Kent Lee Platte, DLD Writer
I set up several under the radar matchups last week against the Eagles and while I missed the biggest one (Everyone vs. the Weather), I totally nailed Gunther Cunningham’s adjustments, the Secondary embarrassing themselves, and Matthew Stafford’s mistakes. Hooray for me!
Unfortunately, those are things I had rather hoped the team would come out on the winning side on, and instead we ended up witnessing a team not only fail at pretty much everything for 30 minutes straight, but do so in pretty epic fashion. With a Bears and Packers victory, the path to the Playoffs for the Lions isn’t as clear and they come into Monday Night Football without any kind of cushion and three must wins ahead of them.
There are plenty of obvious match ups against the Ravens, with a dangerous deep passing game going against a secondary known for giving up big plays; a struggling Ravens run game against a team that gave up almost as many TDs as they’ve had all season and more yards than they’ve had in the previous six weeks combined in one game; and a team that seems to want to give every game they can away facing the former Super Bowl Champions trying to cling to a playoff spot themselves. With as many obvious ones out there, what could there possibly be beneath the surface?
Red Zone Defenses vs. Two Undrafted Dudes
If I had told you prior to the season that coming into week 15 two Undrafted Rookies would lead all rookies in receiving Touchdowns, would you have believed me? Yet, that’s exactly what we’re looking at in the Lions’ Joseph Fauria and the Ravens’ Marlon Brown. Keenan Allen may have jumped them with 2 TDs on Thursday, but Big Joe Fauria and Brown have a chance to get back on top. Fauria and Brown face equal challenges as both the Lions and the Ravens have done a very good job defending the red zone this season. It’ll be interesting to see how each team defends these two guys who couldn’t even land a spot on draft boards back in April. It’s a hidden match up now, but you can bet you’ll be hearing about either or both on Monday night.
The Returners vs. the Sams
Jacoby Jones had an electrifying return on a kick designed to keep the ball away from him against the Vikings this past weekend. You know what would be more impressive than that? A guy doing it twice. In the snow. Suck it, Jacoby Jones! Still, both Sam Koch and Sam Martin will be facing tough games where they will likely be trying to either boot it out of the end zone or put it somewhere it is difficult to bring out. Koch is an established punter and we’re in a dome this week so it shouldn’t be much of a concern for him, but Martin has had some consistency issues with his directional punting the past few weeks that need to be ironed out with the quickness.
Gunther Cunningham (Yet Again) vs. Jim Caldwell
This isn’t as bad of a match up as it was against Kelly, but Jim Caldwell is no slouch. Caldwell has found ways to keep his offense chugging even with a rushing offense that is, frankly, pathetic. There has to be an award for dealing with that kind of ineptitude and still managing to get your passing offense to hover just below average in the NFL. I mean, it’s not great, but it’s not as terrible as it should be. What it tells me is that Caldwell can adapt, and that’s bad news for the Lions since Gunther Cunningham has shown no such ability. It has the makings of yet another heart wrenching game, since Lions fans are now accustomed to the old adage “No lead is safe”, and should be practically terrified if there isn’t a three score plus cushion coming out of the half. And even if they manage that, I’d be concerned.
Jim Schwartz vs. The Coin Toss
It’d be comical if I wasn’t a Lions fan just how obvious it was that the Lions should not take the ball to start the game. Schwartz has often replied that he takes the ball to start the first half because “We have Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, derpy derp”. I may have paraphrased.
The point is, despite the fact that yes, we have talented offensive players, the Lions still fail week in and week out to put points up on their first possession. Adding to that, the team should do whatever they can to keep the ball out of the opposing offense’s hands in the second half (see above). It’s somewhat silly that we’re getting down to really looking at the coin toss as something that could change the game, but it’s more reflective of the mindset that it projects. Rather than taking what works, the team keeps banging their head against the wall and hoping that this time, this time the wall will crumble. I applaud the Lions aggressiveness this season, even at times where it hasn’t succeeded, but sometimes you have to play the numbers. Speaking of Jim Schwartz…
Jim Schwartz vs. Jim Schwartz
A trend this season has been for Jim Schwartz to leave sitting on the bench players at positions of need due to injuries. Specifically, leaving his extra CBs inactive and leaving Mikel Leshoure as a healthy scratch most games. Now, I’m not lobbying for Leshoure or Greenwood to play a single snap, that’s not the point, the issue is having them in street clothes when you have injuries at those two positions.
The Lions are coming into this week’s game short at least one corner and with another likely hampered by injury (And normally terrible when he’s hampered by injury). Do we really want to see Don Carey playing in the Nickel again? Maybe against a team that could run the ball, but not against one all about the pass, nuh-uh. Reggie Bush has been fighting injuries all season, and missed last week when he tweaked his calf. Does anybody really want to see Joique Bell as a feature back again, with Riddick his ONLY spell? In Joique Bell’s two starts this season he’s rushed 43 times for 132 yards (3.1 YPC), 2 TDs, and 2 fumbles. That was against two middle of the road rushing defenses, and he is now going to be going against the Ravens whose rush defense is ranked 7th in yardage and has only allowed 3 TDs on the season.
Going back to Greenwood, he hasn’t played a single down for the Lions this season, but if Houston (assuming he even plays), Bentley, or Mathis don’t make it through the game (all have missed time), do you really want to put one of your Safeties in that position? Again?
Or will Schwartz commit to rolling with Green as a starter, playing against the likes of Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown? Meanwhile, the Lions had six wide receivers active the past two weeks, including coming into a snow game. Roster management, not Schwartz’s strong suit.
Jonte Green vs. Torrey Smith
Funny thing, the Lions have a very specific usage for all of their cornerbacks. Chris Houston matches up better against the smaller faster receivers, but struggles against the big and strong ones. Reshean Mathis does well against the big and strong ones, but can’t handle speed or shiftiness. Bill Bentley has the Nickel locked down against anybody.
In theory, it should run smoothly, especially with Darius Slay coming into his own against a very dangerous pair of receivers in Jordy Nelson and James Jones. Sadly, the Lions lost Slay for several weeks after he tore his meniscus, while Chris Houston is on injury #3 or 4 this season and both are listed as doubtful for MNF. So what does that leave us?
Well, Mathis is going to line up against Jacoby Jones or Marlon Brown (Again, can’t handle speed) which leaves Jonte “The Immortal” Green to pick up Torrey Smith on the outside. No? Jonte Green? Don’t remember? He was the guy that started several games last season, looked lost at first and then started to improve as he went along, but was completely dog housed all season often watching games as a healthy scratch before injuries dictated his need on Special Teams? No? Had that interception last year against the Jags? Still no? *sigh* He was the guy who was made fun of in camp because of his short shorts.
Okay, now you remember. Anyway, THAT guy is going to be starting against Torrey Smith, who has been targeted just a little bit less than Calvin Johnson has this season. Smith is a high volume receiver in Baltimore’s offense, and they LOVE to get him running on deep routes in the hopes of a big play or a big penalty. Meanwhile, Jonte Green has 3 tackles on the season. Of course, there’s always the chance Chris Greenwood is covering someone, but at that point are we confident at all in victory? There are tough match ups all over the secondary, but none as important as this one.