- With Mason Foster out, LB Danny Lansanah will move to middle linebacker and start at a third different spot this season
- Both teams will have to work hard to move the ball Sunday against two of the NFL's hottest defenses
- Tampa Bay's offensive line gets C Evan Dietrich-Smith back but loses LT Anthony Collins
Danny Lansanah's incredible NFL journey continues, this time with just a few steps to his left.
Lansanah, who earlier this year made his first NFL start at the age of 29, didn't play a game in the NFL for five years but he's making up for lost time with an unusual but very valuable season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. On Sunday in Detroit, Lansanah will start at middle linebacker in the absence of Mason Foster, who is dealing with an Achilles tendon injury. Lansanah has already made seven starts at strongside linebacker (SAM) and two at weakside linebacker (WILL), but Lovie Smiths' Buccaneers need him to take on a new challenge in Week 14.
Lansanah's last two starts came at WILL while All-Pro Lavonte David was out with a hamstring strain. Now David returns just as Foster has to sit out.
"You lose one player and you get a great player back," said Smith. "Lavonte David is good to go this week, so he'll move back into the WILL linebacker position. Danny Lansanah, who has just been Mr. Everything for us – started at SAM, started at WILL – he'll start at the MIKE linebacker position this week."
Orie Lemon will start again at SAM as Tampa Bay's defense continues a season-long trend of working around brief absences from their starters. Although the team has just four players on injured reserve, it also does not have a single defender who has started every game. This week it's Foster and starting DT Clinton McDonald (hamstring) who will sit as the Bucs take on a Lions offense loaded with dangerous weapons. Even with a bit of a rotating cast, Tampa Bay's defense has ranked fifth in the NFL in yards allowed per game over the last six weeks.
"We've made progress on the defensive side but we'll get a test to see exactly how much progress we've made," said Smith. "A lot of us on the staff are very familiar with this Detroit Lions offensive team. Great quarterback, skill guys, the receiver you know – we're just going to do what we do, as much as anything. We think we match up well."
Louis Murphy and the Buccaneers are ready to take on the NFL's top-ranked scoring defense
It's not easy to match up with prolific QB Matthew Stafford and his receiving duo of Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Fortunately, the Bucs' two starting cornerbacks are healthy this week and Smith believes they are up to the task. While LCB Alterraun Verner is coming off a Pro Bowl season, it's second-year man Johnthan Banks who has made the biggest difference in recent weeks with his rapid improvement.
"It's his overall play," said Smith of Banks. "He has developed all across the board. In our defense here, when I'm looking for cover corners, they have to be able to play the run and tackle, and he'll do that. But when you get a chance, you need to make the play, and I think he has four interceptions right now. He's just playing good ball, a marked improvement. As our defense has improved, his play really has."
Banks picked off an Andy Dalton pass on the first play of the game last Sunday against Cincinnati. That was obviously a great start, but unfortunately the Bucs only turned a starting position of the nine-yard line into three points. They'd like to get better at the second half of that equation.
"When our defense goes on the field, it's about the worst-case scenario [being] three-and-out, but beyond that it's about scoring or taking the ball away," said Smith. "Our defensive guys have taken it upon themselves to do that. But after you do that, now it's about us finishing offensively, minimum with a field goal but you'd like to get a touchdown to start the game."
That Buccaneer offense arguably faces an even tougher challenge against a Detroit defense that ranks first in the NFL in points allowed and second in yards allowed. That challenge is amplified by the absence of starting left tackle Anthony Collins, who is out with an elbow injury. Oniel Cousins will make his third start of the season in Collins' place, and the front line will also welcome the return of starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith. Dietrich-Smith missed the last game due to illness, leading to Garrett Gilkey's first career start at center.
"He had a good week of practice; it's tough when you're fighting flu symptoms and you can't go," said Smith. "He showed up right away as soon as he could possibly get out of bed and come to work. He had a good week of practice. It is different when you don't have your starting center there but he's good to go. He knows this Detroit Lions defense."
Get to know the key players on Detroit before the Buccaneers face off with the Lions on Sunday.
Detroit's defense has been particularly good against the run, allowing a league-low 65.9 yards per game. Nevertheless, the Buccaneers will try to establish their ground attack early, as they were able to do in the first half of last Sunday's game. Doug Martin led that charge and will do so again with Bobby Rainey sidelined by an ankle injury.
"As we say always, it helps so much [to establish the run]," said Smith. "We know we have good matchups in the passing game but we want our opponent to play the run honestly first. Doug did get off to a good start last week and was feeling it right away, the best he's run the ball in a while. Just like we talked about with Johnthan Banks we just need to see more improvement this week. And that starts up front, the line opening up holes the way they did early on last week. Hopefully we can get something going in the running game."
The Buccaneers do get one of their three primary tight ends back after all three missed the Bengals game. Luke Stocker returns from a concussion and will join recently-promoted rookie Cameron Brate as the team's only two tight end/fullback options. TEs Brandon Myers (calf) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (back) remain out.
With Rainey, Foster, Collins, Myers, Seferian-Jenkins and McDonald all sidelined by injuries, the Bucs only had one more inactive to name on Sunday, and that spot went to rookie WR Robert Herron. Akeem Spence will start again at defensive tackle.
Detroit named the following seven players inactive: QB Kellen, Moore, T Garrett Reynolds, G Rodney Austin, DE Larry Webster, WR Ryan Broyles, DT Caraun Reid and DT Nick Fairley. Only Fairley was out due to injury. The Lions also announced that Joseph Fauria will start at tight end in place of Brandon Pettigrew.
The Buccaneers take on the Lions in Week 14 of the 2014 season on Sunday afternoon, with kickoff scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. The game will be broadcast on television by FOX and on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM. That radio broadcast will also be carried live on Buccaneers.com.