The Lions are in Carolina today taking on the Panthers in hopes of improving their record to .500 on the year to keep pace with the teams in the NFC playoff picture. Detroit's pretty banged up heading into this one, with 15 players showing up on the injury report this week. That's life in the NFL though, and the Lions will be looking for players to step and help them get a much needed road win.
Here are five things to watch out for today:
Rookie running back D’Andre Swift suffered a concussion this week and won't be available today. That means veterans Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson are expected to see increased roles. Peterson had taken a backseat to Swift in recent weeks as the Lions have featured more of their dynamic rookie back.
But without Swift, expect Peterson to once again take the bulk of the early down carries with Johnson still playing a role on third down and potentially mixing in on some early downs as well. The Lions will miss Swift, no-doubt, but Peterson and Johnson have shown they are very capable of making plays.
A thumb injury on the throwing hand is a tricky one for a quarterback. Of all the five digits, it's usually the one quarterbacks hate to hurt the most. It affects grip and velocity, and pain tolerance could be a factor for Matthew Stafford as well.
The good news is Stafford's dealt with injuries to his throwing hand before. He knows what to expect. The fact that he was able to mix into practice this week and get some reps is good for the Lions. He was listed as questionable for today's matchup.
Stafford's about as tough as they come at the position, so if he's able to go, we'll just have to wait and see if the thumb and the brace designed for his hand affect his throwing ability at all.
Carolina is dealing with an injury to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who practiced in limited fashion this week due to a knee injury and was listed as questionable to play today on Friday's injury report.
It would be a huge loss for the Panthers if Bridgewater can't suit up. He's second in the NFL in completion percentage at 72 percent. Carolina head coach Matt Rhule called Bridgewater the heart and soul of their offense this week.
If Bridgewater does play, how much will the knee injury hamper him? He's very good at moving in the pocket and creating time for his skill weapons to get down the field in the passing game. If the knee limits him at all in that regard, it will be a blow to the Panthers' offense.
WHO STEPS UP?
No Swift. No Kenny Golladay. No Danny Amendola. Stafford is questionable. It's a banged up Detroit offense today, and Darrell Bevell and co. will be looking for other players to take advantage of the opportunity to step up and fill the void.
This could be a week the Lions really look to get the ball to tight end T.J. Hockenson, who had just two catches for 13 yards last week. Hockenson was coming off back-to-back eight and 10 target contests against Indy and Minnesota. He was targeted four times last week. I expect him to be more involved today.
Wide receivers Marvin Jones Jr. and Marvin Hall will need to continue to play well, and the team elevated veteran Mohamed Sanu to the active roster from the practice squad Saturday. Sanu has 404 career receptions for 4,516 yards and 26 touchdowns. Lions head coach Matt Patricia said this week Sanu has been impressive in practice up to this point.
Detroit's defense has taken its fair share of criticism this year. Detroit's 29th in scoring defense (29.7), 27th in overall defense (400.0), 30th against the run (141.6) and 24th against the pass (258.4). That unit has given up multiple leads in contests this year, and just hasn't found a way to consistently make the plays to help win more games.
When Detroit has stopped the run on defense this year they've won games, so that's task No. 1 today. That task was made a little easier with Carolina ruling out Christian McCaffrey. Next up is to limit big plays. Carolina is top five in the NFL in overall explosive plays and top six in 20-plus-yard completions. They've got skill guys to get down the field and make plays.
As explosive as Carolina has been at times on offense, the Panthers have lost five straight and are also dealing with injuries on offense. This is an opportunity for the Lions' defense to step up and play consistently for 60 minutes, help out a banged up Detroit offense, and play a big role in helping this team get back to .500.