Takeaways from the NFL Thanksgiving triple bill: Lions, Ravens, Cowboys prevail

Baltimore Ravens

The NFL's Thanksgiving triple bill treated fans to a pair of pivotal divisional clashes. There was also a closer than expected contest between an NFC playoff hopeful and a struggling AFC cellar dweller.

Here are the main takeaways from a feast of action.

Green Bay Packers 10-40 Detroit Lions: Running by Committee makes the Lions Offense Scary

The Detroit Lions have a legitimate running game and that should scare the rest of the NFC. The Lions thumped the hapless Green Bay Packers in an emphatic victory keyed by 233 rushing yards.

Running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell shared 213 of those yards between them. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan split 39 carries between the pair to capitalise on their blend of brute force and quickness.

Bush used his 20 carries to dazzle the Packers with his trademark array of shifty moves and acceleration. Bell, a key all-purpose weapon in this offense, battered a bewildered Green Bay defensive front on 19 punishing carries.

The Lions already boast a prolific passing game featuring the connection between quarterback Matthew Stafford and the NFL's most dominant wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

Now they have a credible ground attack to go with it. That gives their offense true balance and too much for overmatched defenses to cover.

If they can keep their discipline and reduce turnovers, the Lions and their versatile offense can be a major threat in the postseason.

Oakland Raiders 24-34 Dallas Cowboys: Cowboys are showing True Grit when it counts

For the second-straight game, the Dallas Cowboys proved they can dig deep and make plays when it counts to win. Coming off a pivotal divisional victory on the road against the New York Giants, the sluggish Cowboys spotted a plucky Oakland Raiders team a 21-14 halftime lead.

But the NFC East leaders rallied after the break thanks to some clutch throws by quarterback Tony Romo and their own committee approach to running the ball.

DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar combined for 145 yards on the ground. Murray capped three drives with touchdown plunges to leave the Raiders trailing.

For a team so often chided for failing to produce at the business end of a season, the Cowboys are showing the kind of true grit that should grant them a first playoff berth since 2009.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20-22 Baltimore Ravens: Steve Spagnuolo's fingerprints are all over the Ravens' defense

The league's best rivalry produced another hard fought classic. The Baltimore Ravens built a 13-0 lead and then survived a late scare to hold off arch foe the Pittsburgh Steelers.

One of the keys for the Ravens was the way their defense blanked Ben Roethlisberger and company in the first half. It is a defense that bears all the hallmarks of Steve Spagnuolo.

The man who masterminded the Giants shock win over the then-undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42, was hired as a senior assistant to coordinator Dean Pees this offseason.

Spagnuolo has brought with him the complex fire zone schemes that made his name in New York. The Ravens are running more and more of the zone blitz concepts he favours.

A great example came in the first quarter with the Steelers facing 3rd-and-6 at the Baltimore 42-yard line. The Ravens aligned in a 4-1-6 dime defense and showed a soft zone coverage look.

Just before the snap, linebacker Daryl Smith and safety James Ihedigbo crept to the line. At the snap, they blitzed. As they did, rush ends Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil dropped out into zone coverage in the flats.

With pressure in his face, Roethlisberger was forced into a quick throw to the outside. With Dumervil covering wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery the pass fell incomplete and the Steelers had to punt.

Using versatile and athletic defensive linemen in pass coverage is a staple of Spagnuolo's sophisticated pressure schemes. As is shifting outside pass-rushers inside in obvious passing situations.

He used Justin Tuck this way with the Giants to dominate Tom Brady and the Patriots. With the Ravens, Spagnuolo deploys outside rush end Pernell McPhee as a speedy interior pass-rusher.

These schematic tweaks, combined with their obvious talent up front, have helped the Ravens rank second in the league in sacks with 37.

Since leaving the Giants, Spagnuolo bombed out with the St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints. But his influence in Baltimore is turning the Ravens into the most feared pass-rushing team in the NFL.

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