Kevin Kugler on a Thanksgiving football feast

11/21/2012

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Happy Thanksgiving! This was always my favorite holiday growing up. It didn’t involve anything but two of my favorite things….eating and football. We’d gather, as I’m sure most of you will, to spend our Thursday eating entirely too much food, and then fighting napping as we camped out to enjoy football. Then, we’d struggle home and get ready to send the moms/wives out for their shopping the next day. Truly a great American holiday! So celebrate all there is to be thankful for this year as we break down the three games on Thanksgiving that you’ll hear on Westwood One Sports.

1. Texans at Lions. We start, as we should, at the beginning of the day. This is where I’ll be celebrating my Thanksgiving, with some football in Detroit. The Lions are in a tough spot. Coming off what many considered a must win game Sunday against Green Bay that ended up as a heartbreaking loss, Detroit must bounce back quick.  Will that happen against the Texans? The odds are against Detroit here. Why? Because the Texans struggled in a big way against the Jaguars on Sunday, and one would assume that they are none too happy about it.

Matt Schaub and Houston will come into Detroit off the win over Jacksonville still tied for the best record in the NFL at 9-1. And Schaub had to come up with one of the best games in NFL history last week to keep them there. 527 yards, five touchdowns and a 14-point rally in the 4th quarter were the highlights of his day on Sunday. Now he faces a Lions defense that is a patchwork quilt in the secondary. Detroit welcomed Drayton Florence back last Sunday against Green Bay, and he played well, but the Texans offense is red hot, and the Lions secondary doesn’t seem like it matches up very well at all with the passing attack of Houston.

That said, the Texans are still a run-first offense, despite Schaub’s heroics. Arian Foster carries the ball nearly 25 times a game, leading the NFL and harkening back to the days of a workhorse running back. That great commitment to the running game helps the Texans lead the league in time of possession, and can go a long way to limiting Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense by simply keeping them off the field on Thursday. History isn’t helping the Lions either. Detroit has lost its last eight games on Thanksgiving Day, with the Lions last win coming in the 2003 season over the Packers.

Detroit’s offense is certainly capable of putting up big numbers, and we saw a commitment to the running game on Sunday against the Packers. But will they be able to move the ball consistently against the Texans? Houston boasts the 4th-best defense in the league this season, and with J.J. Watt anchoring that pass rush, Matthew Stafford won’t have the time to sit back and wait for plays to Calvin Johnson to develop. Plus, Stafford will be without one of his weapons, as receiver Titus Young was sent home this week after some disruptive behavior.

What I’m looking for in this game is how the Lions respond to the Green Bay loss after this short week. The emotions were running high after that game against the Packers, and the disappointment was palpable. If Detroit can’t bounce back quickly and effectively, Detroit might not have as much to be thankful for by mid-afternoon on Thursday.

2. Redskins at Cowboys. Doesn’t this seem like the perfect Thanksgiving matchup? Two NFC East foes, neither of whom really like the other, facing off on Turkey Day? Maybe it’s because we HAVE seen this Thanksgiving matchup before. In fact, we’ve seen it six times before on Thanksgiving, the last in 2002. And if history is our guide here, Dallas will be very happy at the end of the day. In the six previous Thanksgiving meetings, Dallas is 6-0 against the Redskins.

Both teams come into Thursday’s game off wins, and both still consider themselves part of the NFC East race, just one and two games behind the Giants in the division. It’s the first time that the Cowboys will see Robert Griffin III, and what a time to see him! Griffin is coming off his best game as a pro, and one of the most efficient games in NFL history. Four TDs, no INTs and a 93.3% completion percentage in the pasting of the Eagles on Sunday marked the day for Griffin, and was the first time a QB threw four TDs with that high of a completion percentage in nearly 20 years. He’ll face a Cowboys defense that didn’t exactly cause the rookie QB they faced last week, Brandon Weeden, a ton of problems. He saw little pressure in the overtime loss to Dallas, and Griffin is an entirely different animal for that Cowboys D on Thursday.

On the other side of the ball, when the Cowboys offense is on the field, pass protection will be key on Thursday. Tony Romo was hammered on Sunday, sacked seven times in the win over the Browns, and he loses Tyron Smith, his left tackle, with a high ankle sprain for the next few weeks. But the week wasn’t kind to the Redskins defense either. Brandon Meriweather arrived against the Eagles, notched a pick of Nick Foles, and then tore his ACL and is out for the season. His loss is a big one at a bad time for the Redskins, working on a short week to get ready for Thursday’s game.

3) Finally, the Turkey Day nightcap is the Patriots and Jets rematch from earlier in the year. The week started with tough news for the Patriots, as Rob Gronkowski is out with a broken arm for the next several weeks. One of the biggest keys to success for the Patriots offense in the last couple of seasons has been the development of New England’s terrific tight end duo. Aaron Hernandez, who’s battled an ankle injury of his own this season, will now carry the bulk of the load at the TE spot. Tough loss to an offense that’s been the best in the NFL for most of this season.

When these two teams met earlier this year in Foxboro, the Patriots needed a great defensive play in overtime to escape with a 29-26 win. Rob Ninkovich knocked the ball out of Mark Sanchez’s hand in overtime, recovered the fumble and secured the win.

(Listen to the play)

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But Sanchez had one of his best days as a pro in that game, throwing for 328 yards and rallying the Jets from 10 points down in the final six minutes of the 4th quarter. But the Patriots feel like they’ve shored up the secondary a bit since that game, and they might be right. New Patriot Aqib Talib played his first game as a Patriot on Sunday, and all he did was come up with an interception return for a touchdown.

(Listen to the play)

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If Talib can provide that kind of spark at CB the remainder of the season, New England will have fixed its biggest problem on defense.

This game becomes a much bigger game for the Jets than the Patriots. Yes, the Pats want the win, and would love nothing more than to sweep their AFC East rivals. But for the Jets, a win here could propel this team into a red-hot second half. Why? Just look at the schedule. New York doesn’t face a team the rest of the way with a winning record. Their final five foes are a combined 17-33 entering play this weekend. Win this game and a run at the postseason isn’t out of the picture for a team that has been filled with drama all season long.

Enjoy the football holiday on Thanksgiving, and save some room for Sunday’s games, when you’ll be ready to get out of the house and enjoy all the games at Buffalo Wild Wings. After all, man can only take so much family time on a long holiday weekend!

- Kevin Kugler

Westwood One NFL play-by-play announcer Kevin Kugler tackles subjects that are interesting to him each week in his blog. The Football Insider Report is brought to you by Buffalo Wild Wings. Protect the Football. This weekend, Kevin will be in Detroit for the Thanksgiving Day game, before jetting off to San Diego for Sunday’s matchup between the Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens.

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