At 8-4 and Playoff Hopes Alive, Lions Host Struggling Bucs

It’s anyone’s guess what some of the Lions’ first thoughts were following last week’s drubbing of the Bears, but undoubtedly the team was happy knowing that this week was next.

Now, at 8 and 4 and in the middle of the wild card hunt, the Lions get a fortuitous post-Thanksgiving blessing; a date with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Lions have had plenty of good luck down the stretch this season, but if there was ever a can-win-must-win game for Detroit, it is certainly against the Bucs tomorrow. Tampa Bay currently sits at 2-10 and is among the worst teams in the entire NFL. With defused morale, countless infecund efforts on offense, and no real defense, the Bucs have had it harder than most teams this season. The Lions, however, are currently on part two of a three game home streak and will close the season out with three divisional contests after tomorrow. For Detroit, a win against an easy opponent (that actually upset them in similar context last year) is vital not only for momentum, but also to stay on pace with Philadelphia, Seattle, and San Francisco for the wild card; even Green Bay for the divisional crown.

Fortunately for Jim Caldwell’s squad, the Lions are already riding substantial momentum. Despite ugly road losses in Arizona and New England, Detroit showed that they have the capacity to play a complete game against Chicago. Granted the Bears’ defense is awful, but seeing Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson firing on all cylinders is a great sign for Detroit. With his best game since the season debut against New York, Stafford went 34 of 45 (76%) for 390 yards with two touchdowns and a 116 QB rating. Account for Calvin Johnson’s 11 catch, 146 yards, 2 touchdown game, Golden Tate’s own 8 catches for 89 yards, Joique Bell’s 23 carries for 91 yards and two touchdowns – all on top of the offensive line’s performance– and it’s clear how potent Detroit can be. The best part about it all, however, is that Tampa Bay’s defense is on-par with Chicago’s own mediocrity. Most importantly, the Bucs are 23rd in the NFL allowing over 26 points on average per game. Yet even on other fronts, Tampa Bay also occupies the bottom rungs of major defensive categories. With virtually no talent outside of DT Gerald McCoy, DE William Gholston, and LB Lavonte David, Tampa Bay fundamentally hasn’t been able to confine offenses. The Bucs are allowing more than 360 yards per game (20th in the league), have the 18th ranked rush defense, 21st ranked pass defense, concede 43% of third downs (23rd) and have lost three games by double digits. With the 29th ranked red zone defense, the Bucs have not only won just once since September, but now face the size of Calvin Johnson, Joe Fauria, Eric Ebron, and Brandon Pettigrew in a dome setting that Matthew Stafford thrives in.

The lopsidedness continues conversely. On defense, the Lions are also heavily equipped to dominate the Bucs. Outside of Tampa Bay WRs Mike Evans (53 catches, 890 yards, 8 touchdowns) and Vincent Jackson (50 catches, 702 yards, 2 touchdowns) who are both well sized and tough, the Bucs are cursed by a paucity of talent. 35 year old QB Josh McCown isn’t inept, though; he does have a 75 QB rating for what it’s worth. But even so, McCown has only completed 59% of his passes and thrown just 7 touchdowns to 9 picks in seven starts. For Detroit, the numbers simply don’t lie. With four games to go, the Lions are 1st in points allowed per game, 2nd in total defense, 1st in rush defense (less than 66 yards allowed per game), and 12th in pass defense. From LB DeAndre Levy’s voracious tackling to S James Ihedigbo’s quiet ascension as a ball hawk, the Lions are simply among (if not by themselves) the best.

The picture is far less dazzling for the Bucs on offense. With just two viable receivers, 33 allowed sacks, only three 100 yard rushing games, and a litany of injuries, Tampa Bay fundamentally lags in every way offensively. Tampa Bay is ranked 18th in pass offense with 230.3 average yards per game through the air. Outside of that, though, the Bucs are awful. Tampa Bay is 23rd in red zone efficiency, 24th on third down offense, 26th in average yardage, 28th in points per game, and 29th in giveaways and rushing offense. If the key for Detroit on offense is to find the red zone, than the proverbial equivalent on defense will be to keep Tampa Bay within its own red zone. At home with the playoffs increasingly on the line, expect Detroit to smother the Bucs and keep them far away from the 50.

 

Game Information

Date: Sunday, December 7th

Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. ET

Stadium: Ford Field (64,500)

Television: FOX

Television Broadcasting Team: Dick Stockton (Play-By-Play); Brady Quinn (Color); Kristina Pink (Sideline)

Detroit Radio: 97.1 The Ticket WXYT-FM

Radio Broadcasting Team: Dan Miller (Play-By-Play); Jim Brandstatter (Color); Tony Ortiz (Sideline)

Historical Matchup

Detroit vs. Tampa Bay Regular Season Record: 29-26-0

Last Meeting: 11/24/2013; Detroit 21 – Tampa Bay 24 in Detroit

Record in Detroit: 15-13

Record in Tampa Bay: 14-13

Injuries

Out: DT Nick Fairley (knee)

Doubtful:

Questionable: RB Theo Riddick (toe), RB Reggie Bush (ankle/back), WR Calvin Johnson (ankle), T Riley Reiff (knee), G Larry Warford (knee)

Probable:

Final Take

In a way analogous to previous Lions seasons as a whole, Detroit has everything to gain tomorrow. At this juncture in the season, there is a huge difference between 9-4 and 8-5; a prospect that should motivate the Lions to take the former. There is little doubt in my mind that the Lions’ defense will take care of business tomorrow; reality is in their favor this week. However, there is a curious part of me that really wants to see if the offense can keep momentum rolling (albeit against another bad team). Yet no matter via aerial attack or defensive grind, the Lions must make sure that they don’t give the Buccaneers anything tomorrow. At this point in the season –and with three divisional games ahead- the Lions cannot afford any sort of disappointments. In the end it comes down to execution, and against Tampa Bay, Detroit should be able to do that.