The Lions don’t mathematically need a win today to keep their playoff hopes alive, but after dropping three straight, and not looking particularly good in any area in the process, today’s game vs. Carolina is one the Lions very much need to win.
Today kicks off an important three-game stretch for Detroit. They play three NFC teams, all with winning records and all at Ford Field. This is the make it or break it stretch of games for the Lions coming up.
Here’s a look at five things to watch out for in today’s game vs. Carolina:
CAM I AM
The last two mobile quarterbacks the Lions have played – Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky – tore them up with both their arm and their legs. Wilson had a perfect passer rating of 158.3, and Trubisky was darn near perfect at 148.6
Carolina’s Cam Newton comes into this contest having thrown at least two touchdown passes in eight consecutive games. He’s also tallied a passer rating over 100.0 in four straight. His completion percentage of 68.5 percent is on pace for a new career high and franchise record. He also leads all quarterbacks with 352 rushing yards on the year.
Newton is going to make plays. He’s simply too good a player not to. The Lions just have to limit the big ones and make him earn everything he gets.
Matthew Stafford has been sacked 16 times over the last two games. That’s an entire offense statistic, not just one that belongs to the offensive line. As such, everyone on offense has to be better in that regard.
“Obviously offensively, I have to do a better job and we have to do a better job of protecting our quarterback through play-calling, scheme, execution, all those things,” Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said this week.
Individually, players upfront along the offensive line have to play better. That will help the collective group. Receivers have to do a better job of gaining separation and giving Stafford a target to throw to sooner. Stafford also has to get rid of the ball. He has hung onto it way too long on some of those sacks. He has to get the ball out faster.
Carolina’s 22 sacks on the season rank 21st in the league. Defensive end Mario Addison leads them with 7.5 sacks.
If trying to stop Newton is hard enough for Detroit’s defense, second-year Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey is proving to be the perfect complement to Newton’s skillset. McCaffrey has scored seven touchdowns in the past three games (four rushing and three receiving).
Carolina comes in ranked third in rushing (138.4 yards per game) with McCaffrey being a big reason why. He’s only the seventh player in NFL history to have 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in his first 25 games played.
The Lions were really good last week containing Chicago’s running backs from getting loose in both the run and passing game. They’ll need a similar effort this week against McCaffrey.
READY SET GO
Detroit fans want to be loud. They want to make Ford Field a true home field advantage for the Lions. But the Lions also have to give them something to cheer about early in the game.
Detroit’s fallen behind by double digits in the first half in each of their last three games. It’s forced the Lions to be one dimensional on offense in the second half, and allowed opposing defenses to pin their ears back and go after Stafford.
A fast start today would be a welcomed change from the last three weeks for Lions fans, especially those at Ford Field today. The Lions need to help Ford Field get rocking and use that to their advantage.
Carolina has just one loss when leading at the half since Week 10 of the 2016 season. With Newton, McCaffrey and a physical run game, Carolina isn’t the team to fall behind to.
The Lions were without Marvin Jones Jr. at practice this week because of a knee injury, and he’s already been ruled out of today’s game.
Already short at receiver after trading Golden Tate at the trade deadline, not having Jones puts a lot of stress on Detroit’s passing game. Jones’ five touchdowns lead the team, and he also has 35 receptions for 508 yards.
Without Jones, the Lions will have to rely on Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones, Bruce Ellington and Brandon Powell. Theo Riddick has been playing a lot in the slot, and could do so again today.