Nov 17, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) makes a diving catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Steelers won 37-27. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions take the field Sunday to face each other in a game that has become increasingly interesting. The Bucs recent success and the Lions lack of consistency will be on display for all to see. And the NFL’s most intriguing matchup will be on Ford Field between Bucs CB Darrelle Revis and Lions WR Calvin Johnson. So Jeff Risdon, the Lions Featured Columnist on Bleacher Report, Editor at DetroitLionsDraft.com, Senior NFL Writer/Draft Analyst at RealGM.com, and my cousin, answered some questions about Tampa Bay and Detroit. I returned the favor for him and now we have a friendly wager on the line to change our avatar to the opposing website. Here are the questions and answers:
Detroit has been somewhat inconsistent this year with a 6-4 record. Although they’re tied with Chicago for the NFC North lead, what has been the reason for this inconsistency?
Jeff – The Lions are inconsistent even within games, and that breeds overall inconsistency. They just cannot string together several strong possessions on either side of the ball.
Some of it has to do with Matthew Stafford. He has played well but still has stretches where his accuracy wanes and decision-making regresses. Defensively, Nick Fairley is either really good or really bad. Injuries have hit the defense a little harder than the offense, and that makes for a lot of mixing and matching. That makes cohesion an issue, and that also breeds inconsistency.
I’ve never been sold on Matthew Stafford as a QB. I think his completion percentage is too low and he throws too many INTs. Do you think the reason Stafford has been so “successful” is because of Calvin Johnson?
Jeff – Prior to this season I would have agreed, but this has been a different Matthew Stafford in 2013. Other than a brief patch against Chicago, the mechanical laziness that marred his career has gone away. Some of that comes from a much better offensive line, which leads the league in sack percentage and often gives him time to survey several options on a play.
He’s also stepped up his game as a leader. Last year when the losing started (Detroit went from 4-4 to 4-12) Stafford was pretty quiet on the field and in practices. This year he’s been more of a vocal presence on the field, and word out of practices is that he’s holding players to a higher standard. He’s in the best shape of his career and is playing with more energy, and it shows.
Having said all that, Stafford had one game without Johnson this year, in Green Bay. He really struggled and the Lions didn’t score a touchdown. Certainly Calvin Johnson makes him look better.
What positives do you see in Tampa Bay and how will that effect the Detroit game plan?
Jeff – Tampa Bay has one outstanding player at each level of the defense. Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Darrelle Revis are all All-Pro worthy talents that deserve more recognition. Revis has the ability to handle Johnson without a lot of help, and that means the ancillay weapons will have to step up for Detroit.
I’ve also been pleasantly surprised with the progress of Mike Glennon. I was a harsh critic of his in the draft process, but he’s played well. What I like is that he’s definitively playing better now than when he took over for Josh Freeman, even though he’s basically down to Vincent Jackson and guys who wouldn’t be the fourth wideouts on a thin Detroit receiving corps. The Lions will need to pressure him or else Glennon can burn the erratic secondary.
The Lions have a bevy of pass rushers. What makes them so successful? Technique? Talent? Coaching?
Jeff – Detroit has invested three of its last four first-round picks on the defensive line, so there is obvious talent in place. Ndamukong Suh is one of the best impact talents in the league, a physical monster. He and Nick Fairley together present significant matchup problems…when they’re both playing well. Fairley is very hit-or-miss, and Suh has cooled off after a real strong start to the season.
Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek is one of the best in the business. He’s a nonstop profanity machine, but he’s also a very effective teacher and technical guru. You can see the fruits of his coaching in Willie Young and Devin Taylor, who is playing well as a fourth-round rookie. Young commits too many penalties–really the whole line does–but he’s gone from a raw seventh round pick to a pretty effective starting left end.
The Lions would love to translate all that talent into more sacks. They rank near the top in creating QB pressures, but they have just 16 sacks. That’s 30th in the league and 6 fewer than the Bucs.
Prediction time! Give me a final score and how we get there.
I think Vincent Jackson and Calvin Johnson will effectively cancel out one another. That leaves the fate of the game in the other offensive weapons.
That is a major advantage for the Lions. I don’t see Tampa Bay having a lot of success slowing down Reggie Bush and Joique Bell out of the backfield. Both are dual threats, and Bush plays so much better on turf. He’s looking for redemption after a bad game on a sloppy track in Pittsburgh.
I just can’t see Timothy Wright, Brian Leonard and Tiquan Underwood out-dueling Reggie Bush, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew. Stafford is much better than Glennon, and there is a very tangible sense of urgency in Detroit to win this game after last week’s disappointment. Had Detroit beaten Pittsburgh last week, this set up as a trap game and I would have given the Bucs more of a chance. But that loss in Pittsburgh really refocused the Lions, and they’re ready to take out some frustration.
I think Detroit wins 34-20 with a big third quarter.
Big thanks to Jeff Risdon for answering our questions and providing analysis. If you haven’t seen any of Jeff’s outstanding work, you can find it on the Detroit Lions Bleacher Report, DetriotLionsDraft.com, and RealGM. I really think Jeff’s avatar will look really good with The Pewter Plank’s logo.