Five questions going into Thursdayís game
Five questions going into Thursdayís game
1. Will the defense rebound from the bad performance against Jacksonville?
Letís get something straight right off. The defense didnít play badly. The secondary was terrible ó at least until late in the fourth quarter and overtime. So will the defensive backs rebound? They canít play much worse, can they? They were so out of sync against the Jaguars. I think theyíve had a serious meeting and will rebound against the Lions. The difference is that Matthew Stafford is a better passer than Chad Henne and wants to atone for a bad game in Sundayís loss to Green Bay.
2. If the Texans canít stop Jacksonville rookie Justin Blackmon, how in the world are they going to stop Megatron?
Blackmon may never have another game like he did Sunday. He benefited from poor coverage and a collision on an 81-yard touchdown. Calvin Johnson may be the premier receiver in the NFL. He has 65 catches for 1,117 yards. But Detroit has lost six games this season with Johnson, so the Lions are capable of losing to the Texans. Johnson has to be double-teamed. The smart strategy so far is to keep two safeties deep to keep Johnson from running open down the field. The problem is he outjumps so many defenders. The Texans are splendid against the run, so itís going to come down to Matthew Stafford throwing for the Lions.
3. Will Gary Kubiak let Matt Schaub throw more after the Jacksonville game, or will he return to his ball-control philosophy?
You asked about Calvin Johnson. If the Texans control the ball, which they do better than any other team in the league, Johnson gets fewer opportunities. He canít hurt them on the bench. The Lions know Kubiak will give the ball to Arian Foster at least 25 times if the game is close. Theyíll want to stop him with seven defenders. They donít want to have to play eight in the box to stop the running game. I look for Justin Forsett to be effective on the artificial surface. He has 20- and 30-yard runs in the last two games. He can give Foster a breather. I think Schaub will throw a lot early because Kubiak likes to get his quarterback into a rhythm and then revert to the run. Itís more fun to watch the Texans throw a lot out of their no-huddle offense, but they do that when theyíre desperate. Unfortunately.
4. What kind of trouble will the Texans be in if Johnathan Joseph canít play?
Well, letís see: Pro Bowl cornerback replaced by Alan Ball. No offense to Ball, but heís no Joseph. Joseph probably should rest. If he were to play and make the hamstring injury worse, the secondary could be devastated. Ball has done a terrific job on special teams. He leads the team in tackles. He has broken up a few passes and looked good doing it. He struggled in preseason. Now he seems more confident. No matter whoís on the field, including Joseph, he better have a safety helping on Calvin Johnson, because we know heís going deep and Matthew Stafford will throw to him as much as possible.
5. We donít hear about Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh like we did his first couple of seasons in the NFL. With J.J. Watt being the dominant defensive lineman in the league, what do you expect from them?
Suh had a great rookie season, but then he got a lot of attention for what many perceived as dirty play. He hasnít been in the news as much. He can still dominate, but the Lions have a losing record, and their defense hasnít dominated as the coaches hoped it would. The national TV cameras offer the ideal situation for Suh to have a breakout game and show Watt whoís still the boss of defensive linemen. On the other hand, Watt has family and friends at the game. He can be typically terrific with a sack, deflection, a couple of tackles for loss and a couple of quarterback hits ó not to mention being so good against the run ó and hardly anyone notices. Unfortunately for defensive linemen, thereís one stat that stands out, and Wattís 11.5 sacks arenít too shabby. But he has got to keep it up.
Texans players to watch
Kareem Jackson, cornerback
Jackson had been enjoying a superb season. Then came the Jaguars. Jackson played so bad he looked like a rookie. Now Jackson needs to bounce back and prove the Jacksonville game was a mirage, a one-time thing.
Duane Brown, left tackle
Brown will be going against veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch, a physical player well-known for dirty tactics. Brown knows how to use his hands when a pass rusher is using a lot of moves. But in this game, heís got to keep his cool, too.
Lions players to watch
Dominic Raiola, center
The 12-year veteran was asked about defensive end J.J. Watt. His response to Watt was to ďbring it.Ē Raiola will be blocking nose tackles Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell. When Watt moves inside, Raiola will provide a double-team.
Riley Reiff, left tackle
The rookie first-round pick is under pressure because heís expected to replace Jeff Backus, who has started 186 games. Backus has a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice. Reiff must block Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin.