Allen Park — During the team’s recent three-game winning streak, the Detroit Lions have seen a run of dual-threat quarterbacks, but on Thanksgiving, they’ll have to beat the best of the bunch if they want to keep the good times rolling.
No offense to Aaron Rodgers, the league’s reigning MVP, but he’s fallen well short of the lofty standards we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in his 18 seasons. The Lions dispatched him to start this run, intercepting him three times in a 15-9 victory.
The next week, Detroit did just enough to squeak by the Chicago Bears, but quarterback Justin Fields was a nightmare in that one. He rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns. And again, a turnover — a fourth-quarter interception — proved invaluable to completing the 14-point rally.
Finally, this past weekend, the Lions didn’t exactly do a great job containing the Giants’ Daniel Jones, allowing him to rack up 391 total yards, including 50 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The saving grace was the defense accomplished its top priority, bottling up running back Saquon Barkley. The NFL’s leading rusher coming into the game, he was held to 22 yards on 15 carries.
On deck is Buffalo’s Josh Allen, who entered the season as the odds-on favorite to win the MVP. And through 10 games, he’s right in that mix, having thrown for 2,930 yards and 21 touchdowns, while rushing for another 483 yards and four scores. Among quarterbacks, he’s top-five in all those categories, as the Bills are averaging more than 28 points per game, second only to the Kansas City Chiefs.
“(He) can certainly throw in the pocket, throw on the run, can break tackles, run you over, has a quick release, he’s accurate,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “I mean, he can do it all. He can do everything and does it very well. So, everything starts with him.
“(Like) we talked about (with) Barkley last week, everything starts with this guy,” Campbell continued. “To say that you’re going to completely shut that down is hard for any defense, but, certainly, we’ve got to contain him as much as we possibly can. And I think that a lot of that comes on challenging the perimeter. And there again, a little bit like Chicago, we’ve got to, these rush plans, we have to control the rush plans or have a controlled rush plan with him.”
If the Lions have an advantage heading into this matchup, it’s that the team’s winning streak has coincided with an impressive run of generating takeaways. They’ve forced seven turnovers, including six interceptions, during the past three games.
They’ve picked off at least one pass in each victory, impressively getting Rodgers and Jones multiple times. In the loss to Detroit, it marked just the second time since 2009 that Rodgers was intercepted three times in a game. Jones, meanwhile, entered last Sunday’s matchup with the fewest interceptions among qualifying quarterbacks, as well as the longest running streak of passes without a turnover, extending back six games.
By contrast, Allen has had his fair share of issues with turnovers, something that’s plagued him throughout his career. Possessing one of the strongest arms in football, he’s willing to take more chances than the average quarterback, which also results in more mistakes. And after averaging 11.5 interceptions his first four seasons, he’s been picked off 10 times through 10 games, including four games with multiple interceptions. He’s actually been a bit lucky in that department, having been responsible for a league-high 19 turnover-worthy throws, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus.
Among those games with multiple turnovers are two of the Bills’ three losses. So, the key to the Lions’ pulling off an upset in the team’s annual holiday classic at Ford Field is hardly a secret.
“It’s huge; we desperately will need (turnovers),” Campbell said. “We’re going to need them, and look, that’s been part of the secret sauce for us. We are getting them, and that means we’re turning a corner because we are getting them out. So, we’ve got to continue that trend, and if we can put him in a position to where he feels like he needs to get rid of the ball and we get our hands on it, we have to capitalize.
“It’s going to be big for us. It’s been big for us.”
If the Lions are able to find a way to extend their winning streak to four, by beating one of the league’s true Super Bowl contenders, recent talk of entering the playoff race only figures to intensify. Still, they’d have a lot of ground to make up the final six weeks of the season. With a win, they’d remain two games back in the loss column of Seattle, who holds the final seed in the NFC. The Seahawks also hold a head-to-head tiebreaker after besting the Lions, 48-45, in Week 4.