Twentyman: The Lions' hopes of getting back into the NFC Playoff hunt start today

Posted Nov 22, 2012

The Lions have to be better on third down and keeping drives alive, especially against a potent rushing attack like the Texans have.

Lions head coach Jim Schwartz was asked this week why he thought his team was a disappointing 4-6 coming off last year's 10-6 season.

His answer was simple and to the point.

“I think that as a 4-6 team, we’ve been inconsistent,” he said.

“We’ve had very good stretches where we’ve played really well. But we’ve also had stretches where we’ve given up plays or haven’t made plays and things like that. That’s what leads to a record like that.”

Quarterback Matthew Stafford told a few reporters gathered at his locker Tuesday that the difference between 10-6 and 6-10 in this league can be just a few plays here or there.

If the Lions hope to get back into the NFC Playoff hunt, they’ll need to start making a few more of those plays and get on some kind of run to end the season. That begins today against the 9-1 Texans at Ford Field.

“We’re thinking about the Houston Texans and that’s plenty for us to think about right now,” Schwartz said. “They’re coming in with the best record in the NFL and a defense that plays good, an offense that plays good and good players on both sides of the ball. So that’s enough of a challenge for us.”

These two teams have met only twice since Houston came into the league as an expansion team in 2002. Both teams won their home game in the series. The Lions won the first meeting, 28-16, at Ford Field in 2004. The Texans took the most resent matchup at Reliant Stadium in Houston in 2008, 28-21.


Record 4-6 9-1
Points per game 23.6 (15) 29.3 (3)
Total yards per game 401.7 (2) 382.9 (6)
Rushing yards 99.9 (23) 136.7 (23)
Passing yards 301.8 (1) 246.2 (12)
Points allowed 24.6 (23) 18.0 (4)
Total yards allowed 328.1 (10) 299.2 (4)
Rushing yards allowed 114.1 (16) 85.6 (2)
Passing yards allowed 214.0 (8) 213.6 (7)
Turnover ratio -7 (26t) +8 (7)



Riley Reiff, T:

The Lions’ first-round pick will likely make the start at left tackle for the injured Jeff Backus (hamstring), who is doubtful. Reiff replaced Backus in the second quarter last week and was responsible for two holding penalties (one declined) and three quarterback pressures. He'll need to be better against a tough Texans defensive front.

Mike Thomas, WR:

The Lions traded for Thomas a few weeks ago before their game with Jacksonville. He’s been learning the offense since then and the Lions have been learning what he can do, too. With receiver Titus Young already ruled ineligible for disciplinary reasons, look for Thomas’ role to increase today and for offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to try and get Thomas the ball in space.

Louis Delmas, S:

The Lions have listed Delmas as questionable, but I’m guessing he plays after returning to practice for the first time in nearly a month (knee) this week. The Lions are 2-1 in the three games Delmas has started this year and they need the heart and sole of that defense on the field against a very good Texans team.


Matt Schaub, QB:

The Texans are aiming for their first 10-1 start in team history and could get there if Schaub continues his recent play. Schaub is 4-0 on road this year and is coming off a 527-yard performance last week against the Jaguars. Over his past 14 games, Schaub is 13-1 with 23 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a quarterback rating of 99.7.

Andre Johnson, WR:

Johnson posted a career-best 273 receiving yards last week and now has eight career games with at least 10 catches and 150 receiving yards, third most behind Jerry Rice (10) and Tim Brown (9). Johnson is averaging 117.8 yards per game this season and needs 130 to record his sixth 1,000-yard season.

J.J. Watt, DE:

Watt is one of the best young pass rushers in the league. In only his second season, Watt has 11.5 sacks and 11 passes defended through 10 games. He has six sacks with the past five on road.

“He fits their scheme very well,” Schwartz said of Watt. “He’s a hybrid guy. You know, we always talk about hybrid corner safeties and the multi-dimensional players. He truly is. He plays defensive end in the 3-4, he plays defensive tackle in their even front. They move him around a little bit.”

When opportunity knocks

The Texans have shown a lot of single-high safety looks on film, and if they come out with some of the same looks today, the Lions have to be ready to take their shots.

Stafford is always willing and able to throw the ball downfield when the opportunity presents itself. The Lion have opened two games this year by taking longs shots to Calvin Johnson. Stafford and Johnson have also hooked up for plays of 50+ yards in two straight games.

Of course, what teams show the Lions on film and what they actually do to start the game are two different things a lot of times. The Texans struggled to defend the pass against a bad Jacksonville team last week, allowing touchdown passes of 67 and 81 yards.

Will they live on the wild side with only minimal help over the top for a second-straight week?

Contain the ground game

The Texans are going to run the football, that much is clear. They’ve run 698 plays this year and 50.1 percent of them have been on the ground.

They’re zone blocking scheme fits the personnel they have both from a lineman and running back standpoint. The Texans are committed to the run. Knowing that, the Lions can live with the small runs all game. The key for them is to contain the big one. Both Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch busted loose for big runs that hurt them.

The Texans average under 4.0 yards per carry (3.9), so containing the long runs and putting them in longer third-down situations will go a long way to helping the Lions come out with a win today.

Keep the pocket clean

Whether it’s actual pressure or perceived pressure, Stafford hasn’t looked comfortable in the pocket over the last two Lions losses. He’s been quick to get out of the pocket – maybe sometimes too quick – and has been a little sloppy with his mechanics.

Keeping a nice pocket for Stafford to deliver the football comfortably could be a tough task this week. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus will see a lot of Watt and Conner Barwin should keep Reiff busy on the other side, too.

The Texans have 27 sacks on the season, eighth-most in the NFL.

Third down offense

The Lions were 20-for-28 on third down during a two-game win streak over Seattle and Jacksonville a couple weeks ago.

They’re 7-for-24 in their last two games, both losses to the Vikings and Packers.


The Lions have to be better on third down and keeping drives alive, especially against a potent rushing attack like the Texans have. They'll need to keep the ball away from the Texans, so their best defense might just be a good offensive performance.

It won’t be easy, though. The Texans have the leagues No. 1 defense on third down, allowing opponents a first down just 25.6 percent of the time.

Defend the tight end

Head coach Gary Kubiak calls the plays for the Texans and he likes to use a lot of two tight end sets with Owen Daniels and Garret Graham, who are both good receivers and good on-line blockers.

Against Jacksonville last week, Graham had eight catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns. Daniels finished with six receptions for 57 yards. The two have combined for eight touchdowns this season.

Daniels has been working with Schaub for the last six seasons and both Daniels and Johnson are Schaub’s favorite targets.

The Lions allowed a big game by Packers tight end Jermichael Finley last week (66 yards and touchdown) and have allowed six touchdowns to tight ends this year.