Detroit Lions: Team Faces a Critical 3-Game Stretch

Travis WakemanCorrespondent IIOctober 7, 2013

GREEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 6:  James Jones #89 of the Green Bay Packers runs during a 83 yard touchdown catch against the Chris Houston #23 of the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field on October 6, 2013 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  The Packers defeated the Lions 22-9.  (Photo Tom Lynn /Getty Images)
Tom Lynn/Getty Images

Following a 22-9 loss to the Green Bay Packers Sunday, the Detroit Lions have plenty to work on this week in practice.

The Packers out gained the Lions by 163 yards and without the threat of Calvin Johnson, who missed the game with an injured knee, Green Bay was able to shut down Detroit's running game.

The Lions rushed for just 64 yards on 19 carries, a 3.4 yard average.

If Detroit is to go anywhere this season, they need to build some momentum heading into their bye week. The next three games will be critical to this season's success.

Arguably, the Lions could be considered underdogs in all three games, so they will need a much better effort than the one they got Sunday.

Yes, the team was without their best player, but that means someone else needs to step up. Here is a look at the Lions' next three games.


Cleveland Browns

The Lions will travel to Cleveland this Sunday to face the resurgent Browns. Who would have ever thought resurgent and the Browns would be used in the same sentence this season. 

But since the trade of Trent Richardson, Cleveland hasn't lost a game. They got a balanced offensive effort in their most recent win over Buffalo.

However, the key to their winning streak is their defense. They will come into this game against Detroit ranked No. 4 in the league in total defense.

The Lions may find it tough sledding trying to run the ball against this defense and if Johnson misses the game, they will have to win it ugly.

The Browns rank No. 27 in passing offense and Brandon Weeden will be filling in for Brian Hoyer, who was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

The Lions defense can exploit the offense and they should be able to generate a pass rush and force Weeden into some mistakes.

In three games this season, Weeden has turned the ball over five times (three interceptions, two fumbles).

Offensively, Detroit needs to be able to count on someone besides Johnson. Reggie Bush has had a couple good games this season, but then he disappears the next.

Matthew Stafford needs to be able to trust another wide receiver. Kris Durham and Ryan Broyles combined for just five catches against Green Bay.


Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are just 3-2 on the season, but they did just hand the New England Patriots their first defeat.

Inside Ford Field, the Detroit defense will be exposed to all of Cincinnati's offensive weapons in a game that could easily become a shootout.

On offense, Detroit will need to find a way to move around defensive tackle Geno Atkins in order to establish a running game. But watching Stafford rack up 50-55 pass attempts is more likely.

The Bengals will likely try to attack Detroit through the air by looking for A.J. Green on several deep patterns, while trying to use tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert down the seams.

The safety combination of Louis Delmas and Glover Quin could be key if the Lions are to get their first win over Cincinnati in 21 years.


Dallas Cowboys

Just about every year, the Cowboys are one of the hardest teams in the league to figure out.

Detroit should prepare to face the team that put 48 points and over 500 yards of offense against the Denver Broncos.

The Detroit secondary will have their hands full trying to keep up with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten and this is a game the Lions may have to win with Stafford going pass for pass with Tony Romo.

Dallas currently ranks No. 28 in total defense and they can be susceptible to a pass-catching running back. Against Denver, Knowshon Moreno caught five passes for 57 yards.

It could be a big day for Bush. In the Lions' three victories this season, running the ball has been a main factor.

Health will be a key for the Lions, especially as it relates to Johnson and Bush. Without them, the team will go nowhere.

These next three games could easily determine if this team is a contender or one that will miss the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 seasons.

Going 0-3 over the course of these three games would make for a tough hole to dig out of.