Five things to watch as Lions limp into contest against Tampa Bay

ALLEN PARK — Ndamukong Suh returns to Ford Field on Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Detroit Lions.

It’s kind of an interesting angle to a game between two lower-echelon NFL teams. The Lions (3-9-1) have lost six straight while Tampa Bay (6-7) has won its last three.

Suh, who left the Lions after the 2014 season, isn’t the biggest threat on the Bucs’ defensive line. That honor goes to Shaq Barrett who has 15 sacks this season compared to 1.5 for Suh. It doesn’t mean Suh is ineffective — his work doesn’t always show up in the stat line but he’s a presence that can’t be overlooked.

“He’s one of the dominant players in the NFL, and I look forward to playing against him,’’ Lions quarterback David Blough said. “I know a lot of the guys (know) he was here and a great player while he was here, and we’ll have our hands full, but we trust our guys, too. So it’ll be a good opportunity for us to block him up and try to throw the ball.”

Five other things to watch:

1. Don’t sleep on the Bucs who started the season 3-7. They’ve won three straight (over Falcons, Jaguars, Colts). “We’ve started to win some close games that we lost earlier in the year because I don’t know if we thought we could actually win them,’’ Bucs coach Bruce Arians said on a conference call. “I think they’re learning how to win.”

2. Quarterback Jameis Winston may be turnover prone with 23 interceptions, but he’s passed for 29 touchdowns this season. “So we have to make sure that we get (touchdowns) stopped first and then just capitalize on those opportunities if we get any of them from that standpoint,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “Certainly, we always work on the fundamentals with that stuff, whether it’s the ball out on the ground, how do we recover it? Are there bodies around? Is it an open space? When the ball is up in the air, high-pointing the ball, how we’re going to catch it, kind of some of those different details of the fundamentals of trying to turn the ball over. Certainly, our first and foremost job will be trying to prevent those big plays that they are hitting downfield.” 

3.  The Bucs own the third-best offense in the NFL, averaging 392.8 yards per game. With Tampa’s Mike Evans likely out, the Lions catch a break but Chris Godwin is the leading receiver with 1,212 yards and nine touchdowns. Tampa averages 298.2 passing yards per game, second in the NFL. Bucs’ running backs Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones could give the Lions’ defense headaches. Between the two of them, the have 11 rushing touchdowns so far. “They’re explosive, and we know that. We trust our guys to put us in a good position on offense, and the offense will be ready to do our part too,’’ Blough said. “I feel like we let our defense down last week. We’ll be ready to go that’s for sure.”

4. David Blough should be feeling more comfortable in his third start. “I think it’s something you get in a routine of. I was Matthew’s (Stafford) and then Jeff’s (Driskel) backup, you know, you prepare the same way every week, so that’s kind of what I try to take in,’’ Blough said. “I try to do the things Matthew did and Jeff did. You just have to lead, be yourself, be genuine, and the guys follow. It’s been great to have their support and them lifting me up and trusting me. I’m learning along the way.”

5. Another game without Stafford, but he’s not the only key player out with injuries. Linebacker Jarrad Davis, guard Joe Dahl, right tackle Rick Wagner and defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson are out. Da’Shawn Hand and Marv Jones Jr. were placed on injured reserve this week. The Lions have been beat up physically. It’s time for the younger guys to show what they have.

PREDICTION: Bucs 31, Lions 17 (The Lions’ players need a win to help morale, just not sure they’ll find a way to get it done.)

Five things to watch as Detroit Lions host the Los Angeles Rams

Ndamukong Suh makes first return visit to Ford Field

A young coach, a balanced offense with a solid quarterback and a defensive line featuring Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. The combination has spelled success for the Los Angeles Rams and why wouldn’t it? Any NFL team would like to have some or most of those components.

That includes the Detroit Lions (4-7) who will host the Rams (10-1) on Sunday.

“They’re a very balanced offense and I think something we talk about all the time, that when you can be balanced on offense, it’s very difficult to defend and they’ve done a great job of that all year,’’ coach Matt Patricia said.

The Lions will have their hands full in all three phases.

“One of the things that’s really important with this team is just understanding how good they are on special teams and how good they are defensively. I think John Fassel does a phenomenal job on special teams. It’s one of the most dominant units in the league,’’ Patricia said. “They’re very consistent and they really make big plays.’’

Five things to watch:

1. Somehow, some way the Lions must get their run game going even without running back Kerryon Johnson who will miss his second straight game with a knee injury. LeGarrette Blount was the workhorse in the Thanksgiving loss to the Bears with 19 carries for 88 yards. “I think for our guys, we’re always on the program of whoever’s out there playing, we’re expecting everybody to do their best and go out and perform at a high level. We’ll do the same this weekend,’’ Patricia said.

2. Can’t overlook the Lions’ passing game either. Marvin Jones is out for the season, leaving Kenny Golladay, Bruce Ellington, TJ Jones, Theo Riddick  and the tight ends to pitch in. Matthew Stafford needs a better game, but he also needs his receivers to get open and run the right routes. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said the shortcomings on offense are all on him. “It’s a team game. We have 11 guys out there. We all have to execute and be on the same page. A lot of that stuff’s on me. You guys at home don’t always know exactly what’s going on on the field. I’m accountable for everything that happens on this offense. Bad things that happen, things that don’t happen right, whether it’s a decision or being in a different spot, or some sort of decision somebody out there on the field is making that maybe isn’t even seen on the TV copy of the game. That stuff’s all on me,’’ Cooter said this week.

3. Stop running back Todd Gurley, the NFL’s second most prolific back. The Lions run defense has been one of the few units that has improved this season, holding teams to a total of 148 rushing yards combined over the last three games. (See blog below.)

4. Pressure quarterback Jared Goff (26 touchdowns, 6 interceptions) who has been sacked 24 times. He’s got a flotilla of solid receivers in Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. “They’re a very explosive team. They do a great job with the scheme. Coach (Sean) McVay does an outstanding job of controlling the game on the offensive side of the ball with tempo. They use different tempos, they probably have about three or four different tempos that they can use offensively to dictate the game. So, we just have to do a good job of being really sound fundamentally and making sure that we’re doing a good job with our reads and our eye control.

5. Ndamukong Suh will return for his first game at Ford Field since he signed as a free agent with Miami in 2015. He and defensive tackle Aaron Donald are a powerful inside force that could present problems for the Lions’ offensive line and Stafford.

PREDICTION: Rams 35, Lions 17