As simple as that: Just give Calvin the rock
The Lions opened the season with three divisional road games, three games against 2009 playoff teams and played the majority of four games without Matthew Stafford. The Lions sit at 0-4 after the most daunting stretch they should face all season. There will be other difficult points in the schedule, but by that time the Lions may have Stafford back.
The Lions get the Rams at home this week in a “Might Have Been 0-16? rematch. The Lions had the opportunity to play the Rams at home last season and move past the laughingstock stage of rebuilding. Instead they lost, primarily because of Stan Kwan’s predictability, and missed the opportunity to add another team to the lonely 0-16 Club. The Lions have a shot at redemption tomorrow.
- The Rams are coached by Steve Spagnuolo who is a disciple of the late Jim Johnston. Spagnuolo favors exotic blitzes and tries to exploit matchups to generate pressure on the quarterback. This actually plays into the Lions favor. The Lions have the weapons to exploit the blitz and they were able to pick apart the Eagles’ defense, which is a very similar style defense, with considerably more talent. The Lions struggle with teams that can get pressure with four and keep seven in coverage because that allows them to get creative in their coverage of Calvin Johnson. When teams blitz, they usually play man to man coverage and that is far easier to exploit with the Lions’ size and speed advantage. The Rams will have to choose between rushing four and giving the Lions time to throw, or blitzing and exposing themselves to matchup issues.
- The Lions have faced a Jay Cutler, Michael Vick, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in the first four weeks and really had difficulty with them. Sam Bradford may be playing well for a rookie, but he’s the first quarterback the Lions face that hasn’t made a Pro Bowl. Bradford has only played one defense that was able to get pressure on him and they lost that game, the other three games were against terrible pass rushing teams. The Lions should have the advantage in tomorrow’s game.
- The Rams’ defensive line has been drawing praise after the first four weeks, but they have gone up against the abysmal offensive lines of the Cardinals, Raiders, Eagles and Seahawks. The Lions line is not dominating, but they are better than anything those four teams are trotting out right now. The Lions should matchup well against the Rams defensive front.
- Steven Jackson is going to count as two disadvantages. He is a big bruiser with moves and excellent receiving ability. He has been a major factor every time the Lions have faced him and tomorrow shouldn’t be any different. The defensive line has done extremely well against the run, but the linebackers have blown assignments, missed tackles and haven’t made any big plays to offset their mistakes. Jackson is a huge threat catching passes out of the backfield with his moves and power. Jackson will be trouble for the Lions this week.
- If the Lions can’t establish the run, they could struggle to throw the ball against the Rams secondary. The Rams have two Pro Bowl caliber players in the secondary with Ron Bartell and OJ Atogwe. Atogwe hasn’t been as much of a ballhawk the last couple seasons, but he is always in position and makes sound tackles. Bartell is able to man up against most receivers with out a lot of help, but nobody in the NFL can cover Calvin Johnson one on one. If the Lions don’t establish the run, the Rams will be able to give Bartell help over the top and Calvin could have a limited day.
The wild card will be the Lions establishing the run again. In order for the offense to operate at its best, the Lions have to establish the ground game as a threat. Not just picking up some yards here and there to keep the defense honest, but an actual threat that says, “if you don’t stop the run, we will beat you with it.” If the Lions establish the run, they should be able to abuse the Rams secondary with all their weapons. If they don’t establish the run, the Rams can focus on CJ and force the Lions to beat them with underneath throws to the tight ends.
The Lions have played four teams that are all better than the Rams, and faced three of them on the road. They were in position to win three of those games and couldn’t close. The Rams are improved over last year, but the Lions definitely have more big play talent on both sides of the ball. I think the Lions get on the board tomorrow.