With the regular season of the 2011 NFL season just days away, it seems time to indulge in a bit of educated guesswork.
First up for the Lions are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs were a surprise success story last year, but came up short against the Lions in Week 15 of last season. Detroit won in overtime 23-20. However, both sides look to be much stronger this time around, so there should be plenty of offensive and defensive fireworks.
In this article I am looking to predict the score, impact players and major talking points of the upcoming game. While I am sure I will not get everything right, I hope you enjoy the article!
Final Score: Detroit Lions 31—Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17
Stafford—360 yards, 3 TD's
Freeman—280 yards, 1 TD
Jerome Harrison—13 att, 50 yds
Keiland Williams—6 att, 20 yards, 1 TD
Jahvid Best—18 att, 63 yds,
LeGarrette Blount—26 att, 122 yds, 1 TD
Calvin Johnson—6 rec, 85 yards, 1 TD
Nate Burleson—2 rec, 55 yards
Brandonn Pettigrew—5 rec, 45 yards, 1 TD
Jahvid Best—4 rec, 40 yards, 1 TD
Mike Williams—4 rec, 60 yards
Kellen Winslow—6 rec, 65 yards
Arrelious Benn—1 rec, 30 yards, 1 TD
Ndamukong Suh—4 tackles, 3 sacks
DeAndre Levy—6 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
Lawrence Jackson—3 tackles, 2 sacks
Kyle Vanden Bosch—5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
Gerald McCoy—2 tackles, 1 sack
Mason Foster—7 tackles
Geno Hayes—5 tackles, 1 sack
Fact: The Detroit Lions have an insane defensive line, especially when it comes to rushing the passer.
Fact: The Buccaneers have a hugely overrated offensive line, that is bailed out by Josh Freeman's ability to avoid sacks and LeGarrette Blount's ability to carry an entire defense on his back.
These two facts will lead to some interesting watching for Lions fans. All the defensive line should get in on the action and nine sacks in the game is not out of the question. The most damage should be done by Lawrence Jackson, who will be up against Donald Penn, and Ndamukong Suh, who will make mincemeat of the overpaid Davin Joseph. Both Lions should leave the ground with at least two sacks to their name.
For those who doubt this, take a look at the heat that the New England Patriots laid on the Buccaneers in Week 2 of the preseason. For a team that lacks a great pass rush, they sure kept Freeman under duress.
Even the addition of this bruiser will not improve things
First and foremost, this is not an indictment of the running backs. The addition of Keiland Williams will give the Lions a powerful runner who can reprise the role that Mikel Leshoure was meant to fill, and Jerome Harrison and Jahvid Best are dangerous runners in the open field. However, in Week 1 Williams is unlikely to be up to speed with the Lions offense, so we will have to watch another game where small scat backs get mercilessly pummeled by defensive linemen.
Why is this? The answer is the offensive line. This group failed all of last season to get any real movement at the line of scrimmage, and this troubling problem has continued throughout the preseason. The tag team of Dominic Raiola and Stephen Peterman has struggled mightily, and with poor run blocking from the right side of the line the run game will be largely impotent.
With Best and Harrison there will always be a few long runs that pad out their yards per carry average and give us some respectability, but we are unlikely to see consistent yards on the ground that will make life easier for the passing game.
It's going to be a long season for those of you who love smash mouth football.
Stafford has certainly been the story of the preseason. His play has made the whole league take notice of the Lions passing game. With the issues in the running game, Stafford will throw the ball between 35 and 45 times, and he will succeed while doing it.
The connection with Megatron will work a treat, but most importantly plenty of other receivers will get the ball thrown their way, including Best, Harrison, Brandon Pettigrew, Nate Burleson and Titus Young. Another welcome change will be the deep ball. While the carousel of Lions quarterbacks did a solid job in 2010, they struggled to push the ball deep and keep secondaries of their toes. This will change with laser armed Stafford at the helm. Expect to see about eight yards per passing attempt, and most importantly, no interceptions. Stafford will be poised, calm in the pocket and deliver great passes throughout the game. But, what should we expect? He has done that all preseason.
P.S. He will be dropped on that pesky shoulder a few times, and he will be all right.
I hate to say this, but given the way the preseason has gone, and the fact that Blount is the hardest running back in the league to bring down once he gets going, the Lions linebackers will struggle mightily. New entrants Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant will start, and not perform to how they played last season. Tulloch will struggle calling the defense from the mike position and will take that split second longer to react than last year because of the new defense.
Similarly, Durant will have issues with reading the play. However, he will also have real issues in coverage, prompting a two down role in the second half. I would expect Bobby Carpenter to come on in passing situations.
Fortunately, these issues should largely be related to the newness of the defense, rather than long term problems. However, for now the Lions will get punished between the tackles.
Wright has all the physical tools to be a great cornerback in the NFL, and in fact he was until last season. However, that was on a Cleveland Browns defense that had no pass rush. In his new situation with the Lions he is backed up by an elite pass rush that will just allow him to press his man at the line and smother him for 15 yards downfield. This suits his long frame perfectly.
Wright will start the game on the Buccaneers' second best wide receiver, likely Sammie Stroughter, and it will be a totally unfair fight. While Chris Houston will struggle with the talented Mike Williams, Wright will consistently take away Freeman's second or third receiving option on the play. He certainly will not show up on Sportscenter, but his performance will be vital to the Lions victory.