The turnovers: This, more than anything, is a big concern. While some players said this hasn’t been a problem, that’s not entirely accurate. The Lions have now committed three or more turnovers in three of the past four games. Two of those games, Sunday against Tampa Bay and last week against Pittsburgh, were losses. The third, Detroit's come-from-behind win over Dallas, very easily could have been a loss as well. If anything, it’s a disturbing trend for Detroit heading into the final five games of the season. Detroit hasn’t had a positive turnover margin since Week 6 (Cleveland) and has forced just one turnover total in the past five games. For a defense that was extremely opportunistic early in the season, this is a large reason for its recent struggles.
The playoff picture: Still, all is not lost for Detroit. If the playoffs began today, the Lions would be in and would have a game at Ford Field. As I wrote yesterday, that’s the beauty of the NFC North, where even losses or ties can’t hurt anyone at this point in time. But Detroit’s margin for making the playoffs is essentially division-title-or-bust at this point, and Thursday’s game against Green Bay has the feel of an elimination game.
Detroit’s run defense: Lost in Sunday's loss will be how the Lions stopped the run -- again. Detroit hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown since Week 4 against Chicago, and held Tampa Bay to less than 1 yard a carry. Think about that for a second. While Tampa’s rushing offense doesn’t have a marquee back, the Lions made the Buccaneers completely ineffective on half of their plays (Tampa ran the ball 24 times and passed 21 times). Much of the run defense has to do with the front seven, and the Lions have been superb in this area from the first week of the season on.
Burleson’s return: Veteran wide receiver Nate Burleson had a strong performance in his first game back from a broken forearm. He was second in targets (10) to Calvin Johnson (14). He had seven receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown. And most important, he made it through the game healthy. Burleson’s production shouldn’t be a concern the rest of the season. He played what appeared to be a full complement of plays for a receiver and didn’t seem to have many issues playing with his protective brace, even if he did continue to pick at it throughout the game. He fumbled once, but he admitted he was carrying the ball too loosely in that scenario. If Detroit is going to make the playoffs, the Lions need similar production on a weekly basis from Burleson.