Detroit Lions vs. Tennessee Titans: Sketching out a Game Plan for Detroit
The Titans are a mess right now, and while no game should be taken for granted, this is a game the Lions should win handily.
Of course, that's all the more reason to be very careful.
Still, this is a game that, if the Lions play it right, should help wash the taste of the last loss out of their mouths. They've got a tremendous amount of talent, but they have some unresolved issues to work out Sunday.
When the Lions are on Offense
There are two things that the Lions need to accomplish on offense, one more direct than the other.
Both will help move the chains.
The Titans are at the bottom of Pro Football Focus' pass defense categories and right in the middle of the rankings for pass defense, though they are bad enough defending the run that most teams don't pass much on them and they still allow an average of 248 yards per game. The Titans are middle of the road in sacks, with just five.
The Lions should have no real problem moving the ball through the air. Last Sunday, the Chargers were able to move the ball at will against the Titans to start the game, and that was with their usual shaky offensive line play.
While Matt Stafford's protection isn't pristine, it's better than what Philip Rivers had, so he should have time in the pocket.
The best bet is to attack the secondary early and often, try to get off to a roaring-fast start (pun unintended). Involve Calvin Johnson and Titus Young as soon as possible, and hit Brandon Pettigrew with some drag and crossing routes to keep the defense honest.
Another aim of this offense is to see what it really has in Mikel Leshoure. The running game hasn't been awful, but as well as Kevin Smith has done, it needs help. Prior to his injury, Leshoure had great burst and speed, could run between the tackles as well as get outside them, and could catch the ball well.
All that is still on display to varying degrees, and the Lions should test Leshoure a lot during this game. As it's his first bit of regular-season action in a long time, they don't need to overdo it, but they should know by the time the game is over whether he is their answer in the backfield.
They can be run on, and it's a good way to get Leshoure's feet wet.
When the Lions are on Defense
From what I could see watching the Titans' game against the Chargers, Detroit's front seven should be able to attack Jake Locker and get him to feel pressure early. When pressured by San Diego, Locker made a lot of very questionable passes, and it's an opportunity for Detroit's secondary to generate some turnovers.
A solid pass rush shouldn't be hard to generate, though sacks may be hard to come by. Of course, part of the reason for low sack totals on the part of Locker is his tendency to heave the ball willy-nilly when under pressure.
How he hasn't had more interceptions, I don't know.
Aside from pressuring Locker, some physical play on the part of the secondary should take the receivers off their routes and make it hard to complete passes.
Chris Johnson is another potential problem; I say potential because the running back is not playing well this season so far. It's a combination of Johnson and bad run-blocking from the offensive line.
Johnson is a dangerous runner though, so the defense still needs to spend time making sure he doesn't start getting in a groove against them, as the thing the Titans will want most is to get him going and attack the edge of the Lions defense.
A little extra help from the linebackers or a safety should help keep Johnson contained and give him a third low output game for the season.
The Titans come into the game with some real issues, and while the Lions have their own, they should really have little-to-no trouble with Tennessee. However, as we all know, on any given Sunday, anything can happen, so they have to remain disciplined and play hard.
I would especially like to see what Leshoure can do. The team brought in Ryan Grant and Steve Slaton this week and as they haven't signed anyone yet, they will probably watch Leshoure closely.
It'd also be beneficial for the offense to avoid a slow start this week. Both against the 49ers and the Rams, the Lions started off like the gas pedal was only half down.
They need to start hot and stay hot all game, hopefully jump-starting the offense for the rest of the season.
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