Keys to the Game Answered: Detroit
By Nick Wagoner/Senior Writer
Posted 2 hours ago


1. Protection Priority

THE SITUATION: Not that protecting the quarterback is ever an optional thing in football but for the Rams to have success against the Lions this week; they’re going to have to be up to the challenge of ensuring that quarterback Sam Bradford stays upright for the majority of the game.

The Lions’ defensive numbers rank them 26th in the league in total defense, allowing 375.5 yards per game. But where they have stood out is in rushing the passer, particularly with the four down linemen.

As a team, the Lions have 13 sacks with 11 of those coming from defensive linemen. Leading the way is rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who has registered three sacks in his first four NFL games.

Suh is joined by ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril as well as fellow tackles Corey Williams and Sammie Hill.

“I think their front is very good,” Bradford said. “But they cause a lot of problems with what they do up front. They’re able to put pressure on the quarterback. I think they force some guys to makes some hurried throws, quick decisions and they’ve been able to cause some turnovers, so we’re going to have to be very prepared for this defense.”

Ensuring Bradford has time to throw and there’s running room for back Steven Jackson are always imperative but it’s even more important this week because if the Lions don’t have to blitz as much as other teams, they can provide more help on the back end.

THE ANSWER: Bradford was only sacked once and he was just run out of bounds for a loss of 2 yards. But the Lions created some pressure and forced Bradford to let go of some throws earlier than he’d prefer.

2. Turnover Torrent

THE SITUATION: For as long as the game has been around, the idea of takeaways is that they often come in bunches. You get a few and more are sure to follow.

For the Rams this year, that has certainly been the case as they have racked up 10 takeaways in the first four games with no less than two in any of those contests.

On the flip side, the Lions have turned the ball over 11 times with four fumbles lost and seven interceptions.

Making matters worse, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz says is his team’s penchant for turning the ball over when it’s in position to put points on the board. He says the Lions have cost themselves points on at least five occasions with turnovers either in the red zone or at least in field goal range.

Against a Rams team that has been particularly stingy when opponents get on their side of the field that can be a dangerous proposition.

THE ANSWER: For the first time this season, the Rams faced a pronounced deficit on the turnover front. They had three turnovers, including a fumble inside Detroit’s 10 and a pick-six by Lions CB Alphonso Smith. And for the first time this year, the Rams did not come up with any takeaways.

3. Mistake Free

THE SITUATION: While Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo has been pleased with his team’s effort in recent weeks, he often has pointed to a few areas where the Rams can improve. At the top of that list is penalties, where the Rams have committed the 10th most errors in the league with 27 infractions for 272 yards.

But for as many problems as the Rams have had in that area, the Lions have had even more. Detroit is tied for first in the league in penalties, accruing 37 of them for 260 yards in the first four contests.

“(We) kept shooting ourselves in the foot with avoidable penalties, minor setbacks,” Detroit wideout Calvin Johnson said after the Lions fell to Green Bay last week. “(We kept) putting ourselves in bad positions.”

It seems like a simple thing but for the Rams to go on the road to get a win, they will need to avoid those penalties, especially costly ones that give up big chunks of yards.

THE ANSWER: The Rams had some costly penalties, particularly early in the game and finished with seven for 40 yards. The Lions had plenty of their own with 11 for 78 yards to more than even it out, though.

4. Monitoring Megatron

THE SITUATION: Last year, the Rams were able to avoid Lions receiver Calvin Johnson who missed the game because of injury.

This year, they won’t be so fortunate.

“Calvin Johnson is probably physically the most imposing wide receiver in the NFL,” cornerback Ron Bartell said. “When you are talking height, weight, speed, there is nobody like him. It’s something I am looking forward to. He’s 6’5, 240 pounds and runs a 4.3, I don’t think there’s too many guys in the league that can do that. So that alone sets him apart.”

Johnson has a reputation for making the big play but hasn’t been able to hit on many of those yet this season. Through four games, he has 20 catches for 237 yards and three touchdowns with a long of 23.

Bartell will likely draw the assignment for most of the day though Bradley Fletcher has proved capable in the first month as well.

Regardless, the Rams will make it a priority to not let Johnson beat them.

THE ANSWER: Johnson didn’t have a huge, signature game but he was certainly effective enough, coming down with four catches for 54 yards and a touchdown and opening things up underneath for Detroit’s other wideouts to work.

5. Bringing Down Best

THE SITUATION: Lions running back Jahvid Best has been one of the league’s most electrifying play makers in his rookie season and has a penchant for hitting on big plays.

Although Best is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry on 50 attempts, he’s proved even more dangerous in the passing game where he has 21 catches for 217 yards with a touchdown.

The Rams run defense made strides last week against Seattle but will need to be mindful of Best catching the ball out of the backfield as well.

“He makes that cut at the line of scrimmage, makes you miss, and then he can get to the second level really quick,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s a speed guy. We knew that when we evaluated him coming out of college.”

THE ANSWER: The Rams did a solid job containing Best in the running game as he carried 18 times for an average of just 3.7 yards per attempt. He did add four catches for 37 yards, though to finish with more than 100 yards of total offense.