Lions-Titans clashing storylines to watch
With only three of their first nine games at home, the Detroit Lions hit the road again this week, taking on the Tennessee Titans Sunday at LP Field in Nashville.
Here are five storylines to follow:
1. Good teams bounce back from losses. You’ve already seen that with championship-caliber clubs such as Green Bay and the New York Giants.
The Lions are coming off their first loss, last week at San Francisco, making this game that much more important for their playoff hopes.
It’s a definite winnable road game considering the current state of the Titans.
“We’ll find out what kind of team we are real fast this Sunday,” Lions center Dominic Raiola said. “I’m looking forward to that.”
Detroit was 3-2 following a loss during the regular season last year, beating Denver, Carolina and Minnesota, and losing to Atlanta and New Orleans.
2. The Lions’ offensive game plan has been under fire this week.
With defenses doing everything they can to take away Calvin Johnson and Detroit’s high-powered downfield passing game, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan believes they have to prove they can run the ball.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of success running the football this year,” Linehan said.
The benefits would be significant, both short and long term. It would force defenses to play them more honest, which in turn would help open up more passing opportunities. And by controlling the ball with the run, the Lions can keep their defense off the field to hide a beat-up secondary.
In a copycat league, most opponents are likely to take the same approach as San Francisco did: Dare the Lions to run by keeping the safeties deep, and don’t change until they do.
The difference this week is that the Titans don't have the 49ers' defensive personnel. The Lions also should get a boost with the addition of running back Mikel Leshoure.
3. The joke when coach Jim Schwartz took the Lions’ job was that he was trying to make it Tennessee North.
Schwartz, four of his assistant coaches, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and Kyle Vanden Bosch were all previously with the Titans. This is their first game back there as Lions.
Asked whether he still has strong ties to Tennessee, Schwartz joked, “I lived there for 10 years. I’m not the friendliest guy in the world, but my wife has a lot of friends.”
Tulloch said he wasn’t sure exactly what to expect facing the team that gave him his start. But he expects to “turn it up just a little bit more,” he said.
Like Tulloch, Vanden Bosch insisted there were no hard feelings in leaving Tennessee to come to Detroit as free agents.
“I had a great time there, I wouldn’t change it, but I was meant to be here (in Detroit),” Vanden Bosch said.
4. Officials, ideally, are noticed very little.
But the NFL’s replacements have been getting more and more negative reviews. Sadly, they’ve become the focus of nearly every game.
The highest level most had previously worked was small-college games.
“I believe the game’s just moving real fast for a lot of the guys,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of like coming from college to the league (for players). Things are moving a lot faster. Hopefully, they will get up to speed with the game. I’m not discrediting these guys. They’re doing the best they can.”
5. In a 16-game schedule, there’s a big difference between 1-2 and 0-3, both on paper and in a team’s mindset.
The Titans, who won nine games a year ago, are likely to be a desperate bunch after getting blown out the first two weeks.
Chris Johnson, who rushed for 2,006 yards three years ago, is averaging 1.1 yards per carry (21 yards on 19 carries).
The defense is giving up 403 yards a game, tied for 25th in the NFL. The point differential of minus-24.5 is dead last.
A trap for the Lions?
“We have to definitely be careful,” Detroit cornerback Chris Houston said. “Those are teams that are clawing and scratching and fighting the hardest, the ones that are 0-2.”
Lions tight end Tony Schefler is officially listed as doubtful for Sunday after suffering a calf injury in the last game. Scheffler hasn't practiced all week.
Jacob Lacey (toe) is questionable while Chris Houston (ankle) and Bill Bentley (concussion) are both probable. All three are cornerbacks.
For the Titans, former Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin (foot) and former Michigan State running back Javon Ringer (elbow) are questionable.