The Detroit Lions got a major break when the NFL reversed Ndamukong Suh’s suspension. They now will have their best defensive player on the field to face the Dallas Cowboys. So what do the Lions need to do in order to beat the Cowboys and win their first playoff game since 1991? Below are my keys to a Detroit Lions victory.
- The top concern is stopping the run. The Dallas Cowboys have one of the best offensive lines in football and their running back DeMarco Murry is having a career year. If the Cowboys have the ability to run the ball at will against the Lions defense, it will be a long day for Lions fans. With Suh, the Lions run defense has been spectacular. With him off the field for rest, they have been pedestrian at stopping the run. Suh and the defensive line need to get off their blocks, stop Murry before he gets his yards, and force Tony Romo to beat the Lions with his arm.
- The offense needs to minimize mistakes. Matthew Stafford did a good job of protecting the football against Green Bay. He was terrible when looking at his numbers or the offense’s efficiency, but he was only credited with one turnover, which was Joique Bell‘s fumbled hand off. If everyone on offense protects the football and does not turn it over, Detroit has a good chance at winning this game. Mistakes seem to do them in each week that they lose.
- No special team blunders. Detroit’s special teams has made some major mistakes the past few weeks, and those mistakes led to Detroit’s loss at Green Bay. They were not the sole reason for the loss, but definitely a contributing factor. Sam Martin needs to be better on his kickoffs and punts to limit return attempts and not kick the ball out of bounds on a kickoff. The coverage team needs to come to play. They cant let Dallas return the football on them like Micah Hyde did last week. They need to convert their field goals. They are playing in doors against Dallas meaning great field conditions for Matt Prater.
- Calvin Johnson needs to be huge. The Detroit Lions beat the Cowboys last year, and Calvin Johnson was a primary factor in that win. Johnson finished the game with over 300 yards receiving and could not be stopped even in double coverage. Johnson has not been the same dominant force this season as he was last season. It would be foolish to expect him to have another 300 yard game against Dallas. It is possible though that we see another 150 yard game from him as we saw two of those in recent weeks. Detroit plays better indoor and in warm weather than they do in cold weather. Given that this is an indoor game, Johnson should be able to get going early, which in turn will open up room for Golden Tate and Reggie Bush.
The Detroit Lions defense has been very good this season. They have shut down or heavily limited good passing offenses. Their run defense has been best in the NFL all season with last week being their only bad game. Eddie Lacy’s production was based more on broken tackles than on open holes. The Lions should be able to limit Murry’s broken tackles and contain him. The concern comes in when discussing the Cowboys offensive line. If they are as good as advertised, they will be able to give Murray some holes and limit the pressure on Romo. Defensive line pressure is a must for the Detroit defense but sacks will be hard to come by. As we saw last season, Scott Linehan’s offense can be very productive when all things are clicking together. Dallas has seen that success all season with a good run game and solid pass blocking. Detroit saw the same last season when Bush ran for over 1000 yards and Bell ran for 500. Stafford was one of the fewest sacked quarterbacks last season as well. When you look at the similarities between Detroit last year and Dallas this year, the blueprint to winning against Dallas is the same as it was to beating Detroit last year.
Detroit comes into this game with the advantage of having a great defense as their strength to combat Dallas’ explosive offense. They have a history of beating Dallas, usually in comeback wins, which they have plenty of this season as well. Dallas is 4-4 at home this season, which shows they are beatable. If Dallas’ defense allows Detroit’s offense to break out, Detroit could be looking at their first playoff win since 1991.