Detroit Lions: Most Critical Matchups vs. the Tennessee Titans
Although their records are different, the Detroit Lions and the Tennessee Titans find themselves in similar positions. The both need a win badly. The Titans don't want to suffer their third loss in a row and the Lions need to bounce back from that disappointing loss in San Francisco.
Such is life in the NFL. Every game has serious implications.
The Lions need something positive to happen. They were expecting to come out of the gates with guns blazing this year. Instead their big guns have failed to "go off."
For the most part, Matthew Stafford has not looked like the same player and defenses have been able to contain Calvin Johnson.
The Lions and their fans have no reason to panic though. It's early and their record is 1-1. They were able to get one win despite not playing their best. That is what good teams do.
Good teams also consistently beat inferior ones and that is what will be expected of Detroit against Tennessee. The loss to San Francisco was tough, but realistically, very few were predicting a Lions victory.
The Lions will be expected to secure a victory against the Titans even though it's in Tennessee.
It won't be easy. The Titans are an improving team that presents some unique challenges for Detroit. Here are the Lions' most critical matchups for this Sunday.
5. Titus Young vs. Himself
Despite all the hype Lions' fans heard this offseason about Titus Young's emergence, he's yet to prove it on the field.
In Week 1 he got himself benched, and in Week 2 he was a non-factor. He's totaled two catches for 24 yards on the season.
The Lions desperately need him to provide a reliable downfield threat opposite Calvin Johnson. Teams have been successful in stacking their defense against Johnson to limit his big-play potential. The Lions need Young to step up and make them pay.
Regardless of who lines up against him, he'll get single coverage and he has to make some plays.
He also has to control his emotions and eliminate needless retaliation penalties.
Teams will go after him because they know his tendency to react. He has to turn the other cheek and concentrate on doing his job.
Against the Titans, who are ranked 20th in passing defense, this is the perfect opportunity for him to make a statement.
4. Jeff Backus vs. Kamerion Wimbley
The Titans do not have an elite pass rusher but Kamerion Wimbley is their best. Last season with Oakland he tallied seven sacks, which was more than any Titans player had. He's already got one sack this season.
However, he's learning a new position. He was a consistent six-year starter at outside linebacker prior to his arrival in Tennessee, but the Titans wanted him to be an edge-rusher.
According to ESPN's Scout's Inc., Wimbley has excellent upfield speed and good acceleration off the edge. He still has a lot to learn, though.
Jeff Backus is a crafty veteran and has been matched up against far more dominant ends. He should be able to handle Wimbley and keep Matthew Stafford out of harm's way.
"Should" is the key word in that sentence. If Wimbley is able to use his speed to beat Backus consistently it would obviously throw a monkey wrench into the Lions' offensive game plan.
3. Lions Secondary (What's Left of It) vs. Jake Locker
The Titans made the right decision when they opted to make Jake Locker their starting quarterback. They drafted him to be their franchise QB, not Matt Hasselbeck, and he's never going to succeed if he's not on the field.
So far it's been rough. According to ESPN, the Titans are 0-2, ranked 22nd in passing offense and Locker has only thrown two touchdowns. They're also 31st in third-down conversions and 30th in points scored.
They're not ready to give up on him yet though—nor should they. Against the Lions, Locker might have the perfect chance to succeed.
Detroit's secondary is a mess, and if the they aren't careful, they will get a front-row seat to Locker's coming-out party.
Granted the Titans are not the San Francisco 49ers, but anything can happen.
Who will start in Detroit's secondary on Sunday? No one knows. Best-case scenario is that Detroit's starters return from their injuries. Worst-case scenario is that Jacob Lacey and recently signed Jerome Murphy are forced into the starting lineup.
The Lions can't control the health of their players but the fact remains: Their secondary is a huge question mark. To what extent they're able to limit Locker will be a huge factor in the Lions' success.
2. Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch vs. Michael Roos and David Stewart
If you don't recognize two of those names in the title I don't blame you. I certainly didn't know the names of the Titans' starting left and right tackles—Michael Roos and David Stewart.
Perhaps I should have though.
While Chris Johnson has been throwing his offensive line under the bus for not doing their jobs, you won't find Jake Locker doing the same. That's because Roos and Stewart are two of the best tackle tandems in the NFL at protecting the quarterback.
In fact, according to cbssports.com's Pat Kirwan, last season they were the best. They only gave up 5.5 sacks the entire year.
That means Detroit's edge-rushers might be in for a long day. This is the time for Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch to step up, though.
After holding out all offseason and most of camp, Avril has been playing himself back into shape. He and Vanden Bosch have each recorded one sack. However they haven't put consistent pressure on the quarterback and they haven't caused any turnovers either.
Avril should be rounding into form this week and KVB is always a gamer. How often they can get good pressure on Locker will be key.
1. Matthew Stafford vs. Titans' Secondary
The Titans are currently ranked 20th in passing defense. They're giving up 248 yards a game to opposing quarterbacks and are coming off a game in which they were torched by the San Diego Chargers' Phillip Rivers and TE Dante Rosario.
Rivers threw for 284 yards and Rosario grabbed three touchdowns.
Their safeties are not very good but their corners are decent. Jason McCourty led the team in tackles last season and Alterraun Verner has one interception already.
However, if they have trouble containing the Chargers, chances are they will have trouble stopping Detroit too.
On paper Matthew Stafford and the Lions have one of the best passing attacks in the NFL. Yet they have not looked their best through two games.
They've racked up plenty of yardage, but it has been turnovers and their failure to score in the red zone that has been surprising. Stafford has already thrown four interceptions and has yet to connect with Calvin Johnson in the end zone.
This game will likely hinge on Stafford's ability to return to form, make good decisions and take advantage of a secondary that is very beatable.