What: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8) at Detroit Lions (6-4)
Where: Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.
When: Sunday, Nov. 24, 1 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox, check local listings.
Tampa Bay heads to Detroit with back-to-back wins after starting the season 0-8. They tied Atlanta for last place in the NFC South by beating the free-falling Falcons last week.
Detroit fell on the road in Pittsburgh, falling back into a first-place tie in the NFC North with the Chicago Bears. The Lions do hold the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of their season sweep.
These two teams have not met since Week 1 of the 2011 season, a 27-20 Detroit win in Raymond James Stadium. In that game, Matthew Stafford threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns, as well as a pick-six to Aqib Talib.
The last time Tampa Bay visited Detroit was in 2008, the year of the winless Lions. The Bucs won 38-20 behind Jeff Garcia, the final road win of his long career.
Detroit has just three players left from that team: Calvin Johnson, Dominic Raiola and Andre Fluellen. Tampa Bay also has just three holdovers and they're all offensive linemen: Davin Joseph, Jeremy Zuttah and Donald Penn.
As part of my weekly ritual in preparing for Lions' opponents, I have watched every game the Bucs have played this season. Because of the quarterback change to Mike Glennon, the focus is on the last month.
Detroit needs to be careful and take this game seriously. These Bucs are playing better than their inauspicious record would lead many to believe. Glennon has fared a lot better than many critics, of which I was a vocal member, believed he ever could perform.
Still, the Lions are favored by 9.5 points at Covers.com for a reason.
Here are three ways the Lions can get back on the winning track.
Attack the Edges
The Buccaneers made a big offseason splash in signing premier corner Darrelle Revis. Even though, as Chris Wesseling of NFL.com reports, many have openly questioned how coach Greg Schiano has deployed his great asset, the fact remains that Revis is playing very well.
The problem for the Bucs is that the rest of the secondary has not risen to anywhere near his level. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Revis is the only player in the Tampa Bay secondary with a positive grade.
This certainly shows up on film. Repeatedly. Revis is surrounded by youngsters who are learning on the job. Fellow corners Johnthan Banks and Leonard Johnson, as well as safeties Mark Barron and Keith Tandy, are all in their first or second years in the NFL.
The Buccaneers normally have a veteran presence at safety in Dashon Goldson, but he will miss this game due to his second league-mandated suspension for illegal hits this season. You can read a nice piece on that from Bleacher Report's Tim Keeney here. Primary slot corner Mike Adams, another veteran, was lost for the season per Rotoworld in last week's win over Atlanta.
Detroit must attack and exploit the inexperience in the Tampa Bay secondary. Here's a play the Lions used last week to create confusion amongst a veteran Pittsburgh secondary.
The Lions are in their standard personnel package of three wide receivers, one back and one tight end. This forces the defense into nickel coverage, which for Tampa Bay means really testing the youth on the depth chart.
The outside receivers both run vertical routes to stretch the coverage. Slot receiver Kris Durham gets a lot of room to run on a crossing route over the deep middle.
Note that the linebacker and underneath safety are both held by the running back (Joique Bell in this case) flaring out into the left flat.
This route configuration forces the safety to pick his poison. If he drops deeper to cover Durham on the crossing route, Bell is uncovered in the flat and will have a good 20 yards of open field in front of him when he catches the flare pass.
If the safety creeps up to snuff that out, Durham is too far behind the dropping linebacker for any coverage to impact him.
In this case, the safety in question is veteran Pro Bowler Troy Polamalu. He waffles on making a decision, trying his best to cover both angles. Matthew Stafford ropes in a money throw to Durham for a 25-yard gain before Polamalu can thump the receiver to the turf.
Plays like this worked quite well against the veteran Steelers defense. Imagine what they can do to the greenhorn Tampa Bay secondary.
Drink the Lionblood
This goes in hand with attacking the edges of the Tampa Bay defense. Detroit must find someone besides Calvin Johnson to step up as a receiving threat to exploit that advantage.
Nate Burleson took install reps with the first team for the first time since his accident. Looks on track to return Sunday— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) November 20, 2013
It's a perfect week for Nate Burleson, aka Mr. Lionblood, to return to live action. Burleson has been out since breaking his arm in a pizza-related car crash following Week 3, which is chronicled here on USA Today Sports.
The Lions have really struggled to find a dynamic counter to Calvin Johnson in the passing game ever since. Kris Durham has played reasonably well, but he just cannot offer the speed, elusiveness or quickness that Burleson brings.
As I wrote last week, the slot receiver position has been a quagmire all season long. It's approaching spinal tap drummer levels after Jeremy Ross caught just one pass in Pittsburgh.
Burleson is a natural dynamo in the slot, and he would really present an advantage against the aforementioned youth in the Tampa Bay secondary.
Here is a play from Tampa's win over Miami that is tailor-made for Burleson.
The Dolphins have the ball at the Buccaneer 19. The design is for slot receiver Rishard Matthews to quickly slide outside and use outside receiver Brian Hartline as a blocker to pick the inside defender.
A good play-action fake sucks up safety Mark Barron while also holding the slot corner inside just for a second. That's all that the Dolphins receiver needed, and it is ample time for Burleson as well.
Following the quick throw, Matthews gets a great edge block from Hartline. Barron is forced to take a bad angle because of his initial reaction to the play-action fake. From there, it's a race to the pylon.
Just as Matthews did here, Burleson will win that race. Not only does this play highlight what Burleson can offer to the Detroit offense, it's also a great way to use someone other than Johnson or Joseph Fauria in the red zone. The Lions have become pretty predictable in that respect.
Blanket Vincent Jackson
Like the Lions, the Buccaneers are heavily reliant on one big-play receiver in the passing game. Their answer to Calvin Johnson is Vincent Jackson.
Since secondary target Mike Williams was lost for the season in Week 10, their reliance upon Jackson is now even more magnified.
Jackson caught 10 passes for 165 yards in Tampa Bay's crushing win over Atlanta last week. That elevates him even higher away from any of his receiving cohorts.
|Production of Active Tampa Bay Wide Receivers|
Williams caught 22 passes on 40 targets for 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns before getting hurt. Page has not seen a pass thrown his way in three weeks.
Take a wild guess at who comes next on the Tampa Bay season pecking order at wideout. Go ahead, give it a shot.
If you said Kevin Ogletree, treat yourself to a cookie.
That's right; current Lion Kevin Ogletree sits just below Underwood on Tampa Bay's season stat sheet for wide receivers. He caught eight of his 21 targets for 70 yards and a touchdown in four weeks before being shown the door.
The Bucs do have an emerging secondary target in rookie Timothy Wright, who made the team as an undrafted free agent from Rutgers. He earned his roster spot as a tight end, which is where he began the season before being moved outside due to the rash of injuries.
Still, Wright has just two receptions on three targets over the last two games. For Lions fans familiar with the preseason, he compares to a bulkier Corey Fuller. That is not a compliment; though to Wright's credit, he has flashed some legit talent on game tape.
The long and the short of it is this: Do whatever it takes to effectively cover Vincent Jackson. Force rookie quarterback Mike Glennon to beat you with vastly inferior, unproven weapons like Timothy Wright or Tiquan Underwood or Brian Leonard out of the backfield to handle the bulk of the passing game.
It appears as if Bill Bentley will return in the slot corner position.
Bill Bentley returned to practice for first time since Cowboys game. Ziggy Ansah also practiced— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) November 20, 2013
Safety Glover Quin did not practice on Wednesday but indications are that he will play on Sunday. That restores order to the pass coverage.
The Lions can focus having safeties Quin and Louis Delmas aid the outside corners in handling Jackson down the field. Because the Buccaneers almost never use their tight ends as receivers, linebacker DeAndre Levy can play in an underneath "robber" role to help as well.
If the Lions pass defense gets beat by unheralded Buccaneers making plays, that's far more acceptable than Vincent Jackson going off for 10 catches and 165 yards like he did versus Atlanta. Detroit must prevent the latter by any means necessary.
The Lions have an excellent opportunity to notch a much-needed tally in the win column against Tampa Bay. Restoring positive momentum heading into the short week before the Thanksgiving game with Green Bay would erase the stain of the bad loss in Pittsburgh and restore the roar atop the NFC North.