Some say that Thanksgiving is the most wonderful time of the year and it’s hard to disagree with that statement. Think about it, you get to eat good food, have fun with your family, watch some great NFL match-ups and share what your thankful for. If there is one team in the NFL who should be thankful, it’s the Detroit Lions. When it comes to the Lions, they have loss their last two games due to their own inefficiencies but fortunately for them, the Lions are still in the fight to win their division and make it to the playoffs.
However, the fight to win their division starts now with this Thanksgiving Showdown and this year the Lions face-off against the division-rival the Green Bay Packers who already beat them earlier this season. While I’m sure the Lions plan to have fun in this game, they must remember that this is a very important game because the Packers are right there with the Lions fighting for the division along with Chicago Bears. Now despite the Lions inconsistent play, I still feel the Lions are capable of winning this game but only if they follow certain steps.
When it comes to what the Lions must do to win, it all goes back to getting the offense back on track starting with the turnovers. Lions must stop with the turnovers, because frankly they have no chance of winning if they continue to turn the ball over like they have recently. Just look at their last two games, the Lions turned the ball over three times against Pittsburgh and they turned it over five times against Tampa Bay, both games they loss. I have said it before and I will say it again, Lions can’t expect that every team will be like Dallas and allow you to come back and win the game even if you turn the ball over multiple times.
Which leads me to quarterback Matthew Stafford who must get back on track. He must do a better job of first making the right reads and accurate passes because he is part of the turnover problem right now. Most importantly, he needs to take what the defense gives him. However, it goes beyond the turnovers with him, Stafford continues to miss multiple opportunities with inaccurate throws or poor reads. Stafford may not be elite but that doesn’t change the fact that they need him to make great throws and proper decisions. Stafford will also need to continue spreading the ball around and using his various weapons. Last game he did a great job of spreading the ball around and despite throwing four interceptions, he also threw three touchdowns to three different receivers.
As always, Stafford can’t do anything by himself. I believe Stafford must continue to spread the ball around but I also feel the receiving core must be ready to do their part. The Lions lead the NFL in dropped passes right now already dropping over 30 passes, they can’t afford that in this game. When it comes to wide receiver Calvin Johnson, I don’t worry about him, he will do what he does best but the other receivers such as Nate Burleson and Kris Durham and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria must be prepared to step up. I also think this could be big day for the receiving core in the open field, mainly because the Packers are not known to wrap up and finish tackles. So I look to see the receivers get yards after the catch and make the Packers make a play in the open field.
Most importantly they will need offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to make the right play calls and get everyone involved. One of the reasons they struggled earlier this season against Green Bay was because they were still dependent on Johnson for the offense. Now the obviously the Lions have improved on that since last time but sometimes they get back to the old habit of going to Johnson all the time. So again Linehan and Stafford must make sure that everyone gets involved and the receivers must be prepared to do their part. I would also like for Linehan to use running back Reggie Bush more in the passing game as well, mainly because he helps to open up things for Johnson. Plus I don’t feel that linebacker AJ Hawk can cover Bush in the passing game. Don’t get me wrong I think Hawk has been great this season but I honestly don’t think he can keep up with the speed of Bush. So it will be up to Linehan to draw up some plays to expose this key match-up and it will be up to Bush to capitalize on them, so that means no dropped passes and no turnovers.
Which leads me to the running game, it has gone unnoticed by some because of the multiple turnovers but the run game hasn’t been consistent lately and that needs to change. While I like Reggie Bush, he hasn’t done much the last two games on the ground. He does have his big run moments in the game but not many and when it comes to going between the tackles, many times he jukes his way into a tackler which results in little yardage. I don’t think he needs to do so much dancing, he must do a better job of hitting the holes and excelling like his fellow running back Joique Bell does. Speaking of Bell, I would really like for him to be used more, I know he is a little banged up but if it’s possible I want him to be used more. Most importantly, I want these two to be used together because they bring so much athleticism, speed and versatility. Keep in mind, I don’t need the running game to be dominant, I just need the running game to offer balance. Trust me when the offense is balance, the passing game is better and they move down the field easier.
Defensively, the Lions must be prepared to step up as well. Starting with what they do best which is contain the running game. Since quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down the Packers have relied even more on the running game and the Lions will need to continue dominating when it comes to the run defense. For them to do that, it all starts with the line of scrimmage being controlled by the defensive line which will open opportunities for linebackers DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch to make plays in the backfield. By containing the run game, the Lions put themselves in a better situation. It makes the Packers one-dimensional and they force quarterback Matt Flynn to beat them through the air.
Which leads me to the Lions pass defense, who must also step up for this game. The secondary can’t expect that the defensive line will save them every game by creating pressure. However, I do feel that the defensive line will be key in this game. It has been announced that Matt Flynn will start at quarterback for the Packers and while he does have a capable arm, he doesn’t like pressure especially from the Lions defensive line. So if the Lions defensive line can create some form of pressure it will be huge because Flynn is known at times to make some bad decisions and throws when pressured.
However, that doesn’t mean that the secondary gets a day off. They still must be prepared to do their part because despite Aaron Rodgers being out, the Packers still pass the ball excessively. So the Lions pass coverage must be ready and on point starting with cornerbacks Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis. Both allow too much of a cushion and don’t use their physicality enough in coverage. That needs to change in this game especially since the Packers receivers are physical. However for Houston and Mathis to have success, the safeties must step up as well, specifically safety Louis Delmas who hasn’t done the best job of reading the quarterback and making plays in the air. I have said it all season long that this secondary is still a work in progress. Fans fail to notice because of the pass rush but if for whatever reason the pass rush does not get going, the secondary must step up if the Lions plan to win this game.
Most importantly, the Lions must wrap and finish tackles. I said earlier the Lions must contain the running game and for them to do that, they must be to wrap and bring down running back Eddie Lacy who isn’t easy to bring down. The Lions must also wrap up and finish tackles in the open field because just like the Lions, the Packers have capable receivers in Jordy Nelson and James Jones who are capable of making plays after the catch, so the Lions must wrap up and finish tackles, which will help to limit the big plays.
So as you can see the Lions have a lot of work to do if they plan to win this game. However, there is nothing that I said above that the Lions are not capable of executing on. The key word being execute, so if the Lions plan on having success, they must execute, take care of the ball, start the game strong and finish strong. It may seem simple but the Lions are known to make things more difficult. Then again it is the holiday season, so maybe the Lions will do their fans a favor and not give them heart failure during this game, I know I would be thankful. So Happy Thanksgiving to all, have fun and be safe.
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