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OPPONENT: Detroit Lions
WHERE: Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan WHERE THE LIONS STAND: The Lions are 3-2 and in second place in the NFC North division. LIONS HEAD COACH: Rod Marinelli
LIONS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike Martz
LIONS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Joe Barry LIONS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Stan Kwan
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE OVERALL: 25th (297 ypg) RUSHING: 19th (99.2 ypg) PASSING: 22nd (197.8 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 12th (314 ypg) RUSHING: 21st (119 ypg) PASSING: 8th (194 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … the Lions are 2-0 at home in 2007?
SCOUTING THE LIONS
Quarterbacks Lions QB Jon Kitna guaranteed his team would win 10 games this year before the regular season started, and he’s doing his part in terms of helping to make that prediction come to fruition. The veteran signal caller has made some significant progress in his second season in offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s pass-oriented system, completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 1,333 yards and tossing eight touchdowns and six interceptions en route to helping the Lions start 3-2. To put its current record in perspective, Detroit won three games total in 2006. While he has some talent to work with, Kitna’s production is impressive when considering the poor protection he receives from his offensive line and lack of running game the 34-year old quarterback has to work with.
Running Backs The Lions have the fifth-ranked passing offense in the NFL, but their running game is another story. To say Detroit’s ground attack has been ineffective would be an understatement. The Lions are producing just 72 yards via the ground game per contest this season, which has them ranked 31st in this particular category. Kevin Jones, a first-round draft pick in 2004, is coming off a serious foot injury that cost him the 2006 season. He hasn’t been the same player and has seen limited carries. Jones has rushed for 91 yards on just 24 carries (3.8 avg.) and two touchdowns. Detroit’s primary ball carrier is Tatum Bell, who was acquired via a trade with Denver during the offseason. Bell has rushed for 182 yards (4.1 avg.) and one score while catching 14 passes for 63 yards (4.5 avg.). While he hasn’t posted great numbers, Bell is considered a player that can break a big run at any time. Tampa Bay’s defense ranks 21st against the run, but the Bucs have actually performed well in this area. They limited Tennessee’s potentially potent ground game to 96 yards on 33 carries last week. The Bucs can’t afford to let the Lions’ weak ground game get going. They need to make Detroit’s offense one-dimensional and force Kitna to beat the Bucs with his arm.
Wide Receivers Lions head coach Rod Marinielli, who served as Tampa Bay’s defensive line coach from 1996-2005, likely will give Martz some pointers on how to attack the Cover 2 scheme, which is the same system Marinelli has implemented in Detroit. Making matters worse is the fact that Detroit had a bye week last week and essentially has two weeks to prepare for Tampa Bay's defense. Kitna likely will throw the ball quite a bit in this contest and he has a talented group of receivers to work with, which includes Roy Williams, Mike Furrey, Shaun McDonald and Calvin Johnson. A former first-round pick, Williams has caught a team-leading 29 passes for 424 yards (14.6 avg.) and three touchdowns. The Lions likely will feature plenty of three-receiver sets in this game, which means the Bucs could really use cornerback Brian Kelly, who missed last Sunday’s contest with a nagging groin injury. Should he play, Kelly would be charged with the difficult task of covering Williams. Bucs four-time Pro Bowl CB Ronde Barber will spend most of the game covering WR Mike Furrey, who led the team in receptions last year with 98 for 1,086 yards and six touchdowns. Furrey has caught 21 passes for 260 yards (12.4 avg.) but is still looking for the end zone in 2007. If Kelly can play through the groin injury, the Bucs will be able to move Phillip Buchanon back to nickel cornerback, where he’d help cover either McDonald or Johnson. McDonald is a former St. Louis Ram and has great speed and familiarity with Detroit’s offense, which has allowed him to catch 24 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson, who was the No. 2 overall draft pick in April, is coming along but hasn’t cracked the starting lineup. He’s caught 11 passes for 192 yards (17.5 avg.) and two touchdowns. However, his 6-foot-5, 239-pound frame gives him a sizeable advantage over smaller defensive backs like Buchanon (5-11) and Barber (5-10). While Buchanon and Barber have the ball skills to play passes thrown Johnson’s way, Kitna likely will go up top to the athletic rookie a few times in this game. Tampa Bay’s front seven needs to limit Detroit’s ground game in order to leave safeties Jermaine Phillips and rookie Tanard Jackson back in coverage. Phillips and Tampa Bay linebackers Cato June and Derrick Brooks will also need to help contain Lions tight end Sean McHugh, who has hauled in seven passes for 98 yards. Despite having arguably the most talented group of wide receivers in the NFL, Detroit’s offense is converting just 28.3 percent of its third downs this season.
Offensive Line Detroit’s offensive line features left tackle Jeff Backus, left guard Edwin Mulitalo, center Dominic Raiola, right guard Damien Woody and right tackle George Foster. Mulitalo and Foster were added in the offseason after Detroit gave up a whopping 63 sacks in 2006, but this unit still is struggling in terms of run blocking and pass protection. Detroit is rushing for just 73 yards per game and has surrendered 28 sacks in five games, which comes out to nearly six quarterback takedowns per game. Tampa Bay’s front four hasn’t produced a consistent pass rush (11 sacks through six games), which has at times allowed opposing quarterbacks to pick the secondary apart. In fact, the Bucs defense is allowing opposing offenses to convert nearly 47 percent of their third down attempts this season. Backus is the offensive line’s best player, but even this former first-round pick isn’t playing well. Although Bucs defensive end Patrick Chukwurah likely will miss Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, Backus’ recent woes should bode well for Bucs defensive ends Greg Spires and rookie Gaines Adams, who notched the first sack of his NFL career last week. Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan likely will be double teamed by Mulitalo and Raiola, which means under tackle Jovan Haye must win his one-on-one matchups with Woody. Haye is coming off of an impressive performance vs. Tennessee and needs to build on that this week. Kitna has the arm and the receivers to make the Bucs pay if they give him a comfortable pocket to throw out of.
Defensive Line Detroit has a talented front four that is made up of defensive ends Dewayne White and Kalimba Edwards and defensive tackles Cory Redding and Shaun Rogers. The 6-foot-4, 340-pound Rogers plays the nose tackle position in Detroit’s version of the Cover 2 scheme, which is now led by former Bucs linebackers coach and new defensive coordinator Joe Barry. Needless to say, Rogers commands double teams quite often. Bucs center John Wade and rookie left guard Arron Sears likely will team up to keep Rogers at bay in this contest. Redding became the highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL during the offseason, but he hasn’t lived up to that contract so far this season. In fact, he’s still looking for his first sack, which is a big disappointment since Redding often times finds himself in one-on-one matchups with the opposing team’s guard. Bucs second-year right guard Davis Joseph will be charged with holding off Redding on passing downs and driving him off the ball on running plays. White, a former Buccaneer, has been inconsistent this season. He’s notched 1.5 sacks and struggled at times against the run. However, White has playmaking ability, evidenced by the fact that he’s forced two fumbles and recorded an interception. He will go up against Bucs second-year right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who has arguably been Tampa Bay’s most consistent offensive lineman this season. Bucs left tackle Donald Penn will make his third start in place of Luke Petitgout on Sunday. He will be matched up with Edwards, who has recorded two of Detroit’s 14 sacks through five games. Tampa Bay has surrendered just seven sacks this season. Detroit’s defense is giving up an average of 115 yards rushing per game, but Tampa Bay might not be able to capitalize on this unit’s suspect play against the run because of their own problems. The Bucs are without Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman due to their respective injuries, and newly acquired RB Michael Bennett probably won’t be able to learn the offense in one week, which will probably make his impact minimal in this game. That means Tampa Bay’s ground game, which currently ranks 19th in the NFL, likely will be led by Earnest Graham for the second straight game.
Linebackers Detroit’s linebackers possess good speed, which is a necessity in any successful Cover 2 scheme. Lions second-year weakside linebacker Ernie Sims is Detroit’s version of Derrick Brooks. He has great speed and is a tackling machine. In addition to leading the team in tackles, Sims has recorded one forced fumble and an interception this season. Strongside linebacker Boss Bailey also has speed, but lacks playmaking ability. The middle linebacker spot, which is occupied by Paris Lenon, is considered suspect. As talented as this group is, the linebackers have not been consistent in terms of helping the Lions defense shut down opposing teams ground attacks. Tampa Bay is hoping tight end Alex Smith, who injured his ankle against Tennessee last Sunday, can play in this contest in order to give quarterback Jeff Garcia another reliable target in the passing game. If Smith doesn’t play, Detroit’s outside linebackers likely will have an easier time covering Bucs tight ends Jerramy Stevens and Anthony Becht.
Secondary The Lions are surrendering 265 yards per game through the air, which makes their secondary suspect. Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia has yet to throw an interception through six games, but the Lions defense has come up with nine of them, so the veteran signal caller will have to be careful with the ball. Detroit cornerback Fernando Bryant has recorded one of those picks. He will have the opportunity to intercept more passes as Garcia likely will throw wide receiver Joey Galloway’s way early and often. Galloway is Tampa Bay’s speed threat. He’s averaging 18.3 yards per reception and appears to have a favorable matchup with Bryant, who lacks size but is considered a good tackler. The Lions would prefer to leave safeties Gerald Alexander and Kenoy Kennedy back in coverage to help account for Galloway, but they’ll have to bring one or both of those players up into the box if the Bucs find a way to get the running game going. Alexander has recorded one interception this season. Bucs WR Ike Hilliard has been a reliable target in the short-to-intermediate part of the field. He’s hauled in a team-leading 27 passes for 363 yards through six games. Hilliard will be matched up with Lions CB Stanley Wilson. Detroit’s starting cornerbacks rank third and fourth on the team in total tackles. While they both are willing to play the run, both Bryant and Wilson also get tested by opposing team’s quarterbacks quite often. That’s exactly what Garcia likely will do in this game. The key for the Bucs in this contest will be to keep the chains moving. The Lions are allowing opposing offenses to convert 43.5 percent of their third downs this season. Not only will it need to score points, Tampa Bay’s offense simply can’t afford to leave its defense on the field all day with Detroit’s potentially potent offense.
Special Teams The Bucs have to like their chances of winning this game if it comes down to a field goal. Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant has made 8-of-9 (88.8 percent) of his attempts this season while Detroit K Jason Hanson has made just 7-of-10 (70 percent) of his tries. Hanson has also missed an extra point. Lions punter Nick Harris has fared a bit better, averaging 44.9 yards per punt. However, the Lions special teams coverage units have been shaky, evidenced by Harris’ 34.5-yard net average. The Bucs could certainly benefit from some long punt returns by Mark Jones, who is averaging 11.9 yards per attempt this season. The Lions have been using Brian Calhoun and Troy Walters to return kickoffs and punts, respectively. Detroit is averaging 23.7 yards per kickoff return and 10 yards per punt return this season. Tampa Bay’s special teams coverage units must continue to take the right angles and tackle well as Detroit’s offense is too explosive to give it a short field to work with. FLYNN’S FORECAST: Buccaneers 24 Lions 20
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