The Lions have spent all season losing pretty and last week they finally won ugly. It’s amazing how little credit the Lions got for absolutely dominating the Packers on the trenches. I know the Lions would get more respect if Aaron Rodgers didn’t get hurt, but Aaron Rodgers didn’t surrender 190 rushing yards. Bottom line, there are some really bad teams in the NFL, and most weeks they score more than 3 points. Anytime a team racks up 190 yards rushing, four sacks, two interceptions, recovers a fumble and holds a team to two of 12 on third down they played a great game.
The Lions hit the road to play a reeling Bucs team that has seven starters on Injured Reserve, including four in the last two weeks. The Buccaneers have an impressive record at 8-5, but a closer look at the team’s performance is a little more revealing. The Buccaneers have yet to beat a team with a winning record and have lost by 60 points to the four teams with winning records they have played. A team can only play the schedule they have, so you can’t hold the Bucs easy schedule against them. They have done a great job of winning the games that they should, but the point I’m making is the 3-10 Lions are not out of their league against the 8-5 Bucs this weekend.
The Bucs’ defense is a middle of the road unit in total yardage given up, but most importantly in this matchup the Bucs are ranked 27th against the run. Add in the loss of Gerald McCoy last week, and the Lions should be able to move the ball on the ground. The running game will be the focal point of the offense whether Drew Stanton or Shaun Hill get the nod, but look for Maurice Morris to get the bulk of the carries. The Bucs still play a Tampa 2 defense, which is fueled by fast but undersized players flying to the ball. They are susceptible to power running games, and Morris is a downhill runner that can expose the injury riddled interior of the Bucs’ defense.
Tampa Bay is also without one of the top cornerbacks in the league in Aquib Talib, who was placed on IR two weeks ago. Without Talib, the Bucs will have to use EJ Biggers or Ronde Barber to cover Calvin Johnson. That matchup heavily favors the Lions as Biggers is young an unproven and Barber is on the decline. Good tight ends can expose the Tampa 2 as well and the Lions have two of the best. The Lions’ offense matches up extremely well against the banged up Bucs’ defense, but the biggest factor in the game will be Shaun Hill’s finger.
The Tampa Bay pass rush is 30th in sacks with 20 and they don’t get a lot of pressure on the quarterback. An accurate quarterback can pick apart zone defenses if he has time in the pocket. If Shaun Hill’s broken finger is healed enough to play on Sunday, the Lions have a huge edge. If the inaccurate Drew Stanton is in there, the Lions could have a tough time moving the ball. Stanton doesn’t read the defense as well as Hill which disrupts the whole rhythm of the offense. Stanton is frequently late on his throws which gives the defense time to react and forces him to make more difficult throws. Hill can pick apart a zone defense and keep the offensive timing intact. Stanton took most of the reps with the first stringers this week, so it looks like he’s the favorite to start. Although, Coach Schwartz said that if Hill could throw without limitations in pregame warmups he’d have a chance to start.
In addition to the banged up defense, the Bucs are also expected to start at least two backup offensive lineman. While that is music to the defensive line’s ears, Josh Freeman is not the easiest quarterback to sack. Freeman is 6-6 and 250 lbs. which is an inch taller and 10 lbs. heavier than Ben Roethlisberger. Freeman feels the rush well and he is very mobile and tough to tackle. The Lions have to be disciplined with their pass rush so they don’t leave huge lanes for Freeman to scramble. As much as a defense likes to sack the quarterback, the key to the pass rush is hurries rather than sacks this week.
Freeman has two good rookie receivers in Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn and one of the best tight ends in Kellen Winslow. Those three have done a great job getting open downfield and making big plays for their quarterback. The Lions have to pressure Freeman so those plays don’t have time to develop.
The Bucs biggest asset in this game is running back Legarrette Blount, who has had a strong rookie season. Blount is 6-0 247 lbs. but he’s very agile for a big back. The Lions linebackers haven’t tackled well this season and Blount will test them in that area. Blount is dangerous because he can run over a linebacker and outrun a safety, so the Lions best defense for him is to get penetration behind the line of scrimmage and force him to make cuts in the backfield.
If Stanton gets the start, which Stanton is it? The accurate and poised Stanton that picked apart the Bears, or the wildly inaccurate Stanton that showed up last week? I have hope that Stanton will look better this week against a familiar defense that he’s had success against. Remember, Stanton ran the scout team offense against Marinelli’s Tampa 2 in practice every day and he did a good job against the Bears more talented version of the Tampa 2. If the Lions establish the running game, the Bucs will have to bring eight men in the box. That takes the defense out of the Cover 2 and forced them to play more Cover 3. That leaves a corner one on one with Calvin without help over the top. If Stanton can take advantage of that, then the Lions will have a good chance at upsetting the Bucs. If he can’t, the Lions will struggle to put points on the board.
The Lions got a confidence boost last week and now they have a beat up Bucs team that just barely beat the Skins last week. Stanton looked terrible against a 3-4 defense last week that confused him with multiple fronts and blitzes. This week he gets a familiar defense that rarely blitzes. I like the Lions’ chances in this game because of the success they have had running the ball the last month. The running game opens up so many more opportunities to attack a defense and the Bucs are missing two of their three best defensive players. I’m going with the Lions to end their road losing streak in a close game.