Entering a bye-week after an emotional road win, especially against a first-place opponent like Minnesota, is generally a recipe for disaster for any NFL team – especially considering the rematch with the Vikings scheduled only 4 days later at Ford Field. In sporting circles, it is always considered a “trap” game – a game that is overlooked on the schedule and penciled in as an automatic victory, but could ultimately blow up in their face if they are not careful.
The time off will allow Detroit to get a much needed week off after two tough back-to-back tough road games, and will allow the coaching staff to strategize what is working and what is not in all phases of the team. But it is also basically an excuse for a vacation. With three of the next 4 games at home, the Lions could easily look at this game as a breeze against a Jacksonville team which has been perennially mediocre-to-pathetic, and look past them, which would be a huge mistake. Whatever sense of progress the team made by winning in Minneapolis, would essentially nullify itself by losing to the Jags.
All told, after this bye week, the Lions will have an additional unofficial bye week after playing Minnesota at home on Thanksgiving before having to play New Orleans on the road – which lines up a perfect scenario for coaches/trainers/scouts/and injured players as they prepare to head into a traditionally hostile atmosphere at the loud, dilapidated, Mercedes Superdome.
WHAT IS WORKING ON OFFENSE:
Stafford on up-tempo throws while on the move:
Matthew Stafford likes, and is successful, operating out of a shotgun formation and to move his feet. For whatever reason, it just works for him and his arm strength carries him a long way to make seemingly improbable/sometimes unnecessary throws. He throws side-arm, on his back foot, or whatever the improvised play opens up – all of which can make anyone familiar with quarterback mechanics cringe. Otherwise, sometimes he can make a routine three-step drop and look like a more precise version of Joe Montana in a West Coast Offense look.
It just all depends, and is what makes Stafford so frustrating to scout for (or against). At this point in his career, it is time to accept that this is just who he is. A Tiger can not change his stripes. And if he wants to dress like a high-school kid and wear his hat backwards on the sideline or in post-game interviews until he enrolls in Medicare, who cares?
Eric Ebron spread out as a hybrid WR.
He is not a prototype tight-end at the pro level yet, and is developing more into a Rob Gronkowski clone weekly, but Ebron has a much longer stride and high-jump ability that could ultimately take him to another level as an elite receiving tight-end in the mold of Shannon Sharpe as he gets stronger.
Theo Riddick on third down.
He is getting more versatile, bigger, and is still capable of making anyone miss in the open field. Its time for a payday for this guy or to continue to roll-the-dice on the health of Ameer Abdullah. The Lions front office will face a tough choice. Riddick has proved to be, at the very least, a mid-tier featured running back on any team at the NFL level. He makes Matthew Stafford better by being a reliable “safety blanket” who rarely loses yardage. He continues to struggle between the tackles, which needs to be addressed, but on quick draw plays he can also be effective in short-yardage (along with Zach Zenner.)
Graham Glasgow at Guard:
This guy is a monster and will ultimately take Laken Tomlinson or Travis Swanson’s job. An absolute steal in the third round of last year’s draft for Detroit, he is a 6′-6″, athletic, and 300 pound machine. He can play multiple positions and is strong in both pass-protection and in the running game. Although not single-handedly, he has made the Detroit O-line at least respectable. Stafford has been sacked 20 times thus far, but he has been picked-off only 5 times. And although the Lions still rank in the bottom tier of the league in total rushing, their yards-per-carry is now middle-of-the pack at nearly 4.0 per attempt. Its a good, young unit that will only get better with experience.
WHAT IS WORKING ON DEFENSE:
Getting Ziggy Ansah healthy:
Playing 4-3 stunts that let the linebackers freelance and make their own plays is not a bad idea, assuming the defense plays primarily in nickle coverage. A lot of the defense against Minnesota was just about standing around (in a good way) or finding ways to just pretend to fall down to disrupt timing. The Lions seem to get lucky often on deep out-routes thrown against them because Ansah (and the other D-lineman) continually get pressure through creative line formations by coordinator Teryl Austin – leaving opposing quarterbacks little time for a deep release.
Quality Safety Play:
This is obviously due to the lack of quality QB talent they have seen much of the year, and revolving doors at CB. But Safeties Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson have quietly had mostly effective seasons thus far. Allowing unknown guys like PHI QB Carson Wentz or STL QB Case Keenum to have career-days in back-to-back weeks goes to show how important it is for the Detroit secondary to not underestimate anybody, however. Despite victories in both of those games, the Lions simply do not have enough talent to be out-coached or out-worked by lackadaisical tackling.
Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles will look to have a big game. He will not hesitate to throw anything possible to emerging star WR Allen Robinson (an Orchard Lake St. Mary’s product who ended up at Penn State). Lions CB Darius Slay would likely draw this assignment, but with him sidelined likely until Thanksgiving, expect the Lions to play “Double-Double” on both Jacksonville wideouts – blanketing with two defensive backs covering anything thrown beyond 10 yards or when JAX operates out of the shotgun.
Tyrunn Walker, Devin Taylor, and Kerry Hyder. All three of these players have been just what the doctor ordered for a defense that just can’t seem to stay healthy for any length of time. All three play at a high-tempo, and seem to create a sense of energy in the entire defense.
The Lions have not lost after a bye week since 2011.