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Buccaneers' 'unbelievable' run defense could give Lions fits

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — When scouting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under head coach Bruce Arians, the first thing that stands is the team's high-octane offense. His team ranks third in both yards and scoring. 

But there are also aspects of the Buccaneers defense that are formidable and could cause some problems for a struggling Detroit Lions offense. First and foremost, Tampa Bay is shutting down the run. They're allowing a league-low 75.5 yards per game, and the 3.4 yards per carry against is second only to the New York Jets. 

Vita Vea

The Lions, meanwhile, haven't run the ball particularly well this season. The team is one of 10 averaging fewer than 4.0 yards per attempt. Things have gone a little better since Bo Scarbrough has emerged as the lead back; the team rushed for a season-high 175 yards against Washington a few weeks back. But the Lions have been back under that 4.0-yard threshold the past two weeks.  

"I think the Bucs have done an unbelievable job with the run game," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "It obviously starts inside. They have great players at the line of scrimmage. (Vita) Vea is doing a great job of holding the point. He’s a big-body guy, he’s explosive, he’s strong. (They’re) really kind of built around him. Obviously, (Ndamukong) Suh, we know what a great player he is."

Vea is certainly the glue. A first-round pick in 2018, the 347-pound defensive tackle eats space with the best of them. And in the second level, the Bucs have a pair of productive linebackers LaVonte David and Devin White, the No. 5 selection in the past draft. 

"The linebackers are playing very fast, they’re playing aggressive," Patricia said. "When you can do that, when you can stop the run game and control the tempo of the game in those situations, I think you try to put your DBs or you secondary in a position where they can be a little bit more aggressive in some of the pass situations."

If the Lions can't run effectively, that will put more stress on undrafted rookie quarterback David Blough, who is expected to make his third start this week. He's had some bright spots in his first two starts, but the offense has also gone three-and-out nine times during that stretch. 

"You have to do a great job of staying in normal situations, can’t get yourself behind the chains," Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "That’s going to be a huge challenge for us. The run game is a thing that can really help you to minimize pass rush and those kinds of things, but you do need to keep it in the normal situations, so we’re going to have to do that at a high level.”

Shaq Barrett

If the Lions can't avoid staying out of third-and-long situations, then they will have to deal with Shaq Barrett, one of the league's breakout stars this season.

After five OK campaigns with Denver, Barrett has transformed into one of the NFL's most productive pass-rushers during his first season in Tampa Bay. Through 13 games, he's recorded a league-high 15.0 sacks, with at least a half-sack in six of the past seven games. 

"He does a good job of kind of getting off of the ball, he’s got a great first step," Patricia said. "He’s got a really good dip-under move where he can just kind of bend, turn the toe and get into the middle of the pocket pretty quick, and he’s got a great motor to go along with that."

The Lions managed to put up a respectable 20 points and 364 yards of offense in Blough's debut on Thanksgiving, but were nearly shut out by the Vikings a week ago after struggling to get anything going through three quarters. 

The offense will need to regain its footing this week, against a Buccaneers squad that has averaged 33.7 points during its current three-game winning streak. 

Lions vs. Buccaneers

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Ford Field

TV/radio: Fox/760 AM

Records: Lions 3-9-1, Buccaneers 6-7

Line: Buccaneers by 3.5