Bucco Bruce and the Bucs return to action this weekend
The Bucs (+3) are coming off of their bye week with a 3-1 record not many media members expected. The Detroit Lions (-3) now come to town boasting an impressive 4-1 record and the Bucs are looking to make a statement as Bucco Bruce and the creamsicles finally return to Tampa Bay.
To preview the matchup, we spoke with Ryan Mathews of Pride of Detroit to get more insight on the Lions.
1. The Lions have been one of the best teams in the league so far this season. What would you say is the biggest difference between this Lions team and the Lions teams of the previous 2-3 seasons?
Sorry, I’m taking every opportunity to soak in this moment of outright adulation for the Detroit Lions this season–it still feels surreal after a literal lifetime of disappointment and dysfunction.
Talent accumulation and the development of said talent has made all the difference with this football team. General manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell took over a roster so devoid of a cohesive vision, it required a full season in 2021 to dig themselves out of the hole left by the previous regime. Only 13 players from the 2020 roster are rostered today, and only four of them are starters (LT Taylor Decker, RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai, LG Jonah Jackson, and C Frank Ragnow). Say what you will about former general manager Bob Quinn, but he had a knack for scouting and identifying offensive line talent!
In 2022, the team was competitive in spurts, but didn’t really find their footing until their defense became a shade of average and their offense played the most mistake-free football I’ve ever seen in Detroit–just four turnovers over the team’s final 10 games helped spark the Lions’ 8-2 finish to last season.
This year, Detroit’s defense has improved in a way no one was anticipating, and even though the offense has been a little more loose with the football–six turnovers in five games–it hasn’t mattered because the defense ranks 8th in pass DVOA, 4th in run DVOA, and 3rd overall. The offense is still humming as the relationship between Jared Goff and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson have created an environment where Goff is thriving with more ownership and responsibility in the offense than he ever had during his time in Los Angeles.
2. David Montgomery has been huge thus far for the Lions rushing attack. What do you think is the biggest reason for their success on the ground?
David Montgomery has been a breakout player for the Lions this season, and after watching his performance against the Green Bay Packers in Week 4, it was clear how Montgomery’s style of play helped bring Holmes and Campbell’s vision for this team into focus.
Yes, looking at the box score, you see Montgomery averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in that game, but his eight missed tackles forced in Week 4 ranked second among running backs, and his nine first downs was the top mark. Along with the offensive line, Montgomery and the Lions rushing attack wore down a Packers defense that folded in the fourth quarter because they couldn’t handle the physicality of the game.
Montgomery always had the talent, but Chicago’s offensive line never provided much daylight for him in the run game. Albeit a small sample size through just four games, Montgomery is averaging 2.7 YBC through four games, the highest total in his career, and he feels like a player who is going to do even more damage as the season grows longer.
3. Detroit’s defense has had a really nice turnaround from a season ago. What would you say is the biggest reason for the defense being so improved?
Again, it’s a matter of talent development and the team’s approach to forcing opposing offenses into becoming one-dimensional with their commitment to stopping the run.
Aidan Hutchinson sure looked like he was going to be a really good player for this team after the finish to his rookie season last year, but he’s playing at an All-Pro level through five games. After hearing so much about Hutchinson’s relatively high floor in respect to his projection at the next level, to see him leading the league in quarterback pressures through five weeks into his sophomore season is a pleasant surprise. He’s also making incredible, game-altering plays, like his interception last week against the Carolina Panthers, and literally calling “game” against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3.
Alim McNeill, the team’s third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, has the second-best run defense grade (86.0) among interior defensive linemen. Derrick Barnes, one of Detroit’s fourth-round picks in the same draft as McNeill, ranks fifth among linebackers in the NFL in PFF’s run stop rate (13.1%). Brian Branch, although he won’t be playing in this game, ranks first among cornerbacks in PFF’s run stop rate (15.9%) and total run stops (7) despite missing last week against the Panthers.
Bottom line, it’s a lot of homegrown talent for the Lions making a difference for Detroit’s defense so far this year.
4. When looking at this game against Tampa Bay, what is the X-Factor matchup that you are going to be keeping your eye on?
With the return of Mike Evans to the lineup, it’s going to be interesting to see how cornerback Cam Sutton, this regime’s first splash signing in free agency this past offseason, steps up to challenge.
Sutton has been a steady player so far this year, and when you don’t hear too much of a cornerback’s name on game day, that’s usually a good thing–and that’s been the case for Sutton so far this year. He’s yet to make a play on the ball this year, however, and part of the appeal to Sutton’s game was his ball skills after recording eight pass breakups and three interceptions last season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If Detroit manages to stifle the Bucs’ rushing attack, Sutton is surely going to be tested by their passing game, so it’ll be something to keep an eye on this Sunday.
5. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Lions are 3-point road favorites in this one. Who do you like to take this game and what is your score prediction?
It’s going to be a close game, especially considering the Bucs being back at full health after the bye and the Lions with a laundry list of injuries. That’s no excuse, just the reality of the situation.
I don’t know if the Lions can cover that spread on the road, but I do think the total, currently set at 42 (-110) on DraftKings, is something I’d target by taking the over.
Thanks so much to Ryan for doing this!