After advancing to the postseason for the first time in over a decade in 2011, things haven't exactly gone according to plan for the Detroit Lions this season. At 4-5, the Lions sit mired in last place in the NFC North and are getting ready for a grueling four-day stretch.
That stretch will see the Lions face the Green Bay Packers Sunday before hosting the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving. With Detroit's season on the brink as they stare down a brutal second-half schedule, head coach Jim Schwartz knows that there's precious little margin for error according to Jordan Garretson of the Associated Press via Yahoo! Sports.
"We don't have a whole lot of wiggle room for mistakes down the stretch. We have to play our best," coach Jim Schwartz said. "It's life in the NFL. You have to do that all the time."
The Lions will also be fighting an uphill battle against history when they play the Packers. Green Bay is 11-1 against the Lions under head coach Mike McCarthy, and the Packers have won 20 of the past 23 meetings between the two teams.
Unfortunately for the Lions, it also doesn't appear that they will be able to rely a whole lot on their defense in this matchup. Granted, the Lions rank a respectable 10th in the NFL in total defense and seventh against the pass, but Detroit just allowed 34 points to the Minnesota Vikings a week ago and was shredded by the Green Bay Packers to the tune of 72 points in two meetings last season.
In fact, one of Detroit's best defensive options may lie on offense.
Running back Mikel Leshoure has carried the ball 105 times for 418 yards and four touchdowns so far this season, and while the second-year pro has played fairly well in 2012, he still sees plenty of room for improvement in his game according to Justin Rogers of the Detroit Free Press.
"Once you get a rhythm going, you get comfortable, you start seeing things before they happen and try to make people miss. (The focus) is being more decisive, making a decision, and going with it, not second-guessing myself," Leshoure said.
It's in the Lions' best interests to give Leshoure his heaviest workload Sunday since his Week 3 debut, when LeShoure carried the ball 26 times for 100 yards and a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans.
The reason is really quite simple. If the Lions can establish the run, then not only can they put points of their own on the board, but they can also control the tempo of the game, keep their defense rested, and, most importantly, keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense off the field.
That's really not a bad idea, especially given that over his past four starts, Rodgers has thrown for nearly 1,100 yards with 15 touchdowns against all of one interception.
So while the Lions may be wary of riding Leshoure too much given the short turnaround before their Turkey Day contest, Detroit has reached the point where they simply can't look too far ahead.
When every game has essentially become a must-win, you have to take them one at a time and that means grinding it out with Mikel Leshoure on Sunday.