Saturday, November 23, 2013
Four keys for Detroit vs. Tampa Bay
By Michael Rothstein
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Over the past three weeks, the Detroit Lions' schedule became a little bit more difficult.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at the time winless and apparently flailing, have played like a different team over the past three weeks. The Bucs played well in a loss to Seattle and then beat Miami and Atlanta in back-to-back weeks in Tampa Bay.
Now, Tampa Bay has to go on the road again, this time to Detroit, a former divisional rival that the Lions have beaten three of the last four times they have played. But this Buccaneers team is one with belief now.
"Guys are just excited," Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "I think that during the time when we were 0-8, it wasn't really, you know, the atmosphere wasn't positive. Guys were moping around and things like that.
"I think we kind of forgot how to win."
Calvin Johnson (left) should be happy to have Nate Burleson back on the field this week as the Detroit Lions receiver will help in double coverages.
Now, though, there isn't as much of a winning issue in Tampa Bay. How does Detroit stop that from becoming a three-game winning streak? Here are four keys.
Burleson being back: Detroit has done a better-than-serviceable job in the absence of No. 2 receiver Nate Burleson with a variety of players making plays with him out with an broken forearm. Joseph Fauria had a massive game against Cleveland. Kris Durham has become a reliable option on the outside opposite Calvin Johnson. Brandon Pettigrew has seen more targets and production.
But the Lions' offense with the veteran is a much different operation. Burleson offers a reliable option in the slot who can help force teams from focusing too much on Johnson or running back Reggie Bush. And if teams do continue to pay the same attention to those two players, the middle of the field should be wide open for Burleson. Sunday begins the new proving ground for Burleson, who was playing well before the injury.
Rattle Glennon: At this time last week, it seemed an inevitable that the Detroit defensive line would pressure and sack Ben Roethlisberger multiple times. Pretty much everyone else had this season.
But the Lions couldn't really reach Roethlisberger for a multitude of reasons. Roethlisberger was getting rid of the ball faster than any quarterback Detroit had faced this season. They also only blitzed 14.6 percent of the time, the Lions' lowest percentage since a loss to Cincinnati in Week 7. And they only sacked Roethlisberger once and hit him twice. A rookie like Mike Glennon against this defensive line, though, could have some issues.
Keep Johnson involved: Johnson was held without a catch and was only targeted three times in the second half against Pittsburgh, a rarity for the man considered the consensus best receiver in the NFL. Of course, Johnson still had a massive day with six catches for 179 yards, but they need to find Johnson in a more balanced manner to keep the Tampa Bay defense guessing.
Specifically, the Lions should try to target Johnson to the side of the field where Dashon Goldson would have been. The Buccaneers' starting safety won't play this week, so having a talented but relatively inexperienced player in Mark Barron could lead to some mistakes and some ways for Johnson to exploit Revis.
Focus on Vincent Jackson: The Buccaneers' top receiver is quietly having one of the better seasons of his career, already catching 56 passes for 827 yards and five touchdowns. In Tampa's destruction of Atlanta last Sunday, he had 10 catches for 165 yards, his fourth 100-yard game of the season.
He'll be a problem for the Lions' inconsistent cornerbacks. Rashean Mathis will likely draw the Jackson assignment initially, but don't be surprised if you see the Lions roll coverage toward Jackson as he has been their only true receiving option.