The Detroit Lions return home on Sunday for their first divisional matchup of the season, as they host the first place Minnesota Vikings. This will certainly qualify as an early “must win” game for the Lions, following the week 3 loss to the bottom feeding Tennessee Titans. A game in which the mistakes made by replacement officials, and Brandon Pettigrew, pale in comparison to the atrocity committed by Dominic Raiola, whose selfish actions and stance against accountability have left Lions fans hungry for leadership.
Leadership vs. Selfishness
Leadership is something that this team desperately needs. The consistent lack of composure is evidence that the needed guidance is not coming from the sideline, and needs to come from the field. Many of the expected leaders of this team have done more harm than good, when it comes to the maturation of this franchises identity. On the defensive side veteran Kyle VandenBosch’s subpar play has hindered the entire defensive line to this point, and the leader of the secondary, Louis Delmas, has not yet seen the field. The Lions need a consistent performer to step into this role, such as veteran Stephen Tulloch, or the face of the defense, Ndamukong Suh. To this point in 2012 Suh has done an improved job of playing within the scheme, and keeping his poise. Time will tell if this is due to growth in maturity, or simply a lack of circumstance.
On the offensive side of the ball leadership must come from Matthew Stafford, and only from Stafford. Veteran center Dominic Raiola’s selfish decision to snap the ball on fourth down when instructed not to is not something that a veteran leader does. A leader doesn’t do that to his team, and definitely doesn’t hide behind the company line of a “miscommunication”, while allowing teammates and coaches to take the blame for their decision. If Stafford does play on Sunday it’s time for him to step up, and be that Brady-Brees type of leader on and off of the field.
Cliff Avril vs. Jared Allen
Cliff Avril and Jared Allen may not be face to face on Sunday, but both will be fighting to kick-start their respective teams’ pass rush. The success of each defense will rely largely on the play of these two men and the pressure that they are able to generate. Jared Allen was 2011’s NFL sack leader, and will look to hunt the hobbled Matthew Stafford, or the rusty Shaun Hill, and put the Lions into long yardage situations, increasing the frequency of mistakes. The Lions will be very focused on Adrian Peterson on Sunday, as stopping him is paramount in any game plan against the Vikings. Minnesota will look to expose the fractured Lion secondary and build on the recent sharpness of second year quarterback Christian Ponder. Detroit proved last week that you don’t need to be an NFL caliber quarterback to have success, as the inept Jake Locker carved up the Lions en route to record numbers. And while a lack of skill in the secondary is largely at fault, more blame should be placed on the non-existent pass rush form the vaunted Lion defensive front. The weakness in the secondary is glaring, but it was expected to be compensated for by a solid pass rush. The outcome of this contest will be decided by the Lion defensive line; Cliff Avril and his 10.6 million dollar price tag need to step up, and prove that they are deserving of the attention that they so often receive.
Brandon Pettigrew vs. Footballs
It is beginning to seem like Brandon Pettigrew is afraid of footballs. Drops have plagued the talented tight end’s young career. In 2012 alone Pettigrew has recorded 16 receptions and 4 drops, including what should have been a touchdown in week 1. That means that for every four passes that hit his hands, one hits the turf. As if the inconsistency as a receiver wasn’t enough, Pettigrew was also stripped in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to Tennessee, resulting in a game changing touchdown. As teams increasingly focus on Calvin Johnson, Pettigrew will have his chances to produce, and can’t afford to cost his team any more than he already has.