It wouldn't be Thanksgiving around Michigan without turkey, stuffing and some Detroit Lions' football as the appetizer. For the 78th season, the Lions welcome an opponent to celebrate a holiday of thanks in Detroit. This season, the top team in the AFC just happens to be on the docket in the Houston Texans. For a team with plenty of injuries coming off a crushing loss, winning this game will be a very tall order.
However, for Detroit, this is the Super Bowl and that's why they play the games. How might the Lions make the holiday happy and pull a massive upset for their fans? Here's five things to watch as you enjoy food and family.
1. The Offensive Line Without Jeff Backus. The NFL's version of iron man might finally be slowed on Thanksgiving Day. Backus left Sunday's game against Green Bay without being able to put much pressure on his leg thanks to a hamstring injury. Thus, he's listed as doubtful for the start, which means rookie Riley Reiff will be thrust into action again. In his limited time against the Packers, Reiff didn't exactly show well at left tackle, getting taken to school on the edge and incurring a few penalties. This lends some definite concern for a Thanksgiving match up with J.J. Watt and Houston's tough defensive line. Somehow, the Lions are going to have to keep Matthew Stafford upright and give him enough time to make plays down the field. To minimize the effect of a dinged up line, the screen game and quick outside passes could be used.
2. The Wide Receivers Without Titus Young. This group likely won't miss their lost member Young as much as the line will miss Backus, given they've achieved most of their big plays without him this season. Who, though, will step up and assert themselves? Will it be newcomer Mike Thomas, still assimilating to the team after last month's trade? Might Ryan Broyles be primed for another breakout performance? Will tight ends' Brandon Pettigrew or Tony Scheffler finally step up and find the end zone? No matter who it is, someone other than Calvin Johnson is going to have to burn the Texans on Thursday. Johnson can't do it alone, especially if Houston's top rated pass defense is choking him out.
3. Will Detroit's Defensive Line Keep Dominating? Perhaps the best thing about Sunday's loss was the play of the Lions' defensive line, in particular Nick Fairley. For most of the day, Fairley looked unblockable, and Detroit's big men hassled Aaron Rodgers in the pocket. To have any success against Matt Schaub's passing game, the same thing must happen Thursday. The Lions are going to have to get a few more sacks and perhaps force Schaub into fumbling or making a few bad interceptions. This might be the most important factor in the Lions pulling out a win.
4. Can The Lions Slow Arian Foster? Again, the word "stop" is not operative when describing a defensive effort against Foster, seeing as he's good enough to get his yards and touchdowns no matter how much attention is affixed. Instead, the Lions must try their best to hold their own against the punishing back and slow him down. The more times they can hit Foster when he carries and the more bodies they can pack to the ball, the better Detroit's chances of wearing down the workhorse, which might lead to his lack of effectiveness late in a close game. It's the best thing the Lions can hope for against perhaps the premiere running back in the NFL.
5. Who'll Be The Hero? Sunday's loss against Green Bay was crushing, but it was also four days ago. Now, the opportunity exists for the Lions to get the bitterness of that game washed away with their first Thanksgiving win since 2003. Which player is going to step up and deliver the performance needed to get the Lions over the hump on the national stage? There are plenty of options, and quite frankly, it's time for a Detroit player to be seen nibbling on some of Phil Simms' mama's famous pie at the of the game.Arian Foster, Detroit, Detroit Lions, Football, Jeff Backus, Matt Schaub, Matthew Stafford, NFL, Riley Reiff, Titus Young