After last year's Lions-Bucs game -- in which the Lions won 23-20 thanks to a questionable call late in the game -- these two teams have a score to settle. The Buccaneers ended up missing the playoffs by one win, so the memory of that loss has festered in the minds of Bucs fans. While Detroit may not attach much extra importance to today's game, it's another story for the Bucs.
In preparation for this Sunday's Buccaneers-Lions game, we exchanged some questions with Sean Yuille over at SB Nation Detroit. JC De La Torre's answers on the Bucs can be found here, and Sean was gracious enough to give us a run down on the Lions.
Q: The Lions struggled against the run in 2010 and during their pre-season run they gave up 4.5 yards a carry. Do you feel they've done enough to address the run defense, and how do you think they will fair against LeGarrett Blount?
A: The Lions spent the preseason trying to get their new linebackers acclimated to the scheme, and I think that played a part in the struggles with the run defense. Compared to last year, there is certainly more talent in the front seven of the defense, which should help some of the issues they've had in defending the run. Adding a tackle machine in Stephen Tulloch and a solid player in Justin Durant were big moves as the Lions upgraded the group of linebackers, and with the same outstanding defensive line returning, I would expect improvements to be made. On Sunday, I think Blount will have his fair share of solid runs, but I don't think he will average 7.3 yards a carry like last year's game against Detroit.
Q: The Lions are definitely adept as rushing the passer but they still were ranked pretty low in pass defense. They didn't do much in free agency to address the secondary. Concerns on the backend?
A: Before the lockout ended there was talk that the Lions might make a run at Nnamdi Asomugha or Johnathan Joseph, but neither rumor panned out. The Lions didn't have a ton of salary cap room to work with, and they made it clear they didn't want to throw a lot of money at one player after having to do that so many times in the past with high draft picks. Instead of making a big splash, they opted to re-sign Chris Houston and add Eric Wright, who passed up a multi-year offer worth more money from the Browns to sign a one-year deal with the Lions.
The Lions aren't stacked at cornerback by any means, and there certainly aren't any elite players at the position. Even so, I think the Lions will get by fine with the cornerbacks currently on the roster. Having a strong defensive line should help the secondary, and I also think the upgrade with the linebackers will help the Lions' pass coverage as well.
Q: Ndamukong Suh didn't make much impact in last year's meeting with the Buccaneers (2 tackles and an assisted tackle). On one memorable play, Josh Freeman shrugged Suh off his back shoulder and completed a long pass to a Buc receiver. Now that Bucs' Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph and veteran center Jeff Faine are back - can Suh bring that kind of pressure Lions fans have come accustom to seeing from him?
A: The nice thing about having Suh on the defensive line for the Lions is that he impacts the game even when he isn't directly impacting the game. What I mean by that is, even if he isn't making a ton of plays and making an impact that is seen on the stat sheet, he opens up the game for other defensive linemen by drawing double teams and commanding the attention of the opposing offensive line. In last year's game against the Bucs, Suh did only have a few tackles, but the numbers for his fellow defensive linemen were pretty good:
Turk McBride - six tackles
Lawrence Jackson - four tackles (one sack)
Sammie Hill - three tackles (one sack, two tackles for a loss)
Cliff Avril - one sack
As for what Suh will do on Sunday, I do think he will have at least one sack and a couple tackles for a loss. Part of what makes Josh Freeman so good is his ability to avoid defenders, but I think the Lions defense -- Suh included -- learned after last year's game that they have to make sure to wrap him up and make sure to not let him escape anytime he is in their grasp.
Q: Big things are expected from the Lions this season, but their schedule includes the NFC South as well as some tough NFC North divisional games. Are they ready? Any predictions on how their season will shape up?
A: I have the Lions going 10-6 in 2011. While it's true that the schedule isn't favorable, the Lions managed to win six games last year (seven if the Calvin Johnson no catch call would have been different in Week 1) without their starting quarterback for most of the season. If Matthew Stafford can stay healthy and continue to play at the elite level we saw in the preseason, the sky could be the limit for the Lions. They finally learned how to win close games with that four-game winning streak to end 2010, and I see them building on that in 2011 with their first winning season in more than a decade.
Q: Be honest - that offensive pass interference call on Kellen Winslow, Jr. at the end of last year's game was bull spit wasn't it?
A: All I will say is after seeing so many calls go against the Lions over the course of the season, it was nice to see one go in their favor.