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Lions vs. Patriots Preview

The Lions are as much a part of Thanksgiving as the turkey itself, and despite what some people say, they deserve to be.  Even though the team’s performance over the last several years has induced indigestion and heartburn, the Lions are improving and won’t stink forever.  The league wanted a team to host a Thanksgiving Day game and the Lions were the only team to volunteer.  The Lions not only helped the league create a Thanksgiving tradition, but they also helped professional football surpass the popularity of college football.  College football was the more popular version of the game, but some of the epic matchups on Thanksgiving drew fans to the pro game.

To all of you that think the Lions should lose their Thanksgiving Day game, one final point for you.  The Ford family is one of the largest advertising partners of the league.  Unless the NFL wants millions and millions of Ford advertising dollars to go elsewhere, the game isn’t going anywhere.

On to the game preview.

Offense:

Oddly enough, the Lions have the better defense in this matchup, and they also have the more explosive offense.  However, the Lions offense turns the ball over far more often than the Patriots and they are more penalized by far as well.  The Lions will be able to move the ball through the air against a young and inexperienced Patriot secondary, but Bill Belichick is known for neutralizing what opponents do best.  Therefore, expect CJ to be on lockdown and Nate Burleson and Pettigrew will have to do enough damage to get the Pats to back off of CJ.  Burleson’s big play ability will be one of the keys to opening Calvin up, as long as he keeps picking up yards after the catch the Patriots won’t be able to single cover him either.

The Patriots are 24th in the league in sacks, but don’t let that fool you.  They haven’t been great at sacking the quarterback, but they have found ways to disrupt the pocket and force the quarterback to get rid of the ball early.  The Pats didn’t sack Manning once last week, but forced him to throw three picks.  The second key to the Lions’ offense tomorrow is avoiding turnovers at all costs.

The Lions’ running game actually wasn’t terrible against the Cowboys, they were doing a good job of getting 3-4 yards on first down rushes which help avoid 3rd and long situations.  Once the momentum flipped, the Lions had no choice but to abandon the run and try to get chunks of yardage through the air.  The Lions simplified their rushing attack with Maurice Morris in the game, getting away from all the complex misdirection and delayed handoffs, which cut down on the negative plays.  They need to continue keeping the running game simple and let the offensive line drive off the ball instead of pull and trap all the time.

Defense:

The Patriots offense is not capable of the huge explosive plays this season for a number of reasons.  The absence of Randy Moss,  Wes Welker coming off of knee surgery and a philosophy shift away from spreading the field and moving to more two tight end sets.  The Patriots are still more than capable of moving the football through the air, they just do it in more plays than before.

The Lions’ linebackers will be the biggest factor on defense because they have to defend the Patriots rookie tight end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.  The Patriots are definitely aware of the linebackers’ shortcomings in coverage and they will attack the middle of the field with those two.

The next key to stopping the Patriots will be Alphonso Smith’s ability to keep Wes Welker under control.  Smith usually covers the slot receiver and he’ll see a lot of Welker and some of Deion Branch running the shallow cross routes.  Smith’s biggest task is not just covering Welker, but making a quick tackle and limiting the yards after the catch.

The Patriots’ running game doesn’t scare anybody, but it is effective.  BenJarvis Green-Ellis is a steady runner than picks up tough yardage and Danny Woodhead is an explosive threat in the open field.  The Patriots excel at putting them in a position to play to their strengths and use them to attack the Lions’ weaknesses.  The linebacking corps will have to tackle far better than they did against the Cowboys to limit those two.

The Lions’ biggest strength, the front four, will really have a tough time against New England tomorrow for one reason.  Tom Brady.  Brady has better pocket presence than any quarterback in the league and many defenders say he is harder to sack than Michael Vick.  Brady unloads the ball quickly, feels the rush better than anybody, excels at shifting in the pocket and has a great rapport with his offensive line.  The onus is on Suh and Williams to collapse the pocket and take away Brady’s ability to step up to avoid the rush.

Wild Card:

This one is simple.  If the Lions’ linebackers (and I’ll throw in Amari Spievey for good measure) don’t miss tackles the Lions will have a chance to win.  The Patriots’ offense isn’t geared for big plays anymore, so they move the ball methodically downfield.  That is much harder to do against good tackling. 

Prediction:

I can’t possibly pick the Lions to win a game until I see the defense respond better to adversity.  The tackling went in the tank right after Felton’s fumble against the Cowboys and the game might as well have been over then.  Bill Belichick coaches his team to play smart, limit mistakes and capitalize on opponents’ mistakes.  The Lions play stupid, make tons of mistakes and rarely capitalize on opponents’ mistakes.  They will continue to lose until that changes.


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