Last week, just a few plays prevented the Detroit Lions from closing out against the Arizona Cardinals. There was, of course, The Timeout, but a forced incompletion there, a pass protection there, and the Lions would be heading home to Ford Field with a 1-0 record.
Each game comes down to a play or two, and an individual could be the different between 1-0-1 and 0-1-1. So here are five Detroit Lions players key to victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Last week, the Lions’ All Pro corner was so good you probably didn’t even notice him. He was targeted four times and allowed just a single reception.
This week, it will be interesting to see how the Lions choose to use Slay. The Chargers’ beat-up offense will likely be missing two of its biggest targets in tight end Hunter Henry and wide receiver Michael Williams That leaves Keenan Allen as one of the few remaining threats in the receiving game.
Allen is supremely talented, so Matt Patricia’s game plan will likely focus on taking away that weapon. The best way to do that will be to have Slay shadow the shifty receiver. Last year, the Lions didn’t shy away from having Slay follow the opponent’s No. 1 receiver and this week, it seems like a sound strategy.
Flowers had a pretty quiet Lions debut, but it was understandable. The big free agent signing was still working his way through injury and didn’t have a lot of full practices under belt. This week, however, he’s completely off the injury report and should be ready to go.
Also working in his favor is the fact that he won’t have to be too worried about containment while pass rushing. Philip Rivers isn’t the mobile threat that Kyler Murray was, so Flowers can pin his ears back.
Oh, and the Chargers continue to be without their start left tackle Russell Okung, and his replacement is coming off a horrible game.
Speaking of left tackles coming off horrible games, Taylor Decker needs to rebound after giving up a couple sacks and committing four penalties in the season opener. He’ll have his hands full with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III, but hopefully the Lions have a gameplan to give him some help, when needed.
UPDATE: According to Ian Rapoport, Decker is unlikely to play due to his back injury. If that’s the case, this critical job is on 2018 fifth-round pick Tyrell Crosby, who has never made an NFL start at left tackle. Good luck, bud!
Last week, the Chargers gave up over 200 rushing yards to the Colts. As a result, Marlon Mack is the leading rusher in the NFL right now.
If the Lions want to avoid another fourth-quarter collapse, they’ll need to keep their defense off the field and run some clock. Fortunately, this is a favorable matchup for Detroit and Johnson has a chance to put up some explosive numbers akin to his rookie season.
If Detroit finds themselves with a lead in the second half, the Lions will undoubtedly lean on Johnson to close out the game right this time.
If not Keenan Allen, the biggest threat the Chargers pose is running back Austin Ekeler... and probably more as a receiver than anything. The Lions’ best cover linebacker in Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
Reeves-Maybin isn’t a starter, and he may get even less time if Jarrad Davis returns on Sunday, but he’ll likely be in on passing downs, and his ability to cover Ekeler should be huge on Sunday. Last week, Reeves-Maybin gave up a big fourth quarter touchdown, so he’ll likely to hungry to make amends.