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NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions

Defeating Detroit: What the Bucs need to do in order to beat the Lions in Week 16

While this might look like an easy game on paper, the Bucs will need to clamp down defensively if they want to come out of Detroit with a ticket to the playoffs.

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) throws a pass against Green Bay
| Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

9-5 and we’re feelin’ fine. For the first time in what feels like forever, the Buccaneers are in control of their own playoff destiny headed into a Week 16 matchup. A win in Detroit would punch their ticket to the dance and get them one game closer to the No. 5 seed.

Despite coming out completely flat against the Falcons, the Tom Brady-led Buccaneers were able to string together a near-flawless second half to come out of Atlanta with a big win.

While the first half raised a lot of questions about the Buccaneers’ ability to beat good teams, the second half quelled some of these murmurs as they played outstanding on both sides of the ball and crushed the Falcons’ attempt to hold onto their 17 point lead.

Luckily for Bucs fans everywhere, Raheem Morris and Dirk Koetter did not get to have their revenge party. While Tom Brady was a big reason for their comeback, the entire team (minus a few guys) strung together a performance for the ages in the second half.

Hopefully they are able to carry that momentum into the game against this week’s opponent, the Detroit Lions. While the Lions are not a good team by any means, they are still able to do some things offensively that worry me.

In my opinion, Matthew Stafford is just as good as any of the top guys in the NFL but he just so happens to be on a very bad team. While I’ve seen some great throws from Stafford over the years, watching just a few games from this season showed me just how good he is and it should cause the Bucs to sweat a bit.

Luckily for the Bucs defense, they go two weeks in a row facing an offense without their top receiving threat. This week, the man that Tampa Bay won’t have to face is stellar wideout Kenny Golladay.

Even without Golladay though, the Lions are still able to string together very impressive offensive performances. While I think that he may be one of their best players, Stafford is able to find open receivers no matter who they are.

As the Bucs saw last week against Atlanta, even number two receivers like Calvin Ridley can find open space and tear apart this secondary. I believe this week, it will be Marvin Jones Jr. taking that role, so Tampa Bay will need to make some changes if they want to be successful this week and beyond.

Outside of the Lions’ offense there isn’t much to write home about. However, there are still some ways that the Bucs will be able to find easy yards. Let’s take a look at some of the things that Tampa Bay can key on to be more successful on both sides of the ball.

Offense

Keep implementing more play-action

I am once again clamoring for more play-action passing. While I have harped on it week after week, it’s just something this team has been very successful at so it usually ends up being a thing to look for.

This Lions secondary is bad, so play-action passing (or any kind of passing really) can be extremely successful. Take the linebackers out of the equation, and these receivers can end up even more open, so why not use it?

While the Buccaneers have used this approach more frequently as of late, I still don’t think they use it enough. Watching teams like the Rams and Vikings, it’s obvious that calling it more than 10 times a game can lead to high levels of success.

Against the Lions, that success can come as it has for many teams that have used it this season. Look at Mitch Trubisky (yes, Mitch Trubisky) using it here to carve up this Lions defense:

On this play, the linebackers come up so far that there’s no one in Allen Robinson’s zip code when he breaks to the middle of the field. Despite having someone run with him the whole way, his man has to make sure that he doesn’t get beat over the top so he has to play behind him which led to an easy pitch and catch here.

While Byron Leftwich may have no idea why they aren’t calling more of these plays, It’s pretty clear that it needs to be run more often, especially based on the amount of success the Buccaneers have had when using it this year.

Here’s another clip, this time from the Titans matchup. Ryan Tannehill holds onto this ball long enough that the linebackers have time to read and drop. However, the fake held them long enough that even their drop wasn’t deep enough to clog the lane for this completion to Corey Davis.

Even with Davis’s man playing this route well, the lack of any threat underneath makes this throw and catch far too easy. Not only does this play show the success of play-action, but it also shows that receivers can get open when the Lions play man to man.

With the wide variety of talent that the Bucs will be bringing into this game, I don’t know how the Lions are going to be able to stop them, especially if they run a lot of play-action.

Throw underneath and outside

The secret to success against the Lions is really no secret. Just throw the dang ball. Like I’ve said, this Lions secondary is not very good. Despite spending a first rounder on one of college football’s best corners, it takes a while to get adjusted to the demands of that position at the NFL level. Plus, he’s now on IR and out for the season.

In any case, Detroit will leave plenty of opportunities for the Bucs to pick up easy yards. This is even more true if they run the same coverage they did against the Packers, which was a Cover 3 look for the most part.

I am not sure what their most typical scheme looks like (only watched a few games), but I believe that if they ran Cover 3 against the Packers, they’ll probably do the same against the Bucs. While they do like their single-high safety looks, they only really rolled those out against teams without huge receiving threats.

Plus, if they run single-high this week, they’ll more than likely get torn to shreds. In either case, here’s a look at some success that the Packers had against some soft Cover 3 looks:

So this play looks like it was going to be a run the whole way until Rodgers took a look at Davante Adams and realized he had so much room in front of him. The motion not only helped Rodgers determine the coverage here, but it also gave more room for Adams on the outside.

Once he catches it, all he has to do is make a guy miss in space and that’s exactly what he did. Getting a guy like Godwin or AB out in space can be scary, and I think it would just make life that much easier for Tampa Bay this week.

If you remember the matchups against Carolina, they kept their corners about eight yards off, and the Bucs just tossed it to Mike Evans over and over again for easy gains. If the Lions deploy the same scheme as they did against the Packers, I expect a healthy dose of that as well.

Here’s the Titans taking advantage of a similar look:

So the Lions look to be in another Cover 3 look with the outside corners bailing and it makes it far too easy for A.J. Brown to sit and wait for a pass to come his way.

If anything, this should look like the Bucs on third down this season. Corners sitting 8 yards off when the offense only needs to pick up two yards. It doesn’t make a ton of sense, but then again I’m not a defensive coordinator so what do I know?

In either case, the Bucs can take advantage of this all day as Brady is the kind of guy to notice things like this and pick it apart. If they start coming up with some man looks, Tampa Bay’s receivers are more than capable of winning against this secondary.

Even with the Bucs’ slow starts, I’m not too worried about the offense. It’s the defense that is making me more nervous, so let’s take a look at that now.

Defense

Shut down Marvin Jones Jr.

So I listed Calvin Ridley as a must stop last week and we all saw how that went. My biggest hope is that they saw what happened last week and they make some adjustments. Although, with Carlton Davis III being doubtful, I am not too hopeful.

I’m not here for hope though, I’m just here to talk about what I saw on film. From the film, I can say that Jones Jr. is definitely someone to worry about.

In his last three games, he has eclipsed 100 yards twice, catching two touchdowns during that span. With Golladay out of the offense, Jones has been one of the main targets for Stafford and it’s easy to see why.

He brings speed, good route running, and great ball adjustment skills. Just look at this play against the Titans:

Jones Jr. runs an out and up here and it causes a lot of confusion for Malcolm Butler who has no safety help. The initial break outside forces Butler to flip his hips, but when Jones Jr. plants his foot and heads upfield, Butler it out of position and needs to flip his hips again to keep pace.

This slight hesitation at the NFL level can lead to wide open receivers like we see here. Once the ball is in the air, Jones Jr. adjusts to the throw and boxes out Butler so that he has no chance at defending the pass.

Finally, he catches the ball at the highest point and helped his team pick up a huge chunk of yards.

Even though he does have this deep play ability, he’s no one trick pony. Here’s a look at another good route from him:

So the Bears look to be in Cover 3 here which means that the outside corner is going to be dropping deep, while the underneath coverage is supposed to be coming from the second level.

The play-action fake here holds all of these guys so when Jones Jr. comes back to the ball, there’s no one underneath to get in the way of the pass. However, if he wasn’t a deep threat, the outside corner would’ve been able to sit on this and break it up.

Instead, he has to play behind him so he doesn’t get beat over the top, especially since the initial release looks like Jones Jr. is heading on a go route. Another thing to look at here is the adjustment to the ball when he does eventually come back.

Right as he turns around he sees the ball a little shallower than he expected and does a good job of locating, adjusting, and making the catch. With the Bucs running so much Cover 3, it makes me believe that the Lions are going to look to pick up easy yards with these comebacks, curls, and digs, so the Bucs will need to be ready for this.

With the Lions run game not being too threatening and the Bucs performing well in that department, I expect the Lions to throw it A LOT. So who else is a big threat through the air? Well, with the Bucs weakness against tight ends, T.J. Hockenson is the next guy on my list.

Limit T.J. Hockenson

It’s the year 2020, and the Bucs are still getting killed by tight ends. While I thought that this would’ve stopped years ago (memories of Greg Olsen are creeping in), it hasn’t.

The Bucs are 10th worst at defending tight ends when looking at yards per game allowed (~55 yds/gm)* and seeing Hockenson in the opposing lineup makes me sweat a bit. While 55 yards a game doesn’t make or break an offenses’ success, the .57 touchdowns allowed per game to tight ends might.*

For whatever reason, the Buccaneers just can’t cover tight ends in the end zone and it has led to some easy scores. Even when these defenders are in great position, the size differential has caused some issues (think Jimmy Graham’s TD in Week four).

Hockenson is a pretty big guy at 6’5” and 250 lbs and while his speed isn’t anything to write home about, his route running and ability to find soft areas has led to success for him and his team.

So not only do we have to worry about him in the end zone, but also as a downfield target, for a Lions offense that is missing their top playmaker.

Let’s take a look at what he was able to do against the Bears :

The Bears look to be in a Cover 2 man here and the linebacker assigned with Hockenson has his hands full. Hockenson runs a crossing route and finds the wide open space between the linebacker underneath and the safety over the top.

He gets open so quickly that the Lions don’t even have to worry about the pass rush with their backs to the end zone. If the Bucs want to have success in defending this still high powered offense, they’re going to need to be able to keep up with Hockenson through the game.

With Devin White and Lavonte David showing some improvement in the passing game last week, I can only hope that this will continue to show itself through the end of the season and beyond.

Conclusion

This Lions offense is by no means reflective of their record. Ultimately, I would attribute their lack of success to their defense (ironic that they had a defensive head coach). Unfortunately for the Bucs, their defense has not been too great as of late and they can’t afford to get into a shootout with a bad Detroit team.

In order to mitigate a shootout style game, they’re going to need to slow down the two biggest threats for the Lions, which are Marvin Jones Jr. and T.J. Hockenson (at least against a team who can’t cover tight ends).

On the other side of the ball, there are more than enough opportunities to score a lot of points, but the Bucs have to ensure that they can get these slow starts out of their system and show us what they are truly capable of. It’s Week 16, if they can’t do it now, against a bad defense, I don’t know how much hope I have that they can turn it around in the postseason.

Being one win away from the playoffs is nice, but they still have to go into hostile territory and come out with a win to get there, and in the NFL that’s never a given. Let’s see what they have in store for us this Saturday.

What do you think it’ll take to beat the Lions? Should the Bucs be worried? Let us know in the comments below!

*Per Pro Football Reference

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