Your Houston Texans have never played on Thanksgiving. Given the magnificent history that will be made tomorrow, it's only right that you get a magnificent edition of Pre-Game Recon to commemorate the occasion. That's where Sean Yuille, leader of the excellent site Pride of Detroit, comes in. He was kind enough to answer the questions I threw at him, and I fumbled my way through answering the queries Sean asked. Brace yourself for an onslaught of knowledge, and then read on.
1. So, no Titus Young on Thursday. How big of a deal is that in terms of what the Lions do on offense? Who will get Young's snaps, and how, if at all, will it affect what Detroit tries to do against the Texans' secondary?
POD: I see this as addition by subtraction. There's no doubt that Titus Young has the talent to be a great player, but he needs to change his attitude for that to happen in Detroit. The Lions couldn't take any more of his bad attitude or him constantly lining up incorrectly, so they benched him at the end of last Sunday's game. With them now deciding to make him inactive this week, rookie Ryan Broyles is set to step in and get more playing time. This is great news for the offense, as Broyles has shown that he's got great hands and can be a reliable target for Matthew Stafford. I don't think the Lions' game plan will be all that different, but I do think there will be more consistency on offense without Young being a distraction on game day.
2. After the success the Lions experienced last year, many fans were predicting continued improvement in 2012. There's still a lot of football left to be played, but 4-6 is 4-6. To what do you attribute the Lions' subpar record through 10 games?
POD: The amazing thing is that it hasn't been one specific unit bringing the Lions down this season. It's really been a collective failure. The offense is always inconsistent, and that starts with Matthew Stafford, whose accuracy has been an issue throughout the season. The offense always seemingly starts games slow, forcing them to make a comeback in the fourth quarter. Defensively, the Lions have been better than expected, but consistency is also a problem. The defense will play well for part of a game and then just collapse and give up a big play. Finally, the special teams can be blamed for two of the Lions' losses this season. This unit hasn't been an issue lately, but four return touchdowns over two games earlier this season were a big part of the Lions' awful start to 2012.
3. Realistically, you cannot stop Calvin Johnson; you can only hope to contain him. If you were in charge of scheming Houston's defense with an eye toward limiting Megatron's impact, what would you do?
POD: Quite simply, I would put two defenders on him and make the Lions beat me with someone else. Even two defenders aren't enough to defend Calvin Johnson at times, but it's really the best way to take him out of a game. He has really stepped it up while battling through injuries as of late, but Johnson did disappear from some games earlier this season, especially in the red zone. Teams will stick two guys on him, and Matthew Stafford has struggled to get the ball to his other options. It seems like Stafford is forced out of his comfort zone when Johnson isn't necessarily the best option to throw to, and it could result in him trying to force it or throw to guys much less capable of burning the defense.
4. Imagine you've just accepted a lucrative job with the Texans. Gary Kubiak sits you down, congratulates you on the gig, and gets down to brass tacks. "Sean, you know the Lions better than anyone. Tell me the three (3) things we need to do on Thursday to beat Detroit." You're an honorable man, and you aren't about to screw over your new boss. Put your love of the Lions aside and tell me how you'd answer your new boss' question.
POD: First and foremost, pressure Matthew Stafford. His pocket presence has not been very good this season, and more often than not he will run himself into a sack when there's pressure. He needs to do a better job of improvising when plays break down. Pressuring him not only could result in sacks, but turnovers as well.
Secondly, you need to make sure Calvin Johnson is contained. As mentioned previously, designing the coverages so two guys are keeping an eye on Johnson is probably the way to go, especially without Titus Young playing this week. The Lions have solid tight ends in Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew, but they have dropped a lot of passes this season. Beyond them, you have the rookie in Ryan Broyles to worry about and then a couple of guys who just joined the team in the last month or so (Mike Thomas and Brian Robiskie). If Johnson doesn't go off for a big day, I have a tough time imagining anybody else will, so make sure Megatron doesn't beat you.
Finally, test the Lions' secondary. Lions defensive backs have shown some promise at times this season, but injuries have really decimated the secondary. Cornerback Drayton Florence is likely out this week because of a concussion, and safety Amari Spievey is on IR for the same reason. Safety Louis Delmas may be back this week, and cornerback Chris Houston should play despite an ankle injury, but the Lions have shown they are vulnerable to giving up big plays. I would test them early and often on Thursday.
5. PUT YOUR NAME ON IT: The final score of Thursday's game will be Texans ___, Lions ___. When the regular season ends, the Lions' record will be ___-___, and they'll play in ___ playoff games.
POD: I just really don't like the direction the Lions are moving in, so I have a tough time imagining this will be the year they end their Thanksgiving losing streak. As a result, I have to go 34-24 Texans. The Lions will drop to 4-7 should they lose this game, and given how tough the rest of their schedule is, they are probably headed for a record of something like 7-9 at best. They will not be returning to the playoffs in 2012 unless they somehow manage to win at least five of their final six games, so I don't think the postseason is in their future this season.
Thanks again to Sean for taking the time. Make sure to check out Pride of Detroit to see what Lions fans have to say about tomorrow's contest and/or to add your two cents.