Going into the bye-week marks one of the most crucial games for any team. This Sunday’s matchup at Denver is no different for the Lions. Will they go to their break feeling good about the first half of their season at 6-2, or will a loss that drops them to 5-3 leave a bitter taste in their mouths? Here are five guys that can make the former happen:
Skipping right over the most obvious person who needs to improve their play (Matthew Stafford, who doesn’t look like a safe bet for Sunday), someone outside of Calvin Johnson has to be a consistent target. Whoever the quarterback ends up being, there will be plenty of dropbacks for Burleson, Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew. Burleson is the most proven and has shown his ability to make an impact out of those three, and it’s time for him to get going. I’d like to see that same bubble screen they attempted against Atlanta again. That was a questionable call as they were in the red zone and there wasn’t much space to maneuver, which is what that play needs to be effective, but we’ve seen him explode for big gains before on screens. Burleson has been known to be a big threat on the end around play, as well (12 rushes for 115 yards in his 21 games with the Lions).
This might be asking for a lot considering how poor the punt and kickoff teams have supported Logan thus far, as well as the few opportunities he gets as a result of the new kickoff rule. They haven’t opened up any significant lanes for him to do his thing. Last season he was one of the better returners in the league and put the Lions’ offense in great field position more times than not. When a team is struggling like the Lions are, they need something to spark them. Bobby Carpenter returned an interception for a touchdown against Dallas in week 4 that turned the game around. If Logan can return a kickoff or two to around midfield against Denver, it could create that moral boost and energy the Lions need to get some extra scores.
Three things offensive linemen must do:
1. Protect your quarterback
2. Clear the way for your running backs
3. No stupid penalties
So far, all of these have been issues at some point in the season. Obviously rushing numbers have been sub-par; the Lions rank 22nd in the NFL in rushing yards and tied for 23rd with only 3 rushing touchdowns. Backus has been called for several holding penalties this year, as well as allowing multiple sacks. Matthew Stafford is hobbled, and while the play that he was injured on wasn’t really the fault of the O-Line, the bottom line is that they failed to protect him. As the leader of the line and most experienced, Backus needs to be that rock for the rest of the guys and whoever the QB is this week. No more rookie holding penalties or whiffing on bull-rushes; it’s time to man up.
As unrealistic as it is to make second half comebacks every game, this is what we’ve come to expect from Schwartz and the Lions. This team is not coming out of the locker room at halftime with that same energy and hunger we saw from them in the first five weeks. Why is that? Schwartz will have to dig into his bag of tricks to get something out of the Lions before the bye. We all know the offense is in a slump, and it may take someone beside Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to break them out of it. Schwartz needs to regain control of this team before their two-game losing streak turns them back into NFC North bottomfeeders.