Three Keys to Victory: Week 1 vs. Detroit Lions

1. CB play has to be solid- Calvin “Megatron” Johnson led the Lions over the Bucs last season with a 10 catch, 152 yard performance, keeping the Bucs out of the playoffs.

The announcement that Bucs CB Aqib Talib won’t be suspended in 2011 is comforting considering Johnson’s dominance took reign over Talib’s replacement, E.J. Biggers, last year. The addition of Talib, who recorded six INTs in his eleven games last season, gives Bucs fans reasons to believe that Calvin Johnson’s impact will be diminished, making this year’s Lions matchup different from last year’s. Bucs fans shouldn’t assume though. Talib HAS to play better against vertical routes in order for the Bucs to impede the impact of which Johnson is capable. You can’t ignore that Calvin Johnson is one of the best receivers in the game and is only getting better as he enters the peak of his career; thus, no matter who is out on the field covering him, they must bring their A-game for the always-dangerous Johnson.

Let’s not forget about the Lions second wide receiver Nate Burleson. Burleson has been targeted more than any other WR for the Lions this preseason, scoring a TD in his first three preseason games as well. Johnson and Burleson – with a now healthy Matt Stafford (who went 12-14, 200 yds., and 2 TDs in a half preseason week 3) – are capable of exploiting any secondary in the league if they bring their A-game. Having said that, the Bucs’ cornerbacks need to be solid in order to prevent the Lions WRs from opening up the flood gates on Sunday.

2.The offensive line has to neutralize the Lions’ potentially devastating defensive line- The Bucs offensive line has been disappointing this preseason; no one, starters and backups, has been exceptional to the poor play up-front.

As seen in the preseason game against the Patriots, the Lions defensive line can change the entire course of a game, blanking Tom Brady and the mighty Patriots’ first-string offense single-handedly as a unit. The interior defensive line is anchored by Ndamukong Suh, who as a rookie last year recorded ten sacks and represented the NFC in the Pro Bowl.

The veteran of the defensive line is Kyle Vanden-Bosch, who flashed signs of his gloried Titans days before being sidelined to injury for five games. The defensive lineman that is least recognizable is DE Cliff Avril. You better get to know him, though. In 28 starts over the first three years of his career, Avril has had 19 sacks, including 8.5 last year. Avril will look to keep that sack total climbing as he enters a contract year in 2011.

This defensive line is freakishly talented, and the Bucs offensive line has been the biggest question mark this preseason. If the Bucs want to kick start any offensive production, whether it be a solid running game with LeGarrette Blount or an aerial passing attack with Josh Freeman, the offensive line must prevent these monsters from causing havoc and disrupting plays before they start. This matchup is the biggest concern for Bucs fans due to the fact that dominance by this lone Lions unit could conceivably shut down the Bucs entire offense since, as we all know, battles are won and lost in the trenches.

3. Josh Freeman MUST be sharp- In 2010, the Bucs scratched and clawed their way into positions that gave Josh Freeman the opportunity to win ball games. He did just that, leading the Bucs to fourth quarter comebacks in five of the team’s ten wins last season. Even the year before, when the Bucs recorded a 3-13 record, Freeman had two game-winning drives to seal a victory when it was up for grabs.

A lot of hype surrounds the third-year QB as he looks to improve upon an impressive sophomore campaign; Freeman ended 2010 as hot as any QB in the league, throwing for 734 yards, eight touchdowns, and ZERO interceptions in his last three starts of last season.

All of this praise makes it sound like Freeman’s success should be a give-in; why is an un-sharp Freeman even suggested in these keys to victory since his prowess seems so automatic? The answer lies in the last two preseason games in which he played (weeks two and three). Freeman was uncharacteristically throwing off of his back foot and forcing some throws that would have wisely been thrown away in 2010.

Josh Freeman has to be smart with his throws and be the reliable leader of the Bucs offense if they want to have any shot of starting off the season 1-0. He has to be a consistent rock for the young Buccaneers to lean on, like in 2010, if the Bucs want to piece together a successful season. A lack of consistency and production from Freeman is the biggest nightmare a Bucs’ fan could have; hopefully, we won’t experience said nightmare this Sunday.