3TFO: Buccaneers @ Lions, Week 12
Sharing the best record in the NFC North, the Detroit Lions will host the surging Buccaneers this Sunday with the hopes of rebounding from a disappointing loss to the Steelers last week. With quarterback issues aplenty in their division and a favorable schedule ahead, Detroit has a chance to claim the division for the first time in 20 years. They’ll need to take care of the Bucs first before their usual Thanksgiving game, one that looks imminently winnable with Aaron Rodgers unlikely to play. The Lions must avoid the pitfalls of previous years, as they have been known to collapse down the stretch and miss out on the playoffs.
After an 0-8 start, many thought the Buccaneers had given up on Head Coach Greg Schiano, but back to back wins against reeling teams indicated this may not be the case. While postseason thoughts have become memories, there is plenty of talent on this roster that can be developed over the remaining six weeks. Fresh off a 41-28 rout of the Falcons, that wasn’t even as close as the score would show, the Bucs are now primed to play spoiler this season with games against several playoff hopefuls still to come — including Carolina, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Here are some of the keys to this game that may help them spoil the Lions’ chances of playing beyond week 17.
Calvin Johnson vs. Darrelle Revis
In case you aren’t actually a football fan and have stumbled upon this piece by accident, here’s some news for you: Calvin Johnson is pretty good. He leads all players in receiving yards and touchdowns, even after sitting out week 5 with a knee injury. His 2.90 Yards per Route Run is also atop the leaderboard. Constituting over one third of the Lions’ receiving yards and over half of their receiving touchdowns, it’s nearly impossible to argue that any receiver is a more integral part of an offense than the physical specimen that is Calvin Johnson.
Very few corners find success facing off against the 235 pound receiver, but Darrelle Revis stands to be one of the few who might. Famed for putting the opposing team’s top receiver on ‘Revis Island,’ the seventh year corner has had little trouble adapting in his first year in Tampa. Among 108 qualifying corners, Revis is the best at preventing receptions, allowing a catch once every 19.8 snaps in coverage. Opposing quarterbacks have a QB rating of just 45.8 when throwing at him (fourth best), and with just 43 YAC on the 19 receptions he’s allowed, Revis is never far behind in coverage. Look to see a lot of Revis on Sunday as the Lions look to force passes to their All Pro receiver.
Slowing Down Rainey
With injuries to a litany of Buccaneer running backs heading into last week’s game, Tampa was forced to see what they had in 2012 undrafted free agent Bobby Rainey. With just 66 offensive snaps to his name coming into the contest against Atlanta you would be forgiven for being skeptical that the young back would produce. But produce he did, and in a big way, breaking eight tackles and scoring three touchdowns as the Bucs fed him the rock 30 times to go along with a pair of receptions. Rainey has been outstanding on limited snaps this year- his Elusive Rating of 87.8 would be tops in the league if he had enough touches to qualify.
Not to be outdone, Detroit has a couple of young defensive stalwarts in the perfect position to slow Rainey down. In his fourth year, the polarizing Ndamukong Suh has been as good as ever. Often known for selling out on the run to get after the quarterback, Suh has graded positively in run defense this year for the first time in his career. Taking a defensive tackle in the first round in back to back years, the Lions should have no regrets with the play of Nick Fairley. He exhibited a poor start to the year thanks in part to a shoulder injury, but Fairley was a menace in run defense a season ago, and he’s recorded nothing but positive grades since the bye, including a three stop performance last week in Pittsburgh. The play of this duo will be of utmost importance against Rainey, who last week tallied 100 yards on runs between the tackles.
Gerald McCoy vs. Lions’ Interior Line
Since the departure of Michael Bennett to greener pastures (and paychecks), Tampa has been sorely missing an outside pass rush. Led by Da’Quan Bowers, Adrian Clayborn, and incumbent starter Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, the Bucs’ defensive ends have recorded an atrocious seven sacks on over 700 snaps rushing the passer. Incidentally, that’s just one more than Gerald McCoy has tallied on his own. Taken one draft spot after the Detroit’s Suh back in 2010, McCoy’s 49 pressures this year have helped him repay faith in his lofty draft status and earned him the best Pass Rushing Productivity among defensive tackles. Being the only positively graded defensive lineman for the Bucs by a country mile, the load will fall upon McCoy’s shoulders to get pressure on the quarterback.
Playing all 2160 snaps possible at the guard and center spots, Rob Sims, Dominic Raiola, and rookie Larry Warford have been as solid of an interior line as you’ll see. On over 950 combined snaps in pass protection, the trio has allowed only one sack, and only 11 further hits. Both Raiola and Warford have a Pass Blocking Efficiency in the top three at their position, and Sims’ PBE of 96.5 is still far from disappointing. If these three can keep McCoy in check, it should be another day of clean pockets for Matthew Stafford, who has been sacked fewer times than any full time starting quarterback.