The Lions have spent a month in the spotlight due to a last-play loss to the Bengals, two close victories over the Cowboys and Bears, and for the controversy surrounding the failed fake field goal in Sunday’s loss at Pittsburgh.
Through all of that, the Lions are 6-4 and tied with the Bears for first place in the NFC North. They’re the pole-sitters in the race to win the North, with four of their last six games at home, starting with the Bucs at Ford Field on Sunday.
What is the biggest obstacle in the last six games?
Mike: Performance is No. 1. Everything else is tied for last place. The uproar over the field goal means nothing going forward. If anything, it takes pressure off the players because Coach Jim Schwartz has taken all the heat for calling it.
The race will be won or lost on performance, and no position group on the team is under more pressure to raise its level of play to at least average than the secondary. The question is whether it can be done. I have my doubts.
Is that your biggest concern?
Tim: Easily, the secondary is my biggest concern with the play of the defensive end position a close second. I think the two are tied to each other. The ends aren’t getting enough pressure and that’s putting the secondary in an even worse spot then they’re already in.
I thought Schwartz made an interesting comment in his Monday press conference when he said players in the secondary were “farming land that wasn't theirs.”
To me, that’s players feeling the pressure of the moment and trying to do too much. Do your job. Play under control. Make the plays that are there to be made. There were too many missed tackles and dropped interceptions in Pittsburgh.
Guys are going to get beat, it happens, I just want to see the little plays made that are there to be made.
Am I asking too much?
Mike: Nope. You’re asking very little, really. Watching the Patriots-Panthers game Monday night, I saw Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib challenging receivers, getting in their faces after plays – and probably going too far.
I’ll take that over what I’ve seen from the Lions’ secondary. Look, you win games between the whistles, not between plays. But when you see ineffective jams, whiffed tackles and blown assignments, that speaks to a level of play that has to get better.
Is there any chance the Lions get caught looking ahead when they play the Bucs Sunday?
Tim: Maybe that could have been a possibility if they had beaten Pittsburgh last week, but not now. Every game is so important from here on out.
The Lions’ best bet to get a playoff date in January is to win the NFC North and avoid tiebreaking scenarios with surging teams like Carolina, Arizona and Philadelphia. They control their own destiny if they continue to win.
Four of their next six are at home and the next two are crucial, in my opinion. They set the tone the rest of the way.
Take care of a Tampa Bay team, who has been playing better the last two weeks, but is still a team the Lions are vastly more talented than.
Do that, and it sets up the showdown with Green Bay and potentially Mr. Rodgers on national television. That’s a big one, Mike.
First things first, however. Beat the Bucs (2-8).
Mike: Right on all fronts. The Lions have to focus on taking care of business against the Bucs and let the rest of us look ahead.
So ... the most important injury report from this moment until kickoff against the Packers on Thanksgiving Day involved Aaron Rodgers. If Rodgers doesn’t play, the Lions beat the Packers for sure.
If Rodgers plays against the Lions, they still should be able to use home-field advantage to win a game they have to win to finish first in the North.
I call these two games must win – and games the Lions should win, Rodgers or no Rodgers.
DE Ziggy Ansah, WR
Tim: Rodgers potentially coming back for Thanksgiving worries me a little, Mike, I have to admit it. The Lions haven’t done well against the elite passers in this league and Rodgers is as elite as they come.
The defensive line could really use Ansah back for this two-game stretch vs. Tampa Bay and Green Bay.
Like I mentioned above, the Lions aren’t getting enough production from the defensive end position. I know Ansah was struggling a bit before he was hurt, but his return allows everyone else to play fewer snaps and hopefully more effective snaps.
Mike: They need all three, in equal parts. Ansah will strengthen the ride side. Bentley has faults, but he made big tackles in the backfield, and he has ability.
But to me, the onus falls on the secondary. There’s a reason the Lions aren’t getting turnovers, and it falls on the back end to get them.
Tim: I agree on all parts, especially the secondary. The Lions have just one interception this year from the cornerback position. Think about that for a minute.
They have four interceptions from the safety position (two apiece from
The Lions have played six games since getting their last interception from the secondary. That’s not good enough, folks.