It's been two years since the Detroit Lions hosted a Monday Night Football game. The last time football's biggest show rolled into the Motor City was 2011, for a game against the Chicago Bears. The environment proved too much for Chicago, who was defeated 24-13 in an early match up during October.
Now, in another important game with playoff implications, the Lions play host to the Baltimore Ravens. This time, the game is late enough that both teams badly need a win, particularly Detroit, who runs the risk of falling out of first place in the NFC North with a loss. What will help determine victory in a vital night for Detroit? How will the Ravens spoil the party? Here's five variables to watch.
1. Defensive Line Impact. Both the Ravens and Lions figure to get plenty of pressure on the opposing quarterback on Monday. Detroit's defensive line could feast against a Baltimore offensive line which has allowed plenty of sacks and faces the stiff challenge of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and the Lions will have their hands full with Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and company. Whichever offensive line plays the best and gives their quarterback the most time to make plays will thrive, especially in this match up.
2. Reggie Bush And Ray Rice. Detroit's running game stalled out in the snow, with Joique Bell slowing down after a big start and not getting much done. Would the Lions have fared better in the second half with a healthy Bush? It's possible. Ray Rice, meanwhile, hasn't enjoyed a great season rushing the football. Will Detroit's defensive line crack under pressure like last weekend and allow Rice to have a big game? Can Bush supplement Detroit's passing offense with a solid rushing output of his own? Both teams need the running game to be explosive to create better offensive balance.
3. Big Plays. The Lions give up the second most 40 yard pass plays and the Ravens have shown a penchant for collecting the same big plays, second in the league themselves at collecting 40 yard pass plays. That's an interesting juxtaposition for a big game. Don't forget as well how the Ravens have fallen flat in fourth quarters giving up big plays. Either way, those plays will probably tell the story about who wins in the end. The Lions' secondary will have to clamp down on allowing them in order to win, and stop Baltimore's down field passing attack from getting ramped up.
4. Which Special Teams Will Prove More Special? Yesterday, we addressed this question by proving that Baltimore, who has one of the best special teams groups in the league, might have plenty of advantages over Detroit. Despite that, the chance still exists for the Lions' group to play hard and come up with a big victory. If the Lions come up with a few more big plays on special teams and outperform the Ravens, they could change the game. That means the Lions will have to elevate their play mentally as much as physically to get the job done.
5. Atmosphere. During the last Monday Night Football game, the Lions' fans came out charged up and wreaked havoc on the Bears' offensive line, forcing multiple false start penalties. Detroit rode that momentum to a big victory. This time, the crowd has been urged to wear blue and have the same boisterous mindset for a vital game. The Ravens have played and won in tough environments before, but will they blink when faced with Ford Field's loud atmosphere? Baltimore's reaction to the crowd pressure could play as much of a role in who wins as special teams or defensive line play.
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