Five things to watch: Lions vs. Colts

Detroit News

Rod Beard
| The Detroit News

Two straight wins. Three straight road wins. A chance to get above .500.

The numbers are a little weird to process for a Lions team that last month looked to be on the road to another mediocre season following a 1-3 start. They’ve managed to turn things around with wins over the Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons.

This is where it starts to get a little murky.

Some fans start to get optimistic about what could be. Others realize that they’ve seen this movie plenty of times before and resist the temptation to jump on the bandwagon, for fear of being disappointed — again.

This is what winning does.

One could look ahead at the schedule and marvel at the opportunity that the Lions could have. The next four games are against Minnesota, Washington, Carolina and Houston. No one will say it publicly — it’s one game at a time; it’s always one game at a time — but there’s a chance.

There’s a chance for the division, a chance for the playoffs. A chance at something different in the Matt Patricia era. Two weeks ago, the talk was about the possibility of Patricia’s job being in jeopardy with a loss to the Jaguars.

Everything could turn around if the Lions can find their groove, or even stay in the groove they’re in, riding the strength of the defense and the explosiveness of the likes of D’Andre Swift and Kenny Golladay.

It’s not far-fetched, but it’s still far off to start thinking about seriously.

Until then, here are five things to watch as the Lions face the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday (1:00 p.m., Fox/760):

1. Stiff Competition: The Lions have seen their share of good run defenses this season, including the Saints and Bears. The Colts boast one of the best overall defenses in the league, ranking second in yardage allowed and fourth in points allowed. The Lions have just two games of rushing for more than 100 yards; the Colts have allowed 100 yards in only two games. Up front, DeForest Buckner causes plenty of havoc in the middle of the line, which allows the linebackers to fill the gaps and stop the run.

2. Fans in stands: The Lions will host fans at Ford Field for the first time this season, with 500 friends and family of the players in attendance. The team is using the chance to examine its safety protocols, in hopes that it can host more fans at some point this season. Throughout the season, the Lions have played in some stadiums that have had fans and players have said there is some noticeable difference with having the generated crowd noise in comparison to the live cheers and boos that they would experience with real fans.

3. Taylor-made help: Rookie Jonathan Taylor has been the Colts’ main running back and has done fairly well in transitioning to the pro game from college, where he starred at Wisconsin. Losing Marlon Mack to an Achilles injury for the season was a blow for the Colts offense, but having Taylor helps accelerate his development.

4. Rhodes game: The back end of the Colts defense isn’t bad, either. Lions coach Matt Patricia has raved about Xavier Rhodes and Julian Blackmon all week and the Colts lead the league with 10 interceptions. It’s a combination of their pass rush and effective pass coverage that has them holding offenses to about 19 points per game. The Lions could struggle to surpass that number, but if their defense can match the Colts’ they’ll have a shot.

5. Holding that line: The Colts’ offensive line, featuring Quenton Nelson at guard, has done better in pass protection than in the run game. The Lions’ run defense has been better in the past two games and if they can put the Colts into predictable pass situations, they’ll improve their chances. Quarterback Philip Rivers has been sacked just five times this season and if he can continue to flash some of his old traits, the Colts could be on the way to 5-2.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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