The Lions are in Tampa Bay today for a key conference matchup against the NFC South leading Buccaneers (3-1). The Lions are looking for their fourth straight win and trying to stay perfect on the road early in the season.
Here are five things to watch out for later today in this contest:
1. INJURY REPORT
The Lions are going to be without a few key players today as running back Jahmyr Gibbs (hamstring), defensive back Brian Branch (ankle), guard Jonah Jackson (ankle) and tight end James Mitchell (hamstring) have all been ruled out after missing practice all week.
Tight end Sam LaPorta has been dealing with a calf strain that flared up Wednesday and kept him out of practice Thursday, but he returned to practice Friday and said the in the locker room after practice the plan is to play. He's was officially listed as questionable.
If LaPorta is active it will be the first time we'll get to see him, slot receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and outside speedster Jameson Williams on the field together. Can Williams' speed open things up even more for St. Brown and LaPorta? If the Buccaneers focus on LaPorta and St. Brown, could that open up some one-on-one shots to Williams? It will be fun to see how the Lions scheme those three on the field together and how the Bucs counter defensively.
2. CAN OFFENSE STAY HOT?
Detroit's offense currently ranks fourth in the NFL in points scored (29.6), sixth in total offense (384.4), seventh in rushing (141.0) and ninth in passing (243.4). The 19 touchdowns scored by the Lions through the first five games of the season are the second most in team history and they're currently on a 14-game streak of scoring at least 20 points.
Tampa Bay's defense is playing pretty good ball right now. They play an aggressive brand of ball under head coach Todd Bowles. The Bucs rank eighth in the league in points allowed (17.0), they are the No. 2 defense in red zone efficiency (27.3 percent) and they have the league's fourth highest blitz percentage at 38.8 percent. Tampa Bay has stars at every level of their defense, and this will be the toughest test for Detroit's offense so far this season.
3. GROUND AND POUND
One way to neutralize a stingy and aggressive defense is to get things rolling offensively on the ground. That will be job No. 1 for coordinator Ben Johnson and the Lions' offense. David Montgomery has been terrific to start his Lions career with 371 rushing yards (4.2 avg.) and six touchdowns in just four games played. He's the first player in team history with a touchdown in each of his first four games with the team.
Montgomery ranks third in most missed tackles forced (24 percent), and that will be big today against two really good Tampa Bay linebackers in Devin White and Lavonte David. The Bucs' defense ranks in the top 10 in the NFL against the run, allowing on average 94.8 yards per game to opponents on the ground. Can Montgomery make it three straight games with at least 100 rushing yards and a touchdown? If he does, the Lions have a great shot at winning their third straight on the road.
4. DYNAMIC DUO
Two very important matchups for the Lions' defense in this contest will be cornerbacks Cam Sutton and Jerry Jacobs against the dynamic Bucs receiving duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Evans (1,124) and Godwin (1,023) were one of just five sets of receivers in the NFL last season to both eclipse 1,000 receiving yards. Evans has 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first nine seasons in the league.
This season, both players have over 20-plus receptions and 250-plus receiving yards, making them just the seventh duo this season that can claim that. Quarterback Baker Mayfield leans on both players heavily, especially on third down, where Mayfield leads the NFL in completion percentage (79.5 percent) and third-down passer rating (140.7). No other Bucs pass catcher has 100 receiving yards on the season. This is a big matchup this week for both Sutton and Jacobs. Jacobs is looking for his third straight game with an interception.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, October 12, 2023.
5. FORCING MISTAKES
Mayfield is playing some really good football to begin the season. He's a big reason why the Bucs are 3-1 and leading the NFC South. He has seven touchdown passes to just two interceptions with a 101.5 passer rating. The Bucs like to shift the pocket and get him outside the tackles where he can make plays with his arm and his legs. He's been sacked just four times all season. Mayfield will look to make big plays in the passing game, and he trusts Evans and Godwin to come down with 50-50 balls.
Detroit's defense has done a good job all year limiting the big plays and they've been stellar against the run (68.4 rushing yards allowed per game). They also lead the NFL with 118 total pressures (per PFF), which will be key for them in this game. Can they speed up Mayfield's clock, get him on the run and force him to make mistakes? Winning the turnover battle is a great way to steal a win on the road in the NFL.