There is little doubt Sunday is a massive matchup for Detroit.
For momentum purposes, the Lions can’t afford to go 1-3 in October, no matter how light their November and December schedule looks. For playoff purposes in a tight division, every game is critical as the Bears and Packers are keeping pace.
And considering the Lions don’t play again until mid-November due to an off week, sitting around on back-to-back losses for two weeks is not a desirable feeling.
So how does Detroit make sure it wins Sunday? Here are four keys.
Have the line sorted: Detroit’s offensive line has done a good job protecting Matthew Stafford this season and while it looks as if Riley Reiff will play at left tackle on Sunday against Dallas, right tackle is still somewhat of a mystery. Corey Hilliard is out Sunday, so then it comes down to the starter in the first game of the season, Jason Fox, or rookie LaAdrian Waddle, who played both left and right tackle in his first real action Sunday against Cincinnati.
“Players deal with it, coaches deal with it all the time,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “Everyone has varying degrees of health, particularly in the middle of an NFL season. That’s where we are and that’s probably where the Dallas Cowboys are, also. There’s ways to be able to handle guys being limited in some roles.”
Detroit handled some of it by signing veteran tackle Barry Richardson to give some depth to the line, but it’ll be interesting to see how the Lions handle their tackles Sunday.
Get more pressure: The Lions have predicated a lot of their defensive success on the pressure the front four, led by tackle Ndamukong Suh, has been able to get. Even if it doesn’t result in actual statistics, the pressure has forced opponents to make mistakes -- most notably interceptions in the hands of linebackers DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch throughout the season.
“You look at us, part of the thing with getting pressure is creating turnovers and that’s something in our three losses, we’ve only had one takeaway and that’s something they can help us with,” Schwartz said. “Whether they are getting sacks or not, we saw a lot of examples early in the season where they didn’t necessarily get the sack but they were able to get enough pressure or affect the passing game enough that they forced some mistakes.
“If we’re doing that, you don’t have to look at sacks and things like that to know they are effective.”
Over the past three weeks, Detroit has only disrupted 15 drop-backs, 20th in the NFL, and 12.9 percent of drop-backs opponents have taken -- in the bottom 10 of the league. The Lions do have four sacks, though.
Force turnovers: As Schwartz mentioned above, the key to Detroit winning games is forcing turnovers and stopping opposing possessions. It sounds simplistic -- truthfully, it’s fairly obvious -- but the Lions have forced one turnover combined in their three losses and at least one turnover a game in their four wins.
“That’s the key to the game and we didn’t get any,” Schwartz said. “That’s what you have to do. If you’re going to give up an 80-yard touchdown pass, you better come back and take the ball away.
“For whatever reason, we’ve lost that edge. We need to regain it quickly, both in interceptions and fumbles.”
Detroit actually had a forced fumble returned for a touchdown Sunday against Cincinnati, but it was nullified because of an offside call.
Throw a lot: This won’t be an issue for Detroit, but the Cowboys are 30th in the league in passing yards per game at 291.86 yards a game. While the Lions will have to be concerned about Michigan native Brandon Carr, who will likely draw the matchup on Calvin Johnson, this should be a place for the Lions to exploit. And when Detroit’s passing game is working, that usually leads to more success for the Lions, who have built so much of their offense on being able to throw deep to Johnson and short to Reggie Bush.