There are a multitude of variables that you have to consider when analyzing the Detroit at Tampa Bay Week 1 matchup this Sunday.
I’d like to take a moment to focus on the game within the game that will be Detroit’s ability to attack the quarterback.
First of all, when analyzing any matchup involving the Detroit Lions you have to evaluate the potential impact that Ndamukong Suh will have from the interior defensive tackle position. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be “all in” when it comes to attempting to control Suh at the line of scrimmage.
The only problem with Tampa Bay focusing on Suh—or any one member of the powerfully athletic Detroit Lions defensive line—is that strategy could prove detrimental to the health of Buccaneers players moving forward.
I do not advise Tampa Bay, or any team for that matter, to unleash an untouched Cliff Avril or Kyle Vanden Bosch off the edge, even if Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman is Big-Ben tough.
Which brings me to my next point: Josh Freeman is legit.
The third-year former Kansas State standout looks to be the love child of Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick. At 6’6" and nearly 250 pounds, he has shown the ability to make plays both through the air and on his feet.
When analyzing 2010’s matchup between Detroit and Tampa Bay, it was the quarterback play of Josh Freeman that caught my eye. The Detroit Lions defensive line did an exceptional job in applying pressure in the Week 15 contest, but it was the strength and confidence of Freeman in the pocket that allowed him to withstand the defensive onslaught.
There were multiple instances where there were Detroit defenders draped all over Freeman and he was still able to get the ball out of his hands for a completion.
It’s Freeman, not Buccaneers running back LeGarette Blount, that Detroit will be forced to game plan for this Sunday. Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham will undoubtedly attempt to pressure Freeman.
Lost in all the fan fare that is Ndamukong Suh is the potential impact that Cliff Avril could have from the defensive end position.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive lineman Jeremy Trueblood is an absolute liability at the right tackle position. He is not skilled enough to stop Avril, who is in my opinion the most underrated defensive lineman in the league.
Furthermore, Detroit’s new lineback trio of Justin Durant, Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy should afford Cunningham the ability to unleash Avril off the edge.
Pressure from either defensive end will force Freeman to step up into the pocket, a move that should ultimately flush the agile quarterback into the waiting arms of defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams.
If the Detroit defense is successful in getting to Freeman, Tampa Bay will be forced to sit Blount in favor of seasoned veteran and proficient pass blocking runningback Ernest Graham. It’s a move that could all but negate the potential impact that Blount could have in the Buccaneers rushing attack.
If Detroit wins the battle on the defensive front then they win the game, which is exactly what Lions head coach Jim Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew had in mind when they began to assemble this roster.
However, if the Buccaneers offensive line is capable of affording Freeman the time to make plays down field then Detroit loses. Period.