Lions vs. Buccaneers scouting report: Matchups, trends, players to watch
Allen Park — Here's a scouting report ahead of the Detroit Lions' Week 15 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
► Matchup to watch when the Lions are on offense
Doesn't it always start up front? The Buccaneers' defensive line is its best unit, with massive nose tackle Vita Vea setting the tone for the league's top run defense. But the individual matchup that merits the most attention is sack-happy edge rusher Shaq Barrett going against backup right tackle Tyrell Crosby.
With Rick Wagner sidelined by a knee injury this week, Crosby will make the fifth start of his young career. As a mid-game replacement last week, he shined, shutting down Danielle Hunter in the second half after the NFC defensive player of the week racked up three sacks in the first half.
Barrett presents his own challenge. Despite being undersized, he's rocketed to the top of the sack charts this season with a quick first step, excellent usage of his hands and a reliable set of pass rush moves, led by a tough-to-stop dip under that's aided by the natural leverage his height and flexibility provide.
► Matchup to watch when the Lions are on defense
The Buccaneers offense boasts two of the three most productive receivers in the NFL, but with Mike Evans down with a hamstring injury, the Lions can place a greater emphasis on limiting the damage done by Chris Godwin.
Often the Lions will assign Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay to cover the opposition's best receiving threat, but in Godwin's case, the discussion isn't that simple. Unlike many top wideouts, he does most of his damage operating out of the slot.
Slay can cover inside, but he doesn't do it often, averaging about 80 snaps in that alignment over the past two seasons. Whether he shadows Godwin this week, or passes off some of those slot responsibilities to nickelback Justin Coleman, it will be interesting to see Detroit's plan to slow the speed merchant who has been abusing opponents across the middle.
► Linebacker Devin White
The No. 5 pick in this year's draft, White started slow, hampered by a knee injury. But he's been coming on strong in recent weeks, presenting a solid pairing with former All-Pro and tackle machine Lavonte David.
White has been racking up the tackles, in his own right, and is coming off rookie of the month honors in November. Where he thrives is in coverage. That's in large part due to his elite speed. Earlier this season, he was clocked at 21.6 miles per hour, the fastest speed of any front seven player in the NFL.
► Tampa Bay:Quarterback Jameis Winston is setting passing production records for Tampa Bay, but he's also turning the ball over at a rate you just don't see in the NFL anymore. His 23 interceptions lead the league by a wide margin.
Yes, he's learning a new system, one that revolves around pushing the ball aggressively downfield, but the interceptions haven't been slowing with time. He's thrown at least two in four of the past five games and six of the past eight. His 18 total during that stretch are more than any other quarterback on the season.
The Lions, meanwhile, have intercepted a league-low five passes. Winston has been picked off that many times in a game this year, a 37-26 loss to Carolina in Week 6.
Will the floodgates remain open this week?
► Detroit: Despite the turnovers, Tampa Bay is lighting up the scoreboard. They rank third in the NFL, posting nearly 30 points per game.
If they stay true to their pace, the Lions are going to have trouble keeping up. In the five games without starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, the team is averaging just 16.6 points per game. To make matters worse, they've lost tight end T.J. Hockenson and wide receiver Marvin Jones to season-ending injuries during that stretch.
They can't throw to Kenny Golladay every play, can they?
Buccaneers to watch
► Jameis Winston, QB: Just like a fine wine, Winston has gotten better with age, at least when talking yards-per-game. In his fifth year and with most of the 2019 regular season complete, Winston is averaging 316.5 yards-per-game, a number that has gradually increased from 252.6 his rookie year, though he missed games in 2017 and 2018 due to suspension and an injury. Winston heads the league’s second-ranked passing offense (298.2 passing yards-per-game) and the third-ranked in points with 378 scored. Winston has 4,115 yards (second behind Dak Prescott’s 4,122) and 26 touchdowns. The only thing that may slow him down on Sunday is if his thumb injury gets aggravated, though recent reports say he’ll be good to go, and if he keeps up his alarming trend of a league-high 23 interceptions.
► Ronald Jones, RB: The second-year back has been starting since Week 9, though he’s been contributing to the Bucs' mixed-success run game since Week 1. The USC product has 136 carries for 518 yards and five touchdowns on the season, giving him a slight edge on fellow back Peyton Barber, who has 133 rushes for 430 yards and six touchdowns. Finding holes in the Lions’ porous run defense that’s allowing 118.2 yards-per-game shouldn’t be a problem for Jones, who is coming off two games with no scores.
►Chris Godwin, WR: In his third year out of Penn State, Godwin’s been lighting it up this season nearly doubling his per-game yardage (93.2) from last year (52.6). He’s got 81 catches for 1,212 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s tied with the Chargers’ Keenan Allen for fourth in the league, and he and Marvin Jones are tied at second in touchdowns (behind Kenny Golladay, who has 10). Despite the yardage, he’s coming off a two-game touchdown drought, which will likely dry up Sunday as the Bucs look to extend their win streak to four, and with fellow reliable receiver Mike Evans out for the season now due a hamstring injury.
Buccaneers at Lions
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Ford Field, Detroit
Records: Buccaneers 6-7; Lions 3-9-1
Line: Vikings by 14