Five things to watch as Lions face Raiders

ALLEN PARK — It’s not really going to be too sentimental for the Detroit Lions to play their final game against the Raiders at Oakland Coliseum. 

It’s been eight years since the Lions’ last visit. On that day — Dec. 18, 2011 — Matthew Stafford threw a pair of touchdowns in the final 4:59 to beat the Raiders 28-27. 

Stafford and long snapper Don Muhlbach are the only holdovers from the 2011 Lions’ bunch.

Today at 4 p.m. the Lions (3-3-1) will face the Raiders (3-4).

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, running back Josh Jacobs and tight end Darren Waller will pose challenges for the Lions defense which is ranked 31st in the NFL allowing 420.4 yards per game.

“Coach (Jon) Gruden is doing a great job with (Raiders General Manager) Mike Mayock putting a team together that has a good combination of young, very talented, explosive players combined with some veterans that are pretty savvy vets that are experienced guys in the NFL that I think are really bringing these young guys along at a high level,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said.

If the Lions (3-3-1), coming off a win over the Giants, hope to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, finding a way to beat the Oakland Raiders (3-4) who have lost two straight.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford needs to continue his stellar play. The Lions quarterback was fighting off a cold midweek, could barely talk above a whisper on Wednesday, but said he’d be fine by Sunday. Stafford has thrown 16 touchdown passes against just four interceptions, completing 64.4 percent of his pass attempts. Every game another guy steps up whether it’s Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola, T.J. Hockenson or Kenny Golladay.  Raiders coach Jon Gruden has the utmost respect for Stafford. “I think the big thing that Matt does a great job of is he protects the offense at the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t get fooled often. If you blow a coverage, he shreds you. If he sees a blitz, he throws it to his hot receiver or he fixes it and changes the play,’’ Gruden said. “He’s sharp. His experience is very, very valuable to their success and, he plays with a really quick tempo. I mean he’s very fast mentally – forget about the arm talent, and all of the different plays and talented players they have – he’s just a very quick-minded player that doesn’t miss much.”

2. It would really help Stafford if the running game could do its part. It’s a tough challenge with Kerryon Johnson on injured reserve. That leaves Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic and Tra Carson (hamstring) who is questionable. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said the Raiders run defense has been solid.  “We’re going to need to be able to run the ball efficiently. They’re doing a great job up front. They’re not giving up explosive runs. They’re not giving up many yards,’’ Bevell said. “I think they’re one of the top in the league at doing that. So, I think that’s really where it starts for us, is to be able to find ways to run the football.”

3. Raiders running back Josh Jacobs could be a handful for the Lions’ rushing defense. Jacobs averages 5 yards per carry and has scored four rushing touchdowns. “Terrific player. Really, really powerful, breaks a lot of tackles. Makes a lot of yards you’d think he miss. A really stout, thick guy. They have a really, really nice core of running backs,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “Jalen Richards is really good out of the backfield, DeAndre Washington has got real speed. They present a lot of problems, they certainly do.” The Lions defense has allowed 130.7 rushing yards per game. 

4. The Lions’ secondary will be tested with quarterback Derek Carr who has completed 72.1 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. “He’s always been very accurate, and he’s always been able to get the ball out pretty quickly, but he just seems like he’s running the whole show. He seems very, very confident (and) very, very comfortable with it,’’ Pasqualoni said. “After a year in the system, he really looks on film to be very, very confident and playing very well.” Safety Tracy Walker (knee) is out so others will have to step up.

5. Finish the game like they did in 2011, if necessary. Last week in the 31-26 win over the Giants, the Lions scored what would be the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. Overall they’ve been outscored 70-44 in the fourth quarter of all seven games.

PREDICTION: Lions 31, Raiders 27. (Just a hunch, that somehow the Lions will pull this out. Should be close — no blowout expected.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

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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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