For the second straight week the Detroit Lions are hosting a playoff game at Ford Field, this time against the No. 4 seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. It's a rematch of a Week 6 matchup in Tampa Bay that Detroit won 20-6.
With a win this afternoon, the Lions will play in the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 1991 in San Francisco against the No. 1 seed 49ers. The 49ers beat the Packers Saturday night in the other NFC Divisional matchup.
Here are five things to watch out for in this afternoon's matchup:
1. HANDLE THE BLITZ
Tampa Bay head coach Todd Bowles plays an aggressive style of defense that saw the Bucs' defense blitz 40.1 percent of the time this season, which ranked third highest in the NFL behind only Minnesota (51.5) and the New York Giants (45.4). It helped produce 48 sacks, which were seventh most in the NFL.
Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said this week he has a secret weapon against the blitz – center Frank Ragnow.
"We put a lot on his plate, both run-game and pass-game, so he does a great job getting fronts identified for the rest of the offensive line and in the protection game with the running backs and the tight ends," Johnson said. "So, he really is a key cog in what we do and I can't say enough good things about him. Experienced player that's seen a lot of football, and even when we get un-scouted looks, he can find a solution for us more times than not."
The Lions ranked fourth in the NFL this season in STATS INC.'s "Protection Index," which is a statistic that measures offensive line play using different statistical elements like passing attempts and yards (excluding yards after the catch), sacks, quarterback knockdowns, hurries and penalties, including holding and false starts. The 31 sacks they allowed this year were the fourth fewest. They ranked fifth best in quarterback hurries allowed.
2. REINFORCEMENTS AVAILABLE
Both the Lions and Bucs will have some players back in the lineup this week that didn't play in the first matchup Week 6.
Some of the names for the Lions are pretty significant, including running back Jahmyr Gibbs, left guard Jonah Jackson, nickel cornerback Brian Branch, safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, defensive lineman Josh Paschal and edge rusher James Houston. It should also be noted that running back David Montgomery left the game early in the second quarter after just six carries due to a rib injury.
That's a lot of production on both sides of the ball the Lions didn't have the first time around. How much might getting those key contributors back make a difference this afternoon?
3. BALANCE ON OFFENSE
We mentioned the Lions playing without Gibbs and losing Montgomery early in that first Bucs matchup and the result was Detroit rushing for a season-low 40 yards on 22 carries for a 1.8-yard average per run.
The great thing about Detroit's offense, however, is they can beat teams in a multitude of ways and in Week 6 it was quarterback Jared Goff and the passing game. Goff threw for 353 yards and two touchdowns on 44 attempts. Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams had touchdown catches in the contest.
With Gibbs back and Montgomery healthy the Lions will want to establish the run and play more balanced football this time around, which is when they are at their best on offense. Detroit comes in with the league's fifth best rushing offense this season at 135.9 yards per game.
Even with Gibbs and Montgomery it will be no easy task running against the Bucs' defense. They held the Eagles to just 42 rushing yards on 15 carries (2.8 avg.) in last week's Wild Card win and ranked fifth in the NFL this season stopping the run (95.3).
4. WEAPONS AT RECEIVER
The Bucs have a dynamic duo at wide receiver in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Both players accounted for 1,000 receiving yards this season, the third straight year they've each reached the 1,000-yard mark. They are one of three sets of teammates to go over 1,000 yards in the past two seasons and the only duo to do so the past three seasons.
If there's one area the Lions have struggled this season it's with their pass defense. They ranked 27th in that department this year, allowing on average 247.4 yards per game through the air, but over their last four games that's ballooned to a 379.8-yard average per game.
In the first matchup, Godwin caught six of seven targets for 77 yards. Evans was held to just four receptions on 10 targets for 49 yards. Neither found the end zone. It was a nice job by defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and the Lions secondary.
Tight end Cade Otton, running back Rachaad White and wide receiver Trey Palmer are also very capable pass catchers with 150 receptions, 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns between them.
5. THE ENVIRONMENT
Lions players and coaches have challenged the Ford Field faithful to top the environment and noise level they produced in last week's Wild Card win over Los Angeles. No easy task, but one Lions fans will surely be up for.
Last Sunday night was electric. The decibel level reached 133.6 at one point, the fourth highest ever recorded in an NFL stadium. Detroit can do better than fourth best, right? The noise played a factor in the game. The Rams had to burn two timeouts early in the second half to avoid delay of game penalties. That proved critical in the final two minutes with the Lions able to take three kneeldowns to run out the clock.
"Just talking to some of those Rams guys, they said it was the loudest thing they've ever heard," Mayfield told Tampa Bay reporters this week. "We've got to be completely ready for that. It just comes down to everybody knowing exactly what our game plan is – all the calls to and from, because there could be certain times where they can't hear certain things.
"Just everybody doing the mental work to get prepped for that, but it shouldn't be a surprise for us. It's going to be a great atmosphere."
With a chance to go the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco next week, expect the Ford Field faithful to do their part to help the Lions win.