After advancing to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, the Detroit Lions entered the 2012 season with high hopes, but a 4-6 start has the Lions mired in last place in the NFC North and scrambling to keep their fading playoff aspirations alive.
That's going to be easier said than done, as an absolutely brutal second-half schedule for Detroit kicked off with last week's loss to the Green Bay Packers and continues on Thanksgiving Day, when the Lions play host to the one-loss Houston Texans.
Given that the Lions are as much a part of Thanksgiving as giant balloons and overeating, the holiday hasn't been overly kind to the team, with the Lions going 33-37-2 on turkey day. If Detroit is going to buck that trend and get back on track, there's one goal on offense and defense that the team needs to achieve.
Offensively, it's really quite simple. The Lions have to take better care of the football. Turnovers have killed the Lions again and again this season, including in last week's loss to the Packers. Detroit had four giveaways, including three by quarterback Matthew Stafford, who realizes that his play needs to improve according to Chris McCosky of The Detroit News.
"I didn't play my best," said a terse Stafford. "It was a little bit of everything. I have to play better to give us a chance to win," Stafford said.
The Lions currently rank 26th in the NFL with a minus -7 turnover differential, and frankly you just can't give a team the caliber of the Texans extra opportunities to score by handing them freebies. Unless the Lions win the turnover battle in this game, they have next to no chance.
That will also place an impetus of the Detroit defensive line to win the battle in the trenches, both when it comes to containing Houston running back Arian Foster and putting pressure on quarterback Matt Schaub.
For what it's worth, even the Texans think that that's doable, as head coach Gary Kubiak was effusive in his praise of the Lions' defensive front when speaking with Dave Birkett of The Detroit Free Press:
“I just think it presents the biggest challenge we’ve had all year, as far as finding a way to give (quarterback Matt Schaub) time to do his job,” Kubiak said. “It’s easy to see on film, they’ve just been very dominant up front.”
Last week Schaub showed what he's capable of doing when given time in the pocket, carving up the Jacksonville Jaguars for over 500 passing yards and five touchdowns. If the Lions are to stay in this game, they need to avoid a shootout by imposing their will defensively.
As the Jaguars showed last week, even though the Texans are 9-1, they're far from invincible. If the Lions can achieve these goals (in addition to scoring more points than the Texans, which I've heard is important) then Detroit can stay alive in the NFC while giving their fans something to be thankful for.