage. If the Lions defensive line is able to control the line of scrimmage, it will open up holes for the linebackers Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy to make tackles in the back field. Stopping the run game, helps to slow down the passing game because one of the reasons Glennon is playing better is because the run game is producing. Plus running the ball allows the Buccaneers to control time of possession and keep the Lions offense off the field. So again it is very important that the Lions slow down the run game.
However, they won’t make any plays if they don’t get back to wrapping up and finishing tackles. Last week against the Steelers, the Lions missed 14 tackles when they average only six missed tackles a game. Going into this game for this defense to have success, the tackling must improve.
Some people feel the Lions can’t be trusted, I am choosing to have faith in them despite the fact that they raise my blood pressure every week. Nonetheless, if they follow the steps above and learn to listen to me and possibly hire me as a consultant, they should be able to come away with a win over the Buccaneers. Which allows them to keep control of the NFC North or at least stay tied for first place depending on what the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers do this Sunday as well.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com