The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have reeled off two victories in a row, but both have come against struggling teams missing key players, and both games occurred at Raymond James Stadium. The Buccaneers will now have to take their two-game winning streak on the road to face the Detroit Lions, who have been one of the more surprising teams this season.
So how do the Buccaneers win against Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and the rest of the Lions? Here are my thoughts on the keys to victory.
1. No, seriously, stop Calvin Johnson.
Buccaneers fans got to see first-hand what happens when a defense fails to account for a number one receiver when Vincent Jackson put forth a dominant performance against the Atlanta Falcons last week. Now imagine if Vincent Jackson were faster, more agile, could jump higher, and had more consistent hands. You would probably want to make sure he’s covered, right?
That’s what the Buccaneers must do against Calvin Johnson on Sunday. It’s not acceptable to leave Johnson open at any time, even if he moves into the slot or is stacked up with other receivers. Darrelle Revis is a fantastic corner, and can certainly cover the man known as Megatron. But there will be plays when Revis isn’t right up in Calvin’s grill at the snap, and on those plays there must be a plan in place to make sure the Detroit receiver doesn’t break free for a huge play.
2. Getting to Matthew Stafford helps stop Calvin Johnson.
Another way to slow down Calvin Johnson is to make it as tough as possible for Matthew Stafford to throw. That means Bill Sheridan must put down his convoluted playbook full of stunts and stupid blitzes, and use his talented athletes in the front seven to chase Stafford down before he can air it out to his multiple talented targets.
Gerald McCoy should be allowed to move around the interior of the defensive line and go after Stafford until the Lions prove they can stop him.
3. Running backs aren’t just check downs for the Lions, and must be stopped.
The Lions may or may not find success running the football, but that won’t stop them from getting the ball to their backs through the air. And ever since the first game of the season, the Buccaneers have been leaving running backs open out of the backfield.
But when it was Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory doing the catching, it wasn’t a big deal. In Week 12, against the Detroit Lions, things are a bit different. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell will beat the Buccaneers on their own if they’re allowed to get open in the flat, or if they’re not brought down early on screen plays. The running backs aren’t just a safety valve in the Detroit passing game, they’re a weapon designed to attack a weakness in a defense.
4. Bobby Rainey and Brian Leonard must have room to run.
The Lions have some impressive players in their front seven, so the seemingly improved offensive line for the Buccaneers must continue their strong play and give running lanes to their primary running backs. Likewise, fullback Erik Lorig must lead the way for the running game, as the backup running backs have proven to be quite capable when they have lanes to run through.
5. “Help me help you.”
This is what Vincent Jackson and his fellow receivers should be saying to Mike Glennon, who is still struggling to place the ball where his receivers can not only catch it, but can continue to run after the catch. Glennon and the Tampa Bay offense will need some big plays on Sunday, and as ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas points out, the Buccaneers are second-worst in the NFL in yards after catch this season.
Big plays don’t only come from deep passes, but also from short passes thrown well which lead receivers into open space. Mike Glennon must help his receivers out and give them very catchable passes to match the Lion