Monday Night Football has returned to Ford Field tonight as the Detroit Lions host the Baltimore Ravens for a motor-city showdown on the national stage. Unfortunately for the Lions, going into this game they are looking at the current NFC playoff picture from the outside as the Chicago Bears have now taken control of the NFC North with 8-6 lead.
While the Lions are only down by one game, they are still fighting from behind and with only a few weeks left in the regular season, the Lions can’t afford any losses starting with this game. So if the Lions plan to win this game, there are certain keys they must follow.
Believe it or not, just like last week, going into this game it all starts with the Detroit Lions offense stepping up and playing well. All season long the defense has kept the Lions in games while the offense has had issues with turnovers and scoring consistently. Going into this game, the Lions offense must play well for four quarters and not turn the ball over if they plan to win this game.
It all starts with the passing game and for the passing game to be successful quarterback Matthew Stafford must perform well. Stafford must first take care of the ball and to do that he must take what the defense gives him and make the correct pre-snap and post-snap reads. After that, Stafford needs to continue spreading the ball around and getting everyone involved. As always, Calvin Johnson will do his part and make big plays but it will take more than Johnson for the passing game to be successful. Nate Burleson, Kris Durham, Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria have all shown the ability to make plays in the open field and the red-zone and they need to continue making plays. However for them to make plays Stafford must also put the ball only where his target can get it and throw the ball accurately. To many times this season, Stafford has forced passes or over thrown receivers and that can’t continue to happen in this game if they plan on having success. However, I will say again that the receivers must play their part as well, the Lions currently lead the league in dropped passes, so even if Stafford does put the pass right on the money, the receivers must make the play and catch the ball.
The running game must once again get going in this game. Last week against the Eagles, running back Reggie Bush did not play due to a pre-game injury. However, that is no excuse for the running game not to succeed and one of the main reasons the run game was unsuccessful last week was because of the turnovers. Running back Joique Bell turned the ball over twice by fumbling the ball two times and since there is possibility that Bush may not play in this game, Bell must be ready to carry the load but most importantly he needs to take care of the ball. After that, Bell needs to do what he does best, show patience, hit the hole and accelerate up the field. As far as Bush is concerned, if he does indeed play in this game, he needs to do what he does best which is make plays in the open field but he also needs to take care of the ball because he has been known to fumble the ball quite often this season as well. As always, the running game doesn’t need to dominate but running the ball effectively balances out the offense, move the chains and helps with the passing game which is what the Lions want and need.
Defensively, the Lions must get back on track. Last week they got exposed on both sides of the ball, specifically the run defense. Now the run defense did a great job early on of slowing down running back LeSean McCoy but they completely collapsed in the fourth quarter allowing him to rush for 149 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Keep in mind that he didn’t have to work for those touchdowns, he had plenty of holes to choose from and the tackling was horrible, I understand that the weather conditions affected the defense but if you go back in this game, there were plenty of times that the Lions had a chance to make a play on McCoy but didn’t. Going into this game, they can’t do that. I know running back Ray Rice hasn’t had the most impressive season but that’s no reason to underestimate him. With that being said the Lions defensive line must control the line of scrimmage which will allow the linebackers to make plays in the backfield along with the defensive line. Slowing down the run will be key once again in making the Ravens one-dimensional and stops the Ravens from controlling the clock which is what the Lions want. All season long, quarterback Joe Flacco and his receiving core have struggled so containing the run game allows the Lions to focus on slowing down Flacco with limited help from the run game.
When it comes to the pass defense, I have to say I worry about the Lions going into this game. I know Flacco and his receiving core have struggled but they can still be deadly and the Lions pass defense struggles to maintain the average passing game. So for the passing defense to have success the defensive line must create pressure on Flacco. Obviously Flacco is not easily flustered but that doesn’t change the fact that pressuring him will make him feel uncomfortable and rush which could prove to be a huge factor in this game. Nonetheless, the secondary must be prepared to do their part, 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 Raven receivers are physical and quick. However for Houston and Mathis to have success, the safeties must step up as well and do a better job of reading the quarterback and making plays in the air but most importantly they must offer help coverage over the top because you can bet that Flacco will take plenty of deep shots down the field. Linebackers DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch must also be prepared to step up in coverage since the Ravens will make a point to get in tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson involved. Most importantly, the Lions must limit the big play and to do that they must wrap and finish tackles. They can’t afford to be beat by the big play because they couldn’t tackle or communicate like they did last week.
Overall, the Lions are more than capable of winning this game. The question remains, will the Lions cost themselves the game, like they have all season long. I mentioned earlier, the Lions are now in a fight to catch the Chicago Bears, while I am not surprised that the Lions are in this predicament, I must say that this situation was avoidable. I say it every week and I will say it again, the Lions should be 12-1 right now with complete control of the NFC North and fighting for home field advantage in the playoffs. Unfortunately for them they aren’t doing that, mainly because they put themselves in unnecessary situations against Arizona, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia which is why they loss the games and have a current record of 7-6. So if the Lions have any true aspirations of making the playoffs this season, it starts with winning this game. Winning this game won’t automatically put them in the playoffs but it will tie them with the Chicago Bears. Remember, as long as the Bears and Lions are tied with the same record, the Lions still win the division because they swept the Bears earlier this season. So we will see what the Lions are made of, I have given them the keys to victory above but it’s up to them to execute on those keys, if they want to come out victorious.
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