Lions vs. Buccaneers Analysis: Has Detroit's Defense Improved Enough?

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Lions vs. Buccaneers Analysis: Has Detroit's Defense Improved Enough?
Lions head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham have focused on building a defensive juggernaut in Detroit. Daniel Mears/ The Detroit News

For the Detroit Lions, 2010’s 23-20 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers meant the end of the longest road losing streak in the history of the National Football League. The victory symbolized Detroit’s first road victory since they defeated the Chicago Bears 16-7 on October 28th, 2007.

Detroit’s victory over Tampa Bay in Week 15 would ultimately represent the second of four consecutive victories that the Lions would close the 2010 season with. The four game streak would also include a win over the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.

In the fan fare that still surrounds Detroit’s overtime victory over Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium in 2010, there is a significantly important dynamic that may have been over looked.

Tampa Bay’s “Big Three” Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams looked absolutely unstoppable.

Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman looked proficient in going 21/32 for 251 yards and a touchdown.

LeGarette Blount contributed by running the ball down Detroit’s figurative throats for 110 yards, highlighted by a 39-yard touchdown run in which he literally ran over an injury hampered Louis Delmas.

But more importantly, wide receiver Mike Williams (no not that one) was just too powerful for the Detroit Lions secondary. In fact, it looked as if the only thing that looked to have any success in covering rookie Mike Williams was air. Williams would end the day with a modest 96-yards receiving and one score, but his six receptions were paramount in the success of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense.

The addition of former Cleveland Browns cornerback Eric Wright via free agency this off-season should help assist the Lions in rectifying last seasons issues in the secondary, but unless the Lions do a better job in pressuring Freeman in Week 1 the Detroit Lions could be in for a long day.

Last season the Buccaneers game-planned around stopping or least slowing down dominant rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and they were pretty successful in doing so.

Ultimately the Lions would end the day with three sacks but overall Detroit’s supporting cast failed to rise to the occasion and take advantage of Tampa’s conceded effort to stop Suh.

Whether or not Detroit has truly addressed last seasons secondary woes remains to be seen.

I do believe that the Detroit Lions have done enough in free agency to rectify last season’s inability to stop LeGarette Blount. Detroit went out and got not one, but two athletic run-stopping linebackers in Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant.

Detroit will look to unleash their dominant defensive front full knowing that they have solidified their linebacker corps heading into 2011.

The departure of long time Buccaneers running back Cadillac Williams could mean a steep learning curve for second year back LeGarette Blount’s in picking up his pass blocking assignments.

Look for the Buccaneers to heavily utilize seasoned veteran Ernest Graham in the Week 1 contest against the Lions.

My projection for Detroit’s contest at Tampa Bay in Week 1 is that a healthy Lions defensive front may be too powerful for the Buccaneers to withstand, even without the services of rookie defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

Detroit will leave Tampa Bay 27-10 victors, and head into the home opener versus the Kansas City Chiefs with a full head of steam.

Not only have the Detroit Lions improved enough from a defensive perspective to defeat the Buccaneers, I am confident that they have made enough improvement to challenge for the NFC North Division crown in 2011.

Health has always played a significant role in the success or lack thereof for the Detroit Lions year-in and year-out. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay it looks as if Detroit’s “Big Three” Matt Stafford, Jahvid Best, and Calvin Johnson will be healthy and taking the field on opening day.

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