Enemy Profile: Lions

December 7 – Buccaneer Magazine has scouted Tampa Bay's next opponent of the 2001 regular season-the 0–11 Detroit Lions. Which player matchup will be the one to watch? What did the Bucs players have to say about their next opponent? Want a prediction and some interesting tidbits? Find out what to expect when the Bucs and Lions clash on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

OPPONENT: Detroit Lions

WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida

SPREAD: Bucs by 9

WHERE THE LIONS STAND:: 0-11 Record. The Lions are in last place in the NFC Central Division.

HEAD COACH: Marty Mornhinweg (0-1 vs. Bucs head coach Tony Dungy).

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Marty Mornhinweg

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Vince Tobin

SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Chuck Priefer

MATCHUP TO WATCH: BUCS FB MIKE ALSTOTT vs. MLB CHRIS CLAIBORNE : The A-Train carried a struggling running game this season. Alstott is averaging 3.8 yards per carry and has scored seven touchdowns on the ground. But offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen has abandoned Alstott in the running game too early at times this season. Alstott averaged 6.0 yards per carry against Detroit in Week 8. The Bucs want to establish the run against the Lions and Alstott is their best bet. Claiborne leads the Lions defense in tackles this season with 82. Claiborne anchors the middle of Detroit's defense, which is not very good this season, but has played better as of late.

HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL:

OFFENSE: OVERALL: 22nd RUSHING: 29th PASSING: 11th

DEFENSE: OVERALL: 9th RUSHING: 12th PASSING: 5th

HOW THE LIONS RANK IN THE NFL:

OFFENSE: OVERALL: 12th RUSHING: 30th PASSING:4th

DEFENSE: OVERALL: 26th RUSHING: 24th PASSING: 22nd

LIONS OFFENSE WILL NOW RELY ON ROOKIE QB MIKE McMAHON: Detroit QB Charlie Batch sustained a shoulder injury last Sunday against Chicago, which has sidelined him 4-6 weeks. So, the Lions have opted to start rookie QB Mike McMahon against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. McMahon, who was a fifth-round draft selection out of Rutgers University, has completed 15-of-34 passes for 147 yards in spot duty this season. But on Thanksgiving, McMahon showed potential by nearly rallying the winless Lions past the Packers. While McMahon will likely struggle to pass on Tampa Bay's defense, he does possess speed and elusiveness. McMahon will likely pull the ball down and run with it often. Tampa Bay's defense has had mixed results against scrambling quarterbacks this season, but they're surely licking their chops at the opportunity to face a rookie quarterback in Ray-Jay.

BUCS OFFENSIVE LINE WOES: Tampa Bay's offensive line has been inconsistent this season. They have allowed QB Brad Johnson to be sacked 40 times in 11 games. In Week 8, the Bucs offensive line gave Johnson a substantial amount of time to throw and only allowed him to get sacked twice. The Pewter Pirates O-line will also have to improve their run blocking. The Bucs rushing attack is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry this season.

BUCS WANT TO GET THE JOB DUNN: Tampa Bay dominated Detroit in Week 8, but only managed to win 20-17. Bucs RB Warrick Dunn was not a big factor in the running game, but he was in the passing game. Bucs QB Brad Johnson found Dunn through the air five times for 60 yards. Dunn matches up well against Detroit's linebackers and should be considered a serious receiving threat in the passing game.

BUCS DEFENSE NEEDS TO SACK McMAHON: Detroit's offensive line has been less than stellar this season. They have allowed 45 sacks this season and they have not provided their quarterbacks much time to throw. Tampa Bay's defensive line has improved since the beginning of the season. The Bucs defense has totaled 27 sacks, and DT Warren Sapp and DE Simeon Rice are tied with five each. Sapp recorded two sacks against Detroit in Week 8 while Rice recorded one. McMahon will be tempted to run with the ball early, but if the Bucs defense can get to him and rattle him early, he may start to hesitate.

BUCS MUST STOP STEWART Lions RB James Stewart has battled injuries this season, but has still managed to average 4.8 yards per carry. Stewart has rushed 93 times for 446 yards and scored just one touchdown. Detroit has fallen behind their opponents so early in games earlier this season that they were forced to abandon their running game. The Bucs defense held the Lions to just 52 yards rushing in Week 8, but that was without Stewart in the backfield. The Lions will likely rely more on Stewart against the Bucs this Sunday since QB Ty Detmer will be starting. If Tampa Bay's defense can contain Stewart, they will stand a great chance of halting the Lions offense.

BUCS SOUND OFF ON THEIR UPCOMING OPPONENT
Bucs DT Anthony McFarland on his impressions of the Lions: "They're a good football team," said McFarland. "They just haven't been getting the breaks. When you don't get breaks, it's tough to win. But their last eight games have been real close. It keeps coming down to a play here and a play there. We got to make sure we're on top of our game."

McFarland on facing a rookie QB in Mike McMahon: "Some times you do, sometimes you don't (lick your chops)," said McFarland. "You have to worry about him back there. You realize he's a bit mobile and he's going to be moving around back there. So, that's a challenge in itself."

McFarland on stopping RB James Stewart and Co.: "It doesn't matter if we're playing St. Louis, Detroit or any other team in this league," sand McFarland. "Our emphasis will always be on stopping the run."

McFarland on Tampa Bay's defensive performance in Week 8 "We've been able to rush them pretty good," said McFarland. "We've got to go out and do it again. In this league, it's not what you did last game, it's what you're going to do in this game."

Bucs TE Todd Yoder on possibly being the starting TE for the Bucs in place of Dave Moore: "I hope so, if I get in there," said Yoder. "We'll have to see how the game plan and everything works out. I won't really know that until Sunday."

Bucs QB Brad Johnson on their passing game and running game "I think we're doing some good things in the passing game," said Johnson. "We're completing a high percentage of passes. We're throwing for over 200 yards per game. I think we're doing some good things in the passing game. But obviously, we have to get the running game going."

Bucs LB Derrick Brooks on facing RB James Stewart: "We've got to stop the run," said Brooks. "They didn't have James Stewart last time, but they're going to have him back there to try and get the running game going. We've got to stop him and then put pressure on the quarterback."

Brooks on the Bucs' need to contain Mike McMahon: "He's an athletic guy," said Brooks. "He's a scrambler and makes some plays. We have to contain him and get turnovers. If we can do all those things, we increase our chances of winning."

Brooks when asked how the Bucs can measure themselves against the 0-11 Lions: "Go out and win," said Brooks. "That's the only way you can measure yourself against any team in this league. They're the next team on the schedule and we need another Central Division win. We have another opportunity to sweep another NFC Central opponent. We've got to focus in on those things and not so much on what Detroit's record is."

Bucs SS John Lynch on what the defense might do differently against the Lions rookie QB "We stick to what we do," said Lynch. "We'll try to disguise our coverages a little more and throw some different looks at him, but our philosophy is about us and what we do. I don't think we need a completely different game plan to confuse him. But within our schemes, I think we'll do some little things."

Lynch on the Lions being a good football team "We have enough motivation in our season right now," said Lynch. "Every game has so much importance. We can't overlook anybody. We have a great amount of respect for these guys. If you watch them every week, they're in every football game."

Lynch on the Bucs playing at home for the first time in three weeks "We're disappointed that we haven't done as well at home as we expect out of ourselves," said Lynch. "Just because we're at home doesn't mean we're going to win. But it's certainly an advantage."

Bucs CB Brian Kelly on the Lions having nothing to lose: "They're a dangerous team," said Kelly. "They can go for it on fourth down and 11 and everything like that. They have nothing to lose and they're out there to win that game. We've got to guard against that, but I don't think we'll have to guard against having a let down."

Kelly on the importance of getting to QB Mike McMahon early on Sunday: "It's important," said Kelly. "He's young, but he's played a lot. He's come in a rotated with Batch a lot and he's got a lot of plays under his belt. He's definitely going to know how to play in the NFL. It's not like we're catching a guy off of the street. We want to get after him early, but that's what we want to do every week."

Head coach Tony Dungy on Lions DE Robert Porcher: "Robert Porcher is having a great year for them," said Dungy. "He's putting pressure on the quarterback and playing very hard. I think their front seven is the key because they put a lot of pressure on people."

Dungy on whether or not he thinks the Lions will play conservative because they are playing a rookie QB:"I think they'll play their game," said Dungy. "I think that's the way those West Coast offensive people call the game. I don't think they'll pull it in and play conservative."

Dungy on the importance of putting teams away when they have the opportunity: "The fourth quarter of games is kind of like December football," said Dungy. "That's when you have to be at your best. You don't want good teams to have a chance to beat you. We gave St. Louis three chances with 7:00 left in the fourth quarter. That's usually not going to be good for you. We're going to have to be better in that aspect and start putting people away."

Dungy on his impressions of rookie QB Mike McMahon: "We haven't seen a lot of McMahon," said Dungy. "They're doing more stuff with him outside the pocket. They've got designed running plays for him and designed rollouts and bootlegs. He seems to have a strong arm."

FLYNN'S FINAL: Once again, Tampa Bay has little room for error. The Detroit Lions are still desperately searching for their first win, which makes them just as dangerous as any team Tampa Bay has faced this season.

The Pewter Pirates had plenty of opportunities to put Detroit away in Week 8, but lacked a killer instinct. It almost came back to bite the Bucs, and they can't afford to leave a team desperately trying to avoid going 0-16 hanging around. The Lions have played better football than their record would suggest. Detroit has lost their last four games by a total of 15 points.

It will be important for the Buccaneers to jump up on the Lions early and score touchdowns, not field goals. The Lions are giving up an average of nearly 28 points per game this season. But Tampa Bay's defense will need to create some scoring opportunities for their offense since Detroit's defense has improved since they last faced each other.

Tampa Bay's defensive line was able to pressure and rattle QB Charlie Batch in Week 8, and they will need to do the same to rookie QB Mike McMahon at Ray-Jay. The Bucs front four has a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of a weak Lions offensive line.

Playing at home bolds well for the Bucs, but Tampa Bay has shown they are mortal at home. They have lost two games at Raymond James Stadium this season. The Bucs have lost a total of three regular season games to NFC Central Division opponents since Ray-Jay opened in 1998. The Lions have won two of those games (1998, 2000), but they are 0-6 on the road this season. Detroit knows their season is pretty much over and they would love nothing more than to bring their NFC Central Divisional opponent down with them. This will be the last time the Bucs and Lions play each other while the Pewter Pirates are members of the NFC Central Division. The Bucs need to go out with a bang.

FLYNN'S PICK: Bucs 24 Lions 10


Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com

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