Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Will the Lions pull a Thanksgiving Upset?

Can Ndamukong Suh and the Lions pull a huge upset on Thanksgiving?

Earlier this week, Tom Brady touched on how talented the Detroit Lions are, pointing out that they have a huge advantage heading into Thanksgiving’s game. They play it every year.
“There's one thing on our mind and that's getting ready to play a good football team in a game that they have always played pretty well in. The crowd will be amped up and ready to go and we're going to have to go out and play really well. I'm excited to see what this team can do on a short week and show what kind of toughness we have - what kind of mental toughness we have and go out there and play a damn good team”
The Lions have been a pushover for the past decade, going an entire season without a win two years ago. The Patriots have been the complete opposite. Arguably the most successful team in the past 10 years, the Pats won 3 super bowls and went an entire regular season without losing a game.

On paper it seems like an easy matchup for New England. However, this Lions team is full of talent and more than capable of a Thanksgiving upset.

When the Patriots offense faces off against the Lions defense, they will have to make note of one of the league’s premier ball hawks, cornerback; Alphonso Smith.

alphonso smith
Smith celebrates an INT return for a score
Smith was acquired by the Lions from the Denver Broncos back in September in exchange for tight end, Dan Gronkowski (brother of Patriots tight end, Rob Gronkowski). The Broncos had traded up to draft Smith in 2009 but apparently were dissatisfied enough with his performance to trade him after only one year in the NFL.

Unfortunately for Denver, the young corner has been one of the best in the league this year. He currently has the 3rd most interceptions in the NFL (5), one of which he returned for a touchdown.

Due to Smith’s presence, Brady is going to have to be careful with the ball. Fortunately, that’s something he’s been able to do so far this year. Smith may have the third most interceptions in the league but Brady is tied for the third fewest interceptions thrown (4).

The most impressive group on the Lions defense is their front seven. Their first round pick (second overall), Ndamukong Suh, has come as advertised and is a clear front-runner for defensive rookie of the year. Suh has been making quarterback’s lives miserable up front. He currently has 41 tackles, 1 interception and one fumble recovery for a touchdown. He also has 7 sacks, tied with the likes of the Colts’ Dwight Freeney and Giants’ Justin Tuck.

In his Tuesday press conference, Brady touched on Suh and the Lions’ defensive  front, “He's a big guy. I think he is very powerful, gets into the pocket, plays with a good motor. He's tough”, complimented Brady. “They've got a couple other guys who are really good, too: [Kyle] Vanden Bosch. Corey Williams is a good player. And then their other end, who's been out - 92 [Cliff Avril] is a hell of a player, too. That's a big strength of theirs - the way they can get after the passer. The way they can stop the run. A good group of linebackers. It's a very good defense”.

With the additions of Suh and the likes of Kyle Vanden Bosch (the former Tennessee Titan) the Lions’ defense has shown it can become explosive and force turnovers and negative plays. They are currently tied for 7th in the league in sacks (27) and 3rd in forced fumbles (16).

vanden bosch
Kyle Vanden Bosch is no stranger to battles with the Pats
However, they haven’t had as much success against the run this year - ranked at  26th in the league in that category - the Lions allow 130.6 yards on the ground per game. Expect BenJarvus Green-Ellis to have another big day.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Lions have a surprisingly successful passing attack, which doesn’t bode well for the Patriots. The Lions currently have the 6th most passing yards per game (255.9) while the Patriots defense is ranked 31st in passing defense (289.6 yds/g). Not a favorable matchup for the Patriots.

One key for New England in stopping the Lions passing attack is to attempt to limit wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, who is 2nd in the NFL with 10 touchdown receptions. Young cornerbacks, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington are going to have to bring their A-game on a short week to contain Johnson. Expect a lot of double coverage to go “Megatron’s” way as the Patriots did with Brandon Marshall and Randy Moss earlier this year.

The Lions’ offensive line has allowed the 9th fewest sacks this year (18), but expect the Patriots to attempt to pressure quarterback, Shaun Hill. Hill may be putting up big stats this year as a backup but he can get rattled under pressure and make mistakes, which is something the Patriots are going to have to force and take advantage of.

The Lions may be 3-7 but they could be the greatest sub .500 team of all time. Most of their losses have come down to the wire and their record could easily be flipped. However, if the Patriots have one clear advantage over Detroit, it’s a mental one.

When the Lions have lost these close games, it’s mostly come down to mental errors.

Perhaps the greatest example of this was against the Jets – when the Lions gave up a 10 point fourth quarter lead. With the final minutes ticking away, instead of running out the clock and forcing the Jets – down by 3 – into a Hail Mary situation, the Lions called a pass play. Backup quarterback, Drew Stanton, threw an incomplete pass and effectively gave the Jets 40 extra seconds. On the ensuing Jets drive Julian Peterson committed a costly personal foul after a 13 yard catch and run by Ladainian Tomlinson, which cost the Lions 15 yards and pushed New York into game-tying field goal range.

The Patriots have been known to consistently play disciplined, mistake free football - the defense giving up the 3rd fewest penalty yards (440) in the game. When going up against a Lions team that is prone to make mistakes, the Patriots will have to keep theirs to a minimum and capitalize on Detroit’s.

Patriots over Lions (24-21)

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