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OPPONENT: Detroit Lions

WHERE: Raymond James Stadium

WHERE THE LIONS STAND: The Lions are 1-1 and are tied for first place in the NFC North division.

LIONS HEAD COACH: Steve Mariucci




OVERALL: 19th (T) (318.7 ypg)
RUSHING: 2nd (166.0 ypg)
PASSING: 28th (152.7 ypg)

OVERALL: 1st (218.3 ypg)
RUSHING: 1st (51.7 ypg)
PASSING: 4th (166.7 ypg)

OVERALL: 30th (244.0 ypg)
RUSHING: 29th (65.5 ypg)
PASSING: 26th (178.5 ypg)

OVERALL: 6th (276 ypg)
RUSHING: 22nd (116.5 ypg)
PASSING: 3rd (159.5 ypg)

…Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and Lions HC Steve Mariucci worked together as offensive assistants for the Green Bay Packers in the early 1990s?


The quarterback position is a weakness for the Detroit Lions, who are running out of patience with Joey Harrington. The former first-round draft pick is not off to a great start this season, evidenced by his 52.3 percent completion percentage and three touchdowns and five interceptions thrown. But Harrington has never displayed great accuracy. In fact, he’s completed just 54 percent of his career passes and tossed 51 touchdowns and 55 interceptions.

The Lions brought former 49ers and Browns QB Jeff Garcia in to replace Harrington if the young signal caller struggled early, but Garcia is going to be sidelined several more weeks with an injury he sustained in preseason. That said, Harrington is going to be Detroit’s quarterback when the Lions play the Buccaneers on Sunday.

Harrington’s inconsistency along with the Tampa Bay defense’s familiarity with the West Coast offense, which is the same style of offense run by both the Bucs and Lions, will likely prompt Detroit to run the ball more than it passes against Tampa Bay’s No. 1-ranked defense. And when Harrington does drop back to throw, Tampa Bay’s defensive front will stand a great chance of creating turnovers if it can get after the somewhat elusive quarterback.

Running Backs
Detroit’s ground game is led by second-year RB Kevin Jones, who rushed for over 1,100 yards during his rookie campaign. But Jones, who gets a powerful drive with his legs and does a great job of following his blocks, has been slow out of the gate, rushing 33 times for 109 yards (3.3 avg.) through two games this season. He’s sorely missed his lead blocker, Cory Schlesinger, who has been nagged by injuries.

Detroit’s grounded running game is a big reason why the Lions offense ranks 30th overall and has only been able to convert 37.9 percent of its third down attempts. You can bet the Lions spent a good portion of their bye week working on improving this area of their potentially potent offense.

Tampa Bay’s defense, on the other hand, has been outstanding vs. the run. The Bucs currently have the No. 1-ranked run defense in the NFL and are allowing opposing offenses to produce just 52 yards on the ground per game. It’s not like they haven’t played anybody, either. The Bucs completely shutdown RBs Willis McGahee (Bills) and Ahman Green (Packers) over the past two weeks.

Because they view Harrington as somewhat of a liability, the Lions will likely come out and pound the ball early. If they can make the Lions offense one dimensional, the Bucs will stand a great chance of winning on Sunday.

Wide Receivers
Detroit has what is arguably the best trio of wide receivers in the league in Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and rookie Mike Williams. But the Lions haven’t exactly been able to take advantage of these former first-round picks’ presence on the football field because of inconsistent play from Harrington.

Roy Williams is probably Detroit’s most dangerous offensive player. Last year, he hauled in a team-high 54 passes for 817 yards (15.1 avg.) and eight touchdowns as a rookie. He’s off to a good start this season. Through two games, Williams has hauled in seven passes for 109 yards (15.6 avg.) and one touchdown.

Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber will be matched up with Williams throughout most of the game. As good as Barber is, don’t look for Tampa Bay to bring its safeties up in the box too often as Barber could use the extra help, especially when Harrington tests the Bucs’ secondary deep, which is where the Packers found some success last Sunday.

Rogers’ young career has been plagued by injuries, but when healthy, he’s just as lethal as Roy Williams. Rogers has caught four passes for 62 yards this season. Tampa Bay CB Brian Kelly will be charged with the difficult task of limiting Rogers’ production. However, having balls thrown in Rogers’ direction might be something Kelly welcomes. He leads Tampa Bay in interceptions with three and could capitalize on errant throws made by Harrington.

Detroit may try to spread Tampa Bay’s defense out by featuring some three-receiver sets. That will make for an interesting matchup between Lions rookie receiver and Tampa native Mike Williams (one catch for 4 yards in ’05) and Bucs CB Juran Bolden. The 6-foot-2 Bolden has the size to cover the 6-foot-5 Williams, but Barber, not Bolden, will likely cover Mike Williams when he lines up as a slot receiver. That scenario will leave Bolden on Roy Williams, who has the speed to stretch the field. Bolden certainly can’t afford to get beat deep down the sideline like he did against the Packers last Sunday.

Tampa Bay’s strongside linebacker Ryan Nece and strong safety Jermaine Phillips must account for Detroit tight end Marcus Pollard, who has hauled in seven passes for 89 yards and a touchdown.

Offensive Line
One of the reasons why Harrington has struggled so much, especially this season, is because of the poor pass protection he’s received from his offensive line. Harrington has been sacked five times through two games.

This unit, which features Jeff Backus at left tackle, Rick DeMulling at left guard, Dominic Raiola at center, Damien Woody at right guard and Kelly Butler at right tackle, is suited more for run blocking than it is for pass protecting.

Tampa Bay nose tackle Chris Hovan has proven to be a great offseason addition. His initial penetration on the snap has allowed under tackle Anthony McFarland and defensive ends Simeon Rice and Greg Spires to sustain a decent pass rush, although the Bucs haven’t exactly wracked up a ton of sacks (seven) this season.

If the Bucs struggle to sustain a pass rush early with their front four, don’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin opts to send a few blitz packages that put his linebackers in position to bring down Harrington. Nece and MLB Shelton Quarles have each notched a sack this season.

Defensive Line
While Detroit’s offense is struggling, its defense has been strong through two games this season.

Lions right defensive end James Hall notched a team-high 11.5 sacks in 2004 and is a speed rusher who will give Bucs first-year starting left tackle Anthony Davis all he can handle. Hall already has one sack and one forced fumble this season.

The Bucs may still opt to run rookie RB Cadillac Williams behind Davis and rookie left guard Dan Buenning, who will be matched up against 12th-year veteran nose tackle Dan Wilkinson. Despite their inexperience, Davis and Buenning have done a great job of opening huge holes for Williams in the running game.

Lions under tackle Shaun Rogers (6-4, 335) is a big body in the middle of his team’s defense, so expect Bucs head coach Jon Gruden to call a lot of perimeter blocking and running plays for Williams. Bucs RG Sean Mahan may have a tough time holding off Rogers in obvious passing situations. Rogers has already notched two quarterback takedowns this season.

Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker will clash in the trenches with Lions LE Cory Redding, who prides himself on his play vs. the run.

Detroit’s linebacking corps is probably its weakest defensive unit, but only because of the players’ inability to stay healthy. Middle LB Earl Holmes and outside LBs James Davis and Boss Bailey are the Lions’ top three tacklers this season. Detroit would like to avoid having Williams reach the second level of the Lions defense too often on Sunday.

If the Lions are struggling to put pressure on Bucs QB Brian Griese with their front four, Bailey, who plays ROLB, has the speed and playmaking ability to be an effective blitzer. He’s already notched one sack this season.

Although Detroit’s linebackers have impressive sideline-to-sideline speed, Gruden may attempt to test their coverage skills by having Griese throw to tight ends Alex Smith and Anthony Becht.

The Bucs probably won’t ask Griese to win this game with his arm since the Lions have a fairly talented secondary that features cornerback Dre’ Bly and safeties Terrence Holt and Kenoy Kennedy.

Detroit’s defense surrendered 187 yards rushing to Chicago two weeks ago, so look for Tampa Bay’s offense to follow that blueprint with plenty of carries for Williams, who currently leads the NFL in carries (88) and rushing yards (434).

The Lions are allowing opposing offenses to convert 42 percent of their third downs attempts, but that’s mostly because of failure of Detroit’s front seven to put opponents in longer down-and-distance situations.

With starting CB Fernando Bryant sidelined for the entire year, Lions backup CB Andre’ Goodman will be asked to keep up with Bucs WR Joey Galloway, who is Gruden’s big-play and speed threat in the passing game. Galloway is coming off a strong game – he caught five passes and two touchdowns against the Packers last Sunday. He should have success against Goodman on Sunday.

But Griese may be hard pressed to hit Galloway deep since the Lions get solid safety play from Holt and Kennedy, both of whom have recorded an interception this season. But things could open up for Galloway and Tampa Bay’s passing game if Holt and/or Kennedy are forced to play closer to the line of scrimmage in an effort to help stop Williams.

Special Teams
Tampa Bay must account for Pro Bowler Eddie Drummond, who is averaging 23 yards per kickoff return and just four yards per punt return this season. Given his credentials and Pro Bowl-outing in 2004, Drummond, who has recently been plagued by injuries, should be considered dangerous by the Bucs special teams coverage units.

The Lions have one of the NFL’s best kickers in Jason Hanson, who has made one field goal this season and still has a strong leg at 35 years old. He’s an 81.1 percent career field goal kicker. Hanson is, however, listed as questionable for Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury.

The Bucs must limit penalties on their own returns. Field position will play a big part in this game. Torrie Cox is averaging just 18 yards per kickoff return, but PR Mark Jones has fared quite well, averaging 12.5 yards per attempt.

FLYNN’S FORECAST: Buccaneers 24 Lions 10

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