Detroit Lions: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 8

Jeff RisdonContributor IOctober 22, 2013

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 20: Tight end Brandon Pettigrew #87 of the Detroit Lions celebrates after he ran in a touchdown during the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals at Ford Field on October 20, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

 

The Detroit Lions must lick their wounds quickly after the 27-24 last-second loss to Cincinnati. The first-place Dallas Cowboys are coming to town. Both teams are 4-3 at this point.

 

NFC North Division Standings

TeamWinLossPoints ForPoints Against
Green Bay Packers42168127
Detroit Lions43186167
Chicago Bears43213206
Minnesota Vikings15132

181

 

Green Bay ascended to the top of the NFC North heap by beating the Cleveland Browns 31-13. The Packers have won three games in a row despite a nasty rash of injuries.

Chicago fell to the Washington Redskins 45-41. It was the most points the Bears have ever allowed in a loss. Chicago also lost starting quarterback Jay Cutler and star linebacker Lance Briggs to injuries. Each will be sidelined at least four weeks.

The Vikings lost 23-7 in the Monday night game, managing just 206 net yards on offense in Josh Freeman's first start with the team. 

Dallas is coming off two divisional victories in a row to surge to the lead in the NFC East. The Cowboys beat Philadelphia 17-3 in Week 7, a week after beating the Redskins 31-16.

Here's how the teams stack up in statistical rankings so far:

 RushingPassingRun AllowedPassing Allowed
Cowboys24th 9th13th29th
Lions21st5th28th22nd

 

Offensively, the Lions moved up one ranking in passing but fell a spot in rushing. On the flip side, the run defense ticked up one slot while the pass defense fell a notch.

The Cowboys pass defense ranks 29th, and that comes after a game against Philadelphia where they held the Eagles to 194 passing yards. They accomplished that despite playing without star defensive end Demarcus Ware. 

 

Injury Update

Many teams suffered catastrophic injuries in Week 7. The Lions managed to avoid the carnage for the most part, though the injury list is growing.

PlayerPositionInjury
Corey HilliardRTKnee
Theo RiddickRBConcussion
Jason FoxRTKnee
Riley ReiffLTHamstring
Rashean MathisCBGroin
Tony SchefflerTEConcussion
Nate BurlesonWRArm

 

Both starting tackles, Reiff and Hilliard, left the Cincinnati game with injuries. Reiff left in the first half but returned later in the game despite his hamstring injury.

In his weekly press conference, which you can watch here on the Lions' official website, coach Jim Schwartz said he was "encouraged" at how Reiff played and handled himself on the sideline after he returned to action.

Hilliard's injury is trickier. As Lions insider Tim Twentyman reported:

Schwartz said Hilliard isn't day-to-day but isn't long term

— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) October 21, 2013

The team, and Schwartz in particular, are intentionally vague about the specifics and extent of injuries, but that line indicates Hilliard is questionable at best for the Dallas game.

Jason Fox, who Hilliard was replacing at right tackle, remains out. Schwartz said Fox was "improving", but in the next breath stated the team could have to make a move at tackle. 

LaAdrian Waddle filled in at both tackle spots during the Bengals game and played pretty well. He would take over for Hilliard as the starting right tackle if the veteran cannot go. Because both Fox and Hilliard are hurt, Dylan Gandy would be the backup tackle unless a roster move is made.

Sep 29, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions cornerback Rashean Mathis (31) is helped off the field by the medical staff during the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The news on Mathis was encouraging. He has been battling a groin issue for a few weeks now, but his absence during the game was more of a conditioning issue.

Schwatz said Mathis just got "fatigued." He's fine.

— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) October 21, 2013

Look for Mathis to start once again against Dallas. 

With the bye week looming after this week, there is no reason to rush Scheffler or Riddick back from concussions. Burleson will remain out until after the bye week, at minimum, with his broken arm. 

Running back Montell Owens, who was placed on injured reserve with designation to return after being injured in the preseason, has resumed practicing. He figures to return after the bye week as well. 

The Cowboys have had some major injury issues this season. Defensive ends Anthony Spencer and Tyrone Crawford have been on injured reserve since September, as has safety Matt Johnson.

Starting running back DeMarco Murray missed the Philadelphia game along with Ware. Their playing status for this week is unknown at this time. 

These two teams have met 22 times in the regular season. The Cowboys hold a 12-10 advantage, thanks in part to an interesting scheduling quirk. Five of the last six meetings were in Dallas, as were five of the first seven games in the series.

The Lions won the last matchup, a 34-30 thriller in Dallas in Week 4 of the 2011 season. Matthew Stafford threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Calvin Johnson as the Lions mounted a furious comeback from a 27-3 deficit. 

What Needs to Improve

Like Cincinnati, Dallas has a legitimate star wide receiver who will greatly stress the Detroit defense. A week after A.J. Green torched the Lions for 155 yards and a touchdown, Dez Bryant gets his turn.

/Getty Images

Bryant already has 42 receptions for 569 yards and six touchdowns in the first seven weeks. No other receiver in the league has produced more first downs than Bryant's 34

If the Lions want to win, they must do a better job on Bryant than they did on Green. 

Chris Houston was benched for a spell in the Cincinnati game, and Jim Schwartz is discouraged enough with Houston's play that he refused to commit to him as a starter.

Schwartz said he trusts Chris Houston will get his confidence back, but wouldn't name him a starter at CB

— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) October 21, 2013

In the last meeting in Dallas, Houston did have a pick-six off Tony Romo. Hopefully he can draw upon some sense memory recall and it will help restore his shattered confidence. 

No matter if it's Houston, Mathis or Darius Slay lining up against Bryant, the Lions need to do a better job of helping out the corners.

Some of that falls on the pass rush, which was a definite sore point versus Cincinnati. The Lions managed just one sack and failed to generate much pressure on Andy Dalton.

Dallas has allowed almost exactly the same sack percentage as Cincinnati. The Bengals rank eighth at 5.68 precent, while the Cowboys are ninth at 5.69 percent, per teamrankings.com.

Facing consecutive opponents with that freakishly close of a sack percentage is certainly odd. It also presents Nick Fairley and his defensive line cohorts with a shot at redemption. They must make Romo constantly aware of their presence. 

Another area of focus is the return game. While Micheal Spurlock is trending in the right direction, the Lions still struggle to block well in front of him. That is especially true on kickoff returns.

The Lions are favored by three points across the board, according to Covers.com. This is a great chance for the Lions to notch a win over a quality opponent. Hitting the bye week at 5-3 is a lot more promising than limping in at 4-4.