NFL Nation: Final Word 2012 Texans-Lions

Final Word: Texans-Lions

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
4:00
PM ET
Final Word: Texans-Lions | Redskins-Cowboys | Patriots-Jets

Three nuggets of knowledge about Thursday's game at Ford Field:

Thanksgiving doldrums: The Detroit Lions have lost eight consecutive Thanksgiving Day games and are matched up against the NFL's best team, at least according to ESPN.com's weekly Power Rankings. The Houston Texans are 9-1 this season, including 4-0 on the road, and the Lions will have to rally in a hurry after losing a late lead last Sunday to fall to 4-6. Their dismissal of disruptive receiver Titus Young, at least for one week, could be a wakeup call.

[+] EnlargeJeff Backus
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireIf Lions left tackle Jeff Backus doesn't start Thursday due to injury, it will break his consecutive games streak at 186.
End of era: Nothing will be official until 90 minutes before the game, but indications are that left tackle Jeff Backus won't play because of a hamstring injury. If that's the case, we won't just see the end of Backus' run of 186 consecutive starts. We'll also a rare disruption in what has become the NFL's most consistent deployment of an offensive line. Since the start of the 2010 season, Backus has joined Rob Sims, Dominic Raiola, Stephen Peterman and Gosder Cherilus to play 2,382 of a possible 2,887 snaps. Over that stretch, no other offensive line has played more than 1,466 snaps together. In fact, before Backus left last Sunday's game, the Lions' five linemen had played every snap of the season together. Rookie Riley Reiff is expected to make his first NFL start in Backus' place.

Pressuring Stafford: If the Texans stay true to form, the Lions' offense line will face much more pressure than it typically does. Through 11 weeks, the Texans have the NFL's highest blitz percentage at 45.2 percent. Historically, though, opponents have blitzed Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford rarely and preferred to drop maximum defenders in coverage. This season, Stafford has been blitzed on 15.3 percent of his dropbacks, the league's lowest rate. You wonder if the Texans will back off as well.

(Programming note: Tweet me your Thanksgiving photos for use in a slideshow later this week. The NFC North blog handle is @espn_nfcnblog. It can be Lions-related or reflect any other NFC North team.)

Final Word: Texans at Lions

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
10:12
AM ET
Final Word: Texans-Lions | Redskins-Cowboys | Patriots-Jets

Three things to watch Thursday in the Texans' game at Detroit:

Covering Megatron: Calvin Johnson averages 16.2 yards per catch and is as threatening as anyone in the NFL. Typically the Texans would feel good about matching up with a player like Johnson, because cornerback Johnathan Joseph tracks a team’s top receiver all over the field. But Joseph is a game-time decision with a hamstring injury. He played through a groin injury earlier in the season but had a couple of poor performances. If he plays with this injury, how will he fare? If he’s a scratch, Alan Ball will start in his place, but the Texans won’t put one defender on Johnson. A week after a terrible coverage game against Jacksonville, corners Kareem Jackson, Ball and Brice McCain and safeties Danieal Manning and Glover Quin will have to collectively hold down Johnson and the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense.

Riley Reiff: The Lions first-round draft pick is likely to start at left tackle in place of Lions stalwart Jeff Backus, who’s dealing with a hamstring injury. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will surely scheme and move people around to challenge and attack Reiff. The best way to do that in the base defense is to get end J.J. Watt going against Reiff. The defensive player of the year candidate’s effort hasn’t changed, but he has been limited to two sacks in his past four games. Weakside linebacker Connor Barwin can also be expected to get chances to rush against Reiff. Odds are the rookie blocker will also get help from tight ends and running backs chipping and trying to help slow pursuit of Matthew Stafford.

Special teams: Rookie returner Keshawn Martin made some big plays last week against the Jaguars, with a 71-yard punt return and a 54-yard kickoff return. The Texans have been better overall on special teams since their Oct. 28 bye, when they emphasized getting things cleaned up. Detroit’s had some miserable special-teams performances this season and the Lions are 28th in defending punt returns. Houston should be able to ensure the Lions have to drive a long field, as Detroit is the NFL’s worst team in the league on kickoff returns. And the Texans could get some good starting field position as the Lions have the worst punting average in the NFL.

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