This week the Raiders play host to the Detroit Lions in a must-win game. The Lions have been hot and cold this season. They came out hot but have cooled off of late. Their Pro Bowl defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh, has been suspended for the last two games and returns just in time to face the Raiders. With that, it was time for me to cage a Lions blogger and make him jump through a few flaming hoops. This week our opposing team expertise comes courtesy of Al Beaton over at the Lions blog The Wayne Fontes Experience.
The Lions were the last team to beat the Denver Tebows. Can you please tell the rest of the league how it was done?
Defensively, the Lions went into the game with one plan: Rattle Tim Tebow. The plan was to force Tebow to be a pocket passer, and pressure the living Hell out of him. The only Bronco the Lions were going to allow to beat them was Tebow.
Offensively, the Lions wanted to keep mistakes to a minimum, not allowing Tebow a short field, and get an early lead. This was in the hope of forcing the Broncos to abandon their running game early on, and make Tebow beat them with his arm.
The game plan worked like a charm, as the Lions forced 5 fumbles and 3 turnovers (1 INT 2 fumble recoveries), destroying Tim and the Tebows, 45-10. Tebow was forced to throw 39 times, completed only 18 (46.2%) for 172 yards, most of those on a 4th quarter garbage time drive when the score was 45-3.
The Lions made God's gift to the media look like the backup QB I think he'll ultimately be.
Have you noticed a big difference in the play of the Lions' defense in the past two weeks without Ndamukong Suh?
There wasn't a noticeable drop off in the short term, as defensive tackle and end are the deepest positions on the roster. And the rest of the team did their damnedest to keep the personal fouls flowing...
1st round draft pick Nick Fairley took on an increased role against the Saints, and played very, very well in Suh's place. But he also re-injured the foot he fractured in training camp, which caused him to miss the opening 6 games of the season. Fairley didn't play against the Vikings, and is a question mark for Sunday.
But with Corey Williams, Sammie Hill and Fairley getting the majority of time in the middle of the defensive line, the Lions were OK without Suh. He was missed, but it didn't completely cripple the defense...unlike injuries, which are piling up in a big way.
Calvin Johnson hasn't cracked the century mark in five weeks and has just one touchdown during that time. What is the most likely reason for this?
You've pointed out a huge point of frustration for Lions fans. Megatron is the best WR in the NFL. QB Matthew Stafford is having a Pro Bowl year and will break every single-season team passing record. Regardless, the Lions have had trouble getting Johnson the ball. Even more so when in the red zone.
Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan has said opposing defenses have taken Johnson away, and Nate Burleson and Titus Young needed to step up. Which is essentially saying Johnson is the NFL's highest paid decoy. Ridiculous.
In an attempt to free Johnson up against the Vikings, he lined up in the slot for several snaps late in the game. Not an optimum solution, but at least Linehan is trying something. but Lions fans would rather hear something like, "We don't care about opposition schemes. We're going to throw Megatron the damn ball!"
In the early part of the season, the Lions' defense was their strongest point. But after their bye in week nine, they have given up an average of nearly 32 points a game. What happened?
Injuries in the secondary and their knack for committing personal fouls at the absolute worst time.
The Lions' secondary is as deep as your by the numbers Hollywood romcom. But they had been playing decently...until players started getting hurt.
Starting CB Chris Houston and S Louis Delmas were injured on Thanksgiving, and haven't returned to the lineup. Backup CB Aaron Berry suffered a shoulder injury against the Vikings, and is likely out against the Raiders. It's gotten so bad, the Lions have had their healthy backup safeties (and backup WR Rashied Davis) playing snaps at the CB position.
The penalty issue came to a head against the Packers and Saints. I lost track of the number of opposition drives kept alive by dumb, boneheaded penalties. The Lions kept their composure against the Vikings, and handled their rookie QB Christian Ponder without too much problem. But Ponder was benched for ineffectiveness, and the Lions were confounded by a run first QB in Joe Webb. Webb led the Vikings on a wild comeback while running for 109 yards.
There was no way in Hell the game should have come down to one snap at the goal line, and a blown face mask call. But the Lions' defense let up with a big lead...and it almost cost them a shot at the playoffs.
Kevin Smith can't seem to stay healthy and Maurice Morris doesn't exactly scare people. The Raiders are known for breaking futility streaks in running backs. What should we expect from the Lions' running game?
Not much. Oh, you want more?
Due to injuries, the Lions were down to one back, Keiland Williams, against the Vikings. Smith was inactive with a high ankle sprain, and Morris suffered a 1st quarter chest injury while playing special teams. Don't forget Jahvid Best was placed on IR thanks to a pair of concussions, 2011 2nd round draft pick Mikel Leshoure, who never made it out of training camp after blowing out his Achilles and backup Jerome Harrison (signed when Leshoure was hurt), who was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and is done for the year.
Originally, the backfield was going to be manned by a Mr. Inside/Mr. Outside tandem of Best and Leshoure. Now? Smith was signed off of the couch, looked great for one game (201 yards from scrimmage against the Panthers), then sprained his ankle. Morris is a savvy vet, but is what he is, a career backup. Williams was picked up in camp, hoping to run between the tackles and move the pile, but has done neither.
If Smith isn't healthy enough to play, the short passing game becomes the Lions' rushing attack, mixed with a smattering of end arounds and reverses. A few times a game, WR Nate Burleson and KR Stefan Logan will line up in the backfield as well.
Who wins on Sunday and why?
The 8-5 Lions have been a decent team on the road, with a 4-2 record, and the 7-6 Raiders are .500 at home. Both teams are fighting for their playoff lives. If the football Gods come through, the Lions could clinch a playoff spot with 9 wins, as no one seems to want an NFC wild card spot. The Lions are banged up, but their best defensive player is back in the lineup. Honestly, it's a coin toss game. I sure wouldn't bet on it.
But when teams with comparable talent and records play, I always look at the QB position.
Stafford: 3754 yards, 63.4%, 7.3 Y/A, 29/14 TD/INT, 92.6 rating.
Palmer: 1732 yards, 56.2%, 7.9 Y/A, 9/13 TD/INT, 70.8 rating.
I have to take the Lions, but it won't be easy. Lions 27, Raiders 21.