It’s the final week of the 2013 NFL regular season and the Detroit Lions are one of the few teams looking to end their season on a high note as they go up against their division rival the Minnesota Vikings. Obviously winning this game won’t help the Lions get into this year’s playoffs but that doesn’t change the fact that this is the last time they will take the field this season. So if the Lions have any pride left (which is hard to believe at this point), they will make a point to show some fight and win their last regular season game before heading into the off-season.
Just like last week, going into this game, it all starts with the Lions defense, mainly because the Lions defense is the sole reason that the Lions offense has opportunities to win games and this game is no different.
With that being said, the Lions main goal should be to make the Vikings one-dimensional and to do that they must contain the run game. Now it was reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN that running back Adrian Peterson will not play in this game, which is good for the Lions but that doesn’t mean the Lions should relax. The Lions defensive line should still make a point to control the line of scrimmage,which will allow the defensive line and linebackers to make plays in the backfield. Doing that will once again make the Vikings one-dimensional and force the Vikings to beat them through the air.
When it comes to containing the passing game, the Lions secondary must be prepared to step up and limit the big play. Now at this time quarterback Matt Cassell is expected start for the Vikings and the first thing the Lions must do is create pressure on Cassell. All season long the Vikings offensive line has done an inconsistent job of protecting their various quarterbacks and the Lions need to expose that flaw. Now unlike Freeman and Ponder, Cassell isn’t known to make to many ill-advise throws but just like any quarterback, he may force a throw or two when pressured. Nonetheless, the secondary must be prepared to play their part whether the defensive line creates pressure or not. Now I mentioned earlier, that Cassell doesn’t force many passes but he will take what the defense gives and in this case, the Lions would be smart to take away rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. He may only be a rookie but he has proven to be a nice lethal option for the Vikings no matter who is at quarterback and I think the Lions would be smart to bracket him and force Cassell to beat them without Patterson. Now just like always, if the Lions do indeed bracket Patterson, the rest of the secondary must hold their own and limit the big play. In simpler terms, Lions cornerbacks must be aggressive and the safeties must be prepared to make plays over the top and limit the big play.
Most importantly, the Lions must wrap up and finish tackles. For whatever reason, the Lions haven’t done the best job of wrapping up and tackling late in the season. Which is why the Lions are known to allow big plays because of mis-communication or poor tackling. So to win this game, they must communicate and finish tackles.
Offensive, it’s the same old story, which is limit turnovers and execute consistently on scoring opportunities.
Now when it comes to the turnovers, I don’t know how much more simpler I can get. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, must take care of the ball, seeing that he has thrown 18 interceptions this season. Honestly, it all starts with making the correct pre-snap and post snap reads and most importantly taking what the defense gives him. If he does that, there is no reason for him to be picked off, none at all. The other part of the turnover problem is Reggie Bush, who continues to fumble the ball like he’s allergic to it. If that happens in this game along with any other turnovers, the Lions are going nowhere fast.
When it comes to the Lions being able to score consistently, it all starts with being balance and to be balance the Lions must run the ball effectively. Now I don’t how many times I have to say this, but I will say it again, going into this last game of the regular season, running back Joique Bell should carry the majority of load. He has shined all season long, despite not receiving enough carries and the Lions need to give him the opportunity to shine more. He shows good patience, the ability to hit the hole and accelerate up the field which is what the Lions want. So again, if I am the Lions, I would give Bell the opportunity to carry the load. Now I’m not saying don’t use Bush because that’s unnecessary, unless he continues to fumble the football but in this case I think the Lions should use Bush’s strengths. Bush has shown the ability to make plays on the ground when in space but he has also shown the ability to make plays in the passing game. With wide receiver Calvin Johnson possibly not playing in this game, the Lions will want Bush as an asset in the passing game.
As far as the passing game goes, it all starts with Stafford, who will have an opportunity to exploit the inconsistent secondary of the Vikings. However for him to do that, Stafford will have to spread the ball around but he will also need to place the ball only where his target can get it and throw the ball accurately. I have said all season long, Stafford’s lack of mechanics aren’t hurting him, it’s his decision-making and lack of accuracy. If the Lions have any chance of winning this game, Stafford must show some form of touch and accuracy when spreading the ball. Just like always, Stafford can’t do it by himself. Every week fans bombard Stafford with criticism and for good reason but let’s not forget that the receivers have a part in this too. I say it every week and I will say it again that the Lions lead the leagues in drop passes, which continues to hurt the Lions ability to score. So just like always, if Stafford does his part, the receivers must do theirs, starting with getting open, catching the ball and making plays after the catch. It may seem simple but if you watch the Lions at all this season, you know by now it’s never that simple.
As for Johnson, I know there is possibility that he may not play in this game but that’s no excuse for the Lions not to end their season with a win. Johnson is a major piece to this offense, there is no doubt about it but he isn’t the only piece. I said last week that the commentators made a big deal about Johnson not being able to play at 100% but unlike the commentators, I didn’t feel that was the reason the Lions loss that game. Besides the turnovers, Stafford did a good job of spreading the ball around and getting everyone involved but like always Stafford continued to struggle with touch and accuracy. Then when it wasn’t Stafford’s struggling with accuracy and touch, it was the receivers dropping passes and missing opportunities to make a play. So regardless of whether Johnson plays or not, the Lions should be able to win this game, if they don’t then you need to look beyond Johnson to see the problems of this offense.
If the Lions follow the steps above, there is no reason for them to not come out with a win against their division rival in the Minnesota Vikings. The question remains, will the Lions cost themselves the game, like they have all season long. I suppose we will have to watch to find out but nonetheless I have given them the steps to victory but it’s up to them to execute on those steps, if they want to come out with a win.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com