5 Things the Lions Must Do to Beat Broncos on Sunday
The Tim Tebow era has begun in Denver, and the Lions are on the brink of catastrophe by their standards. The Broncos are fighting to gain respectability in the AFC West, and the Lions are fighting to avoid a three-game losing streak and possibly all of their fans.
The risk of losing three in a row for Detroit gives the Lions all the more impetus to win on Sunday, and here are five things they must do to win.
Defense Must Come Together as Unit
The Lions came into this season having a vaunted defensive line, anchored by second-year tackle Ndamukong Suh and linebacker Stephen Tulloch. The defense must step up and get to Tim Tebow.
We know what Tebow is capable of. If he can't beat you with his arm, he'll beat you with his legs, and vice versa. The offense took a significant hit with the loss of WR Brandon Lloyd (traded to St. Louis two weeks ago), yet Tebow still managed to orchestrate a great comeback for a Broncos win.
If Suh and Co. can make things uncomfortable for Tebow and crew, the Lions will have no problems winning. That is, if they can stand the altitude.
Stafford Must Act Like Team Leader
"Oh boy, here we go again."
That was the collective groan from Lions fans as quarterback Matt Stafford left Ford Field last week limping. Apparently, Stafford rolled his ankle on the last play of the game. While he has been taking most of the first-team reps, according to Detroit's 97.1-FM The Ticket, coach Jim Schwartz has not yet committed to a starter for Sunday's game.
Stafford must act like a team leader. The past couple of games, he has looked slow getting to the line of scrimmage for the two-minute offense. He's also overthrown and underthrown big-play wide receiver Calvin Johnson multiple times. And if you've been paying attention to his facial expressions, he's looked bored at times, soft at times and at times just plain beaten. Granted, his offensive line hasn't helped much.
Stafford needs to revert back to his 2009 self, when, during the game against the Cleveland Browns, Stafford got his shoulder dislocated and came back out to orchestrate a miracle comeback for the Lions' second—and final—win of the season. He tapped the offensive linemen on their helmets, saying "It's on you."
If he can revert back to that, (and winning helps too), he will alleviate a lot of the criticism.
Linehan Must Make Adjustments Due to Loss of Jahvid Best
I know what you're thinking. "Why is Linehan in this slide show? He doesn't play!"
While that may be true, most of the blame for the offense's recent struggles, unfortunately, falls on his shoulders.
The Lions have no running game without Jahvid Best. His loss not only takes away the run but also takes away another dimension in the passing game. Best was used a lot out of the Lions' backfield this season. Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams did less than nothing against Atlanta last week, and Eldra Buckley is merely a body to add depth. Linehan has not made any adjustments to counteract that.
Linehan has also taken much of the blame for Stafford's lackluster performance the past two games. He needs to continue to work with Stafford to get him back to the form we saw at the beginning of the year when the Lions went 5-0.
Defensive Line Must Maintain Schwartz's Mantra
When Jim Schwartz was hired in 2009, he emphasized two things: run the football, stop the run. Run the football, stop the run. He repeated it over and over again. The past two games, the Lions haven't been able to do either. For further results, see Frank Gore.
All of a sudden, it's been a reversal of fortune for a defensive unit that has been highly-touted this season. Ndamukong Suh is nowhere near the dominant defensive tackle he was last year. Can you blame him, though? If he breathes he gets a penalty. Still, though, he is being taken out of plays a lot easier this year than last.
Aside from Kyle Vanden Bosch and occasionally Cliff Avril, the Lions are getting zero help from the outside edge. If one of them should be taken off the field, it's up to guys like Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson to step up and make plays for this defense. Corey Williams and Sammie Lee Hill could help matters on the inside, too.
Offensive Line Must Keep Stafford Upright
Well, what slideshow about keys to the Lions winning a game would be complete without mentioning the Lions' offensive line—or lack thereof?
In the first five games of the season, not counting the Minnesota game, Matt Stafford was sacked three times. (In Minnesota, he got sacked five times, but Jared Allen is arguably the best defensive end in the game.) In the past two games, however, it's a tale of two teams. Stafford's been sacked at least eight times in the last two games.
The offensive line has been an integral part in both the ups and the downs this season. During the 5-0 stretch, they did an admirable job of keeping Stafford upright and giving him time to throw, and he rewarded them with touchdowns and winning. The past two games, however, they've nearly let him get killed. It's gotten so bad that when San Francisco defensive lineman Aubrayo Franklin sacked him and laid on top of him, the linemen didn't even try to help him out.
The Lions' offensive line must keep Stafford upright in order to maintain any consistency on Sunday. It's hard to throw touchdown passes when you're flat on your back. Also, the Lions cannot afford to have Stafford get hurt again.
Through it all, however, I still think the Lions come away with a win in this game. Final score: Lions 34, Broncos 24.