It's time for yet another Thanksgiving Super Bowl in Detroit, as the Lions, now with little to play for, kick off another traditional holiday game against the Houston Texans. Would it kill these schedule makers to give the Lions a break? Every year, they seem to draw football's cream of the crop for the turkey day game, and are rendered as useful as cold appetizers by the third quarter. One of these times, however, the Lions are sure to surprise a top team on Thanksgiving Day with an inspired effort.
This year might not be the year for that, however. The Texans are the NFL's top team and are blowing their way through the competition with a complete effort on both sides of the ball. For the Lions, this is a very uncommon opponent, thus we'll scout them more in-depth today.
Texans' Offensive Difference Maker: Arian Foster. No question, Houston's running game is the engine which drives the offense. Matt Schaub is a prolific passer, Andre Johnson can haul in the touchdowns and deep passes and Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels can keep the chains moving, but all of that is set up first by Foster's physical, punishing running. Perhaps not since Walter Payton or Earl Campbell has there been a runner that can stay upright so well and deliver punishing blows to a defense. The Lions haven't been great at stopping the run the past few seasons, and were worked over at times by Green Bay on the ground. It will take an impassioned team effort to stall Foster at all. Often times, he's simply going to get his yardage and touchdowns. The key will be to get plenty of bodies on Foster when he reaches the line, forcing him to earn those yards and perhaps wear down.
Texans' Defensive Difference Maker: J.J. Watt. If Detroit's offensive line struggled to contain the Green Bay Packers minus Clay Matthews, Matthew Stafford could be in big trouble Thursday afternoon with Watt roaming free. He's got 11.5 sacks on the season and makes huge plays which change the momentum of games. The Lions must be careful to keep the ball away from Watt and try desperately to limit his defensive impact. There's no longer any mystery to what Detroit wants to do on offense, which means Watt is likely primed to tee off on Stafford.
Texans' Major Problem: A bored mindset. Right now, Houston has the most complete team in the NFL and they're in prime position in the AFC. The only thing threatening to hold them back is their own dominance. Against lowly Jacksonville, a team the Lions destroyed a few weeks back, the Texans had to fight back to force overtime where they eventually won. There wasn't any reason for this to happen, and perhaps the event served as a wakeup call heading into a short week. If the Texans let teams hang around, eventually, they're going to get burned more.
Texans' Major Strength: Team defense. Looking at the numbers, there aren't many cracks within Houston's defense that the Lions can exploit. They play great against the pass (8th overall) even better against the run (3rd overall) and limit teams from converting on third down better than any other team in the NFL. Wade Phillips's group plays excellent together, shutting off some of the better offenses they've played this season, with the notable exception of the Packers. Plenty of things will have to go right for the Lions while plenty more things will need to go horribly wrong for the Texans if Detroit is to pull the upset.
Biggest Intangible: Detroit's "Thanksgiving game is the Super Bowl" mentality. For years, the Thanksgiving Day game has been described as the Lions' version of the Super Bowl or playoff game. This year, with things slipping away a bit in the playoff race, that looks to be the case again. Outside the Detroit locker room, nobody will give the Lions a chance to win at all. However, with a short week to prepare and Houston coming off a tough fight against Jacksonville, there's around a 10 percent chance of an upset actually occurring. Most of this revolves around the Lions excitement, as they should be motivated to play better in spite of Sunday's tough loss.
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