An inter-conference game, for a 1-1 football team in the third week of the season can hardly be considered a must-win contest. However, the Detroit Lions are faced with an important matchup with the Tennessee Titans at LP Field this Sunday.
A loss knocks the Lions below .500 and could come back to haunt the team in December, when the NFC playoff race figures to be crowded.
On the flip side, a win enables the Lions to host the Minnesota Vikings in a week with the prospect of heading into the bye with a respectable 3-1 record.
This is not a must-win rather, it's a should-win.
Now, this week's keys to victory:
Shut Down Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson has been effectively neutralized thus far in 2012, averaging only 1.1 yards per carry on 19 runs.
Still, Johnson has the ability to be a game changer. Last season, Johnson struggled mightily at times but still managed to finish with over 1,000 yards rushing. He had four games where he rushed for over 100 yards, three of which surpassed 130 yards.
The best way to keep Johnson at bay is to simply take the ball out of his hands. If the Lions can put an early lead on the board and force the Titans to throw, Johnson's role will diminish and the advantage will go to the Lions defense.
Attack the Secondary
The Titans have allowed roughly 250 passing yards over the first two weeks of the season. These numbers don't jump off the page but the play of the Titans secondary would indicate the opportunity for the Lions vertical passing game to have a big day.
Cornerbacks Ryan Mouton (plays safety and nickel) and Jason McCourty (plays left cornerback) have not played well to start the season with safety Michael Griffin offering little in coverage situations.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford and Co. needs to exploit the Titans deficiencies in the defensive backfield to alleviate some of the pressure on their own defense.
Contain Kamerion Wimbley
Wimbley was probably the Titans most important offseason acquisition and has provided a strong pass rush for the team – with no issues getting acclimated to the Titans' 4-3 defense.
Wimbley was expected to play a hybrid role with the Titans but early on he's spent the majority of his time rushing from the defensive end position. He's registered a sack and 11 hurries so far and will spend most of the afternoon matched up with Lions' left tackle Jeff Backus.
Backus has had a strong start to the season and has held his ground against some talented pass rushers. In order for the Lions to threaten down the field with deep passes, Backus will need to prove he can continue to hold up against talented edge rushers.
Pressure Jake Locker
The Locker era has begun in Tennessee.
The early results are mixed for the former eighth overall selection. Locker has led his team to two losses but has managed a respectable 77.6 rating in his first two starts of his career.
The majority of Locker's pass attempts are targeted in the middle of the field and don't travel very far in the air. The Lions need to win the battle in the interior line and attempt to take that away from the young quarterback.
In addition, the Lions need to get their blitz on track this week as Locker has thrown both of his interceptions while under pressure and seems to struggle mightily when he's forced to throw early.