Five things to watch as Lions face Ravens

Starts with playing a better first quarter

ALLEN PARK — When the Lions last played at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium in 2009, it was a miserable day — cold and pouring rain. It was a homecoming of sorts for then-Lions coach Jim Schwartz. It ended with a 48-3 loss.

A few things have changed since that miserable day including the Lions GM, coach and most of the roster. Daunte Culpepper (two interceptions) was the starting quarterback while rookie Matthew Stafford was on injured reserve.

Sunday’s game is crucial in the Lions’ chances for a wildcard playoff berth. At 6-5, Detroit has won three of its last four and owns a  4-1 record on the road.

Five things to watch on Sunday:

1. The last three games they’ve been behind in the first quarter 10-0, 10-0 and 13-0. They’ve won two of those but on Thanksgiving they could not come back against the Vikings. It’s a concern but there is no magic solution. “We’ve turned the ball over a little bit too much early in the game from multiple factors. We do that better, we’re going to be better offensively and definitely better as a team not putting our defense in tough spots. So, that’s the major point of emphasis for us, it’s protecting the ball early,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said Thursday.

2. It’s a broken record but it’s important. The run game ranks 30th in the NFL averaging 78.3 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. Ameer Abdullah (neck) did not practice on Wednesday and Thursday but was back at work on Friday. It’s uncertain if he’ll play on Sunday. If Abdullah is out that would give Theo Riddick more carries and Zach Zenner will have more chances. “We’ve seen improvement from him, he’s really working hard at it,’’ Cooter said of Riddick. “And it is our job to evaluate all those guys and sort of figure out who should get what amount of plays in the game, and carries, and all that stuff, sort of how each guy’s game looks like.’’

3. Now that he’s been back for three games, look for Kenny Golladay to possibly get more balls thrown his way. The rookie is a big-play wide receiver who can stretch the field. “A lot of different stats you can throw around in the league, but creating explosive plays is one of those sort of major offensive successful — leads to successful, leads to wins,’’ Cooter said. “Kenny plays a part in that thing, he does a nice job creating those big plays. Whether it’s just sort of a go-route down the field where he goes up and makes the play, sometimes it’s sort of crossing route type things where he’s crossing the field. He’s a talented young player, he’s getting better at a lot of different things. He’s learning a lot this year, we’re going to keep him moving forward and I believe he’s going to keep helping our team win games.”

4. The Ravens run game must be stopped. This has been a big issue the past three weeks when the Lions defense has allowed a combined 559 yards. That’s an average of a whopping 186 yards per game. Alex Collins (4.9 yards per carry) and Terrance West (3.5 ppc) lead the way for the Ravens’ run game. “(Collins) is always trying to make the extra yards. Got really good vision. But I think really when you look at it up front, they do a good job in terms of they have big people in the interior line. They block you. The tight ends are good blockers,’’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said.

5. Matthew Stafford had an off game on Thanksgiving. He rolled his ankle late in the game and it did impact his play. He’s fully healthy and has practiced at full speed all week. The quarterback play is not the concern of this offense, but he needs to be better than against the Vikings. If the Lions could ever establish a run game, Stafford’s game would automatically improve.

PREDICTION: Lions 27, Ravens 17

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Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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