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Davy Jones’ Locker: Buccaneers vs Lions Divisional Round Q&A

Previewing the divisional round game

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Los Angeles Rams v Detroit Lions Photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images

The Buccaneers (+6) are headed to Detroit to take on the Lions (-6) in the Divisional round of the playoffs. The Bucs are entering their second straight week being underdogs. Last week they dismantled the Eagles 32-9 while Detroit got revenge on old friend Matt Stafford and the Rams in a competitive contest.

The last time these teams met was back in week six when the Lions spoiled the creamsicle party for Tampa Bay in a 20-6 Detroit win. To preview this game, we sat down with Ryan Mathews from Pride of Detroit to get a closer look at this Lions team.

1. The last time these two teams met it was in Week 6 and it was a Lions 20-6 victory. What worked well for Detroit in that game and do you think it is something they could try and replicate this week?

The Lions were pretty short-handed in that Week 6 matchup, so I think this game looks much, much different from the game that was played over three months ago. Detroit was without Jahmyr Gibbs, Jonah Jackson, and after an injury in the second quarter, David Montgomery. The Buccaneers held the Lions to just 40 rushing yards on 22 carries in Week 6–their lowest total of the regular season–so I think there’s reason to believe Detroit will run the ball more in this divisional round matchup.

All things considered, Jared Goff had one of his better performances of the regular season against the Bucs. He threw the ball 44 times–only once did he eclipse that number this season in a blowout loss to the Ravens–and without any threat or semblance of a running game for two-and-a-half quarters, Goff threw for 353 yards and two touchdowns. Add in three starting fixtures of their offense, especially when it comes to the running game, and you’re going to get an even more potent attack. If there’s something I could count on Detroit doing this weekend, it’s their offense putting up more than the 20 points they did in Week 6.

2. What do you believe is the Lions biggest strength and biggest weakness after watching the playoff game against Los Angeles?

Detroit has a couple of strengths that I would put up against any other team in the NFL, and that’s their coaching staff and the offense they’ve built around Goff. The offensive line does a fantastic job of keeping Goff relatively clean, and although their ground game has experienced a bit of a dry spell as of late, it feels like a primetime rushing performance from Gibbs and Montgomery is always lurking behind a pulling guard.

As for the coaching staff, it all starts with Dan Campbell. With his time as a player in the not-too-distant past, he’s pushed these guys at all the right points of the season. His aggressive play-calling and risk-taking have been more hit than miss, and setting the Baltimore game aside, he’s had this team ready to go each and every week–rarely do we see the effects of this team getting too high or low.

As far as weaknesses go, most of those sit on the defensive side of the ball. The Lions can’t generate much of a pass rush without blitzing. Their defensive backs can find themselves out of position due to miscommunication or their eyes falling for tricks. Tackling has been a bit of an issue with a team that’s actually been pretty good at rallying to the ball.

3. Rookies Sam Laporta and Jahmyr Gibbs have both had stellar rookie seasons. How has their development changed the Lions offense?

It’s made a world of difference for this offense in ways that couldn’t have totally been anticipated or expected. At a notoriously difficult position to transition to from college, LaPorta racked up receptions (89), receiving yards (889), and touchdowns (10) at the tight end position, but the difference he made as a blocker in the running game was a pleasant surprise. It hasn’t always been perfect, but as Dan Campbell has said time and time again, LaPorta doesn’t make the same mistake twice, a testament to his coachability.

As far as Jahmyr goes, he’s single-handedly made this offense one of the most explosive in the league. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson made comments in the offseason about the Lions running game leaving yards out on the field, and the arrival of both Montgomery and Gibbs took this offense to the next level, but Jahmyr especially. 14.8 percent of Gibbs carries resulted in gains of 10+ yards, second to only Christian McCaffrey’s ridiculous 16.2 percent. The Lions slowly, but surely, folded Gibbs into the offense, and when he’s on the field, he’s a threat that needs the defense’s attention.

4. Both of these teams are fairly healthy for this time of year. With health not being as big of a factor, what do you see being the deciding factor in this one?

It’s going to come down to who does a better job of protecting the football. When Detroit hit the rough patch of their season (Week 11-14), it was a turnover-fueled mess. The Lions posted a -7 differential across those four games and escaped by the skin of their teeth with a .500 record over that stretch. On other hand, the Bucs have done a great job of practicing ball security, posting a +8 turnover differential and only committing 18 giveaways (t-6th among the NFL). If the Bucs give the ball away, the Lions offense could take advantage of the opportunity, and I’m not sure how well this Tampa Bay offense is suited to play from behind. If the Lions lose the turnover battle, they run the risk of their defense seeing too much of the field.

5. According to DraftKings, the Lions are a solid home favorite at -6. What are your thoughts on this line and what is your score prediction for this game?

Not sure if the Lions will cover in this spot because this is a Bucs team that can throw the ball. Baker Mayfield found his groove and they’ve got plenty of weapons that pose a challenge for this Detroit secondary that hasn’t had answers in recent weeks. That being said, can the Bucs offense keep pace with the Lions in the not-so-friendly confines of Ford Field? The answer to that question feels like it will provide you the winner to this divisional round game.

Thanks so much to Ryan for doing this!