are my three key matchups on defense that could decide Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.
1. Aqib Talib against Calvin Johnson
There's no way around it, the premier matchup this game is Aqib Talib trying to shut down Calvin Johnson. Last year, Calvin Johnson destroyed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was targeted twelve times throughout the match, catching ten of those passes for 152 yards. The Bucs tried to stop him with Ronde Barber and E.J. Biggers, but it was only when they had Myron Lewis go against Johnson that they had any kind of success.
Of course, Myron Lewis will be out on Sunday, but the Bucs have Aqib Talib back. Talib has the talent to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, and had a very good season last year despite some early laspes in coverage. Last season, the Buccaneers held #1 receivers to 53 yards per game, and they were the 6th most efficient team at stopping those players by Football Outsiders' numbers. A large part of that efficiency came courtesy of Aqib Talib's play, but the cornerback now hasn't seen the field since week 12 of last season. Will he be ready and focused to take on Calvin Johnson? And can he even stop the man who is a physical mismatch for nearly every defensive back in the NFL?
2. Gerald McCoy against the Detroit interior offensive line
To shut down the Lions offense, the Buccaneers need to get to the quarterback. Last season the Bucs only applied pressure on nine of 41 pass plays against the Detroit Lions by Football Outsiders gamecharting. And all but two of those pressures came on blitzes. The Bucs need their defensive line to step up, and Gerald McCoy looks primed to do so.
McCoy looked nearly unblockable against the New England Patriots in the preseason, and ended last season very strongly before seeing his season end with a torn biceps. McCoy should be the engine that makes this defensive line go, and he should be able to take advantage of the Lions offensive line. I don't expect Adrian Clayborn to make much of an impact against experienced left tackle Jeff Backus, but left end Michael Bennett should be able to get around Gosder Cherilus as well.
If the Bucs want to stop the Lions' passing game, they need to get to Matt Stafford. Gerald McCoy will need to be the disruptive force they drafted him to be for that to happen.
3. Mason Foster against Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler
The two Detroit Lions tight ends caught five passes for 43 yards in last season's contest. This year, their role could be much expanded as the Lions should try to take advantage of rookie linebacker Mason Foster. Both Pettigrew and Scheffler are capable receivers and will present a matchup problem for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although Foster will be off the field on passing downs, the Lions should try to keep him on the field as much as possible with two-tight end sets. Foster will have to learn on the job and learn quickly to stop the Detroit passing attack.