Bucs - Lions: Big Darn Preview

Al Messerschmidt

Can the Buccaneers spoil a home return for the contending Lions?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head into the Lion's Den (I know...awful) to take on a Detroit team tied a top the NFC North. If you harken back to 2010, many point to a controversial loss to the then lowly Lions as the reason the Buccaneers didn't make the playoffs that season - finishing 10-6 and losing out on tie-breakers to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.

Fast forward three years and it's Detroit in playoff position with the Bucs in the spoiler role. Can Tampa Bay return the favor?

Let's take a look.

Series: Detroit Leads 29-26

Last Meeting: September 11, 2011 - Detroit 27, Tampa Bay 20

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Game vs. Detroit Lions Pass Defense

Since the arrival of Mike Glennon, the Bucs' passing game has slowly improved over the season. The young quarterback has been careful with the football, is deadly accurate on the short to intermediate routes and has a big enough arm to threaten deep.

After Freeman's banishment, the Bucs have seen their points per game and yardage passing go up dramatically.

Its amazing the Bucs have been able to accomplish this with a receiving core and offensive line that has suffered some injuries and lost their star running back for the season.

This week they face a Lions' pass defense that sees them surprisingly at the bottom of the league in sacks and middle of the pack in interceptions.

The Lions come in surrendering 283.8 yds through the air (30th in the NFL). Whenever you face the Lions, you have to account for Ndamukong Suh. The nasty DT has just 4.5 sacks on the season and has gotten more fines than hits on the quarterback in 2013.

The Bucs passing game ranks 30th in the NFL, but has been playing much better in their past two victories.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rushing Attack vs. Detroit Lions Run Defense

While the Lions don't do to well at stopping the pass, they are one of the best in the league at defending the run. Ranked 5th in the NFL, Detroit boasts two immovable objects at defensive tackle in Nick Fairley and Suh. The Lions linebacking core features DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch, both good players.

Of course, around Tampa Bay everyone knows the legend of Bobby Rainey. Discarded by two teams and found on the waiver wire by Bucs' GM Mark Dominik, Rainey was the NFC Offensive Player of the week for his stunning performance against Atlanta last week. But Rainey is just the latest in a line of backs that have found success behind the Bucs' offensive line.

Either with the improved health of Davin Joseph or the insertion of Javon Meredith at guard - Tampa Bay's offensive line has come alive against the run, leading the way in dominating performances in three consecutive weeks.

They've climbed to 13th overall in the running game and how this matchup fares could well decide the winner of the game this week.

Advantage: Detroit

Detroit Lions Passing Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense

All eyes will be on Megatron vs. Optimus Pime - Calvin Johnson vs. Darrelle Revis. This is why Revis was brought in to Tampa Bay. To put him on an island against the opponents' best receiver and shut him down. He's done it pretty much all season but this week he has the league's best.

Of course, if the Lions are smart, they'll institute the same "Revis Rules" that everyone else in the league employs and attack the rest of the Bucs' defense. They'll have plenty of opportunity, too. Nate Burelson should be returning to the line up and he'll be facing a secondary depleted by injury and suspension.

Rookie CB Johnthan Banks may not play and with CB Michael Adams placed on injured reserve this week and CB Danny Gorrer banged up as well (not to mention safety Dashon Goldson suspended), it may be a very long day for the rest of the Bucs' secondary against a world class quarterback like Matthew Stafford.

Of course, Stafford doesn't care if Revis is there - he's still going to try to get the ball to Megatron and that's where the Bucs can generate some turnovers and stay in the ballgame.

Revis has to have a $16 million a year game. Gerald McCoy and his brethren on the offensive line have to do their part, too. McCoy's been on fire the last couple weeks and needs to continue to sack the quarterback.

Advantage: Detroit

Detroit Lions Running Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense

An old enemy comes a knockin' as the Bucs face their nemesis Reggie Bush. The deadly Bush is still better as a receiver than he is a runner and has been pretty pedestrian this season - with only two 100 yd rushing days and 2 rushing touchdowns on the season.

Tampa Bay gave up a ton of rushing yards to Atlanta last week - but that was more of a misnomer. The Bucs had pulled their starters with a 41-13 lead and Atlanta went crazy on the backups.

The Bucs have been solid against the run most of the season, ranking 9th in the league in run defense.

Detroit is 21st in rushing the ball.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Special Teams

Veteran David Akers handles the kicking duties for the Lions and he's making them at a 78% clip, including a long of 53. Sam Martin is the punter. He's averaging 48.3 yds a punt. Michael Spurlock of "Run Michael Run" fame is handling the kick and punt return duties for the Lions, averaging 22.5 and 6.6 respectively. Reggie Bush has not had a kick or punt return this season.

Tampa Bay kicker Rian Lindell saw his streak of field goals made ended at the end of the first half with a 56 yard attempt. Still, Lindell has been solid, nailing 15 of 18 with a long of 50. Michael Koenen is the punter, averaging just 43.0 yards a punt.  Eric Page handles both the kick and punt return duties for the Buccaneers, he's averaging 24.2 and 11.2 respectively.

Advantage: Push

By the Numbers

  • Detroit is -2 in give/take ratio. Tampa Bay is +5.
  • The Lions are 15-12 against the Bucs in Detroit.
  • Tampa Bay has won four of the last five trips to Detroit
  • Since leaving the NFC Central (now the North), the Bucs are 3-3 against the Lions but Detroit has won three of the last four meetings.
  • The Lions haven't lost back-to-back games this season.

Outlook

Man, its been great the last two weeks hasn't it Buc fans? The sun is a little brighter, the bird song is a little sweeter and even your boss isn't the jerk he normally is. Winning just feels better. Suddenly, Greg Schiano isn't the overbearing tyrant we thought he was during the 0-8 streak. Tampa Bay no longer has the dark cloud over it's head.

Yet, the cold hard reality is the two victories came against teams unlikely to make the playoffs this season. This week, the Bucs step up in weight class. The Lions have the league's best receiver in Megatron. When folks list the best QBs in the league, Matthew Stafford's name is typically absent. It shouldn't be. Stafford has been playing at an elite level for quite some time. After overcoming injuries early in his career, the Georgia product has been everything the Lions could have hoped for. Defensively, Ndamukong Suh continues to be among the best in league at defensive tackle and his partner on the defensive line Nick Fairley isn't half bad, either.  Did I mention they have Reggie Bush?

The Lions are a good team coming off an ugly performance against the Steelers. They have a chance to win a division for the first time since 1993 and only the fifth time in their franchise's 84 year history.

The Lions desperately need this win. The Bucs are looking to spoil it. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay is banged up and suspended in the secondary at exactly the wrong time. Even if Revis does a number on Megatron, the Lions have plenty of other weapons like Bush, Burleson and TE Brandon Pettigrew to hurt the Bucs on defense.

Can the Bucs win on the road? Not this week.

Prediction: Lions 37, Buccaneers 20

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