Analyzing Lions-Jets Showdown

At this time tomorrow, Lions fans will have a really good idea of where their team stands.  The self-proclaimed best team in the NFL, the 5-2 Jets, offer the Lions an opportunity to turn the corner.  The Lions have proven they can hang with any team.  They proved they can win against teams they should beat in their two wins over the Rams and Redskins.  Next up on the docket is beating a team that most consider out of the Lions’ league.

Lions’ Advantages

  • The Jets run a blitz heavy defense that relies heavily on man to man coverage.  It causes huge issues for most teams because the quarterback doesn’t have enough time in the pocket to take advantage of the man to man coverage.  The Lions’ offensive line may not be able to afford Matthew Stafford the time, but his receiving corps can get open better than most.  Calvin Johnson simply cannot be covered by one player all day, even if it’s Darrelle Revis.  That matchup gives the Lions an advantage, either CJ faces one on one coverage, or the defense commits two players to Calvin which leaves one fewer to blitz or cover the others.  Nate Burleson is one of the more savvy receivers in the league and creates separation as well as anybody, which makes him difficult to single cover as well.  Also the Lions have Pettigrew and Scheffler roaming the middle of the field and they are matchup nightmares for linebackers and safeties.  The Jets will have to decide if they want to dial back the blitzes and drop more guys into coverage, or do they take their chances with the Lions receiving corps?
  • The Lions’ pass rush will appear in the advantage column every week, but this week they have a unique challenge.  The Jets boast a top five offensive line and running game which really limit the pass rush.  A strong running game opens up play action which can slow down the pass rush even more.  The Lions still have the edge in this matchup for the simple fact that nobody on the Lions’ defensive line can be blocked one on one.  The Jets’ passing game is set up by the strong run game, which allows the Jets to take shots down the field.  The Lions’ defensive front should neutralize the deep passing game and force the Jets to use more short and intermediate routes which is out of their comfort zone.
  • The Lions actually possess a home field advantage for the first time in years.  Crowd noise can be a huge impediment to an offensive line because they can’t hear the snap count.  The line needs to go to a silent count or they all need to look in at the ball to see when it’s snapped.  The Lions defensive front is good enough on its own, but having to deal with the crowd noise puts the Jets’ o-line at a big disadvantage.  Last week the Redskins had several mistakes on the line because of the Lions’ front four.  They were stepping on the quarterback’s feet, they had penalties and missed assignments all due to crowd noise and the Lions talent up front.

Lions’ Disadvantages

  • The Jets’ running game is ranked third in the NFL and they average over 150 yards per game.  The Lions have struggled against the run this season because of injuries and ineffectiveness in the linebacker corps.  LaDanian Tomlinson is back in Pro Bowl form and Shonn Greene is no slouch either.  The Jets use the running game to set up the passing game so stopping the run is imperative for the Lions.
  • The flip side of all the man to man coverage the Jets play is the complicated blitz schemes they bring.  If Stafford and the offensive line don’t make the correct pre-snap read, a pass rusher or two will come free.  Seasoned veteran quarterbacks have struggled with the Jets’ blitz packages, so it is a tall order to expect Stafford to not get fooled.
  • The Lions special teams have given them an edge in the last several games, but the Jets’ special teams are one of the NFL’s best.  The Jets are lead by one of the best special teams coaches in the league in Mike Westhoff and he definitely got some ideas on the Lions’ weaknesses last week when they struggled against Washington.  The Lions not only have an advantage neutralized, but they are put at a disadvantage.

Wild Card

The Lions’ fate on defense lies with a rookie making his first start and a second year player making his 13th start.  Amari Spievey will most likely get the nod over the injured CC Brown at strong safety and DeAndre Levy will make his third start of the year at middle linebacker.

CC Brown is a great run defender but he is not very good in coverage.  The Jets offense would play to his strengths and cover his weaknesses, but Spievey is better in coverage and not quite as strong against the run.  Spievey made the switch to safety two months ago and is still getting acclimated to the coverages and the angles to take in pursuit.  He definitely is a more talented player than Brown but has little to no experience.  The Redskins picked on Spievey a few times last week after Brown went out, but he’ll have a week to prepare for the Jets.

The Lions run defense has been poor all season, except last week when they shut the Skins potent run game down.  Was it a coincidence or was it because the Lions had a healthy DeAndre Levy?  Levy has the ability to be one of the best middle linebackers in the game, and he has a unique blend of speed, strength and instincts.  The Lions run defense was having issues with their run fits and Levy makes all the defensive calls, so the defense was playing with the equivalent of a backup quarterback.

If Spievey is strong against the run and plays well in coverage he gives the Lions an upgrade over CC Brown, who has been somewhat of a weak link in the defense.  Levy’s return to the lineup resulted in the Lions holding the Skins to 80 rushing yards and only 13 first downs.  If both players have a huge impact it goes a long way towards the Lions upsetting the Jets tomorrow.

Prediction

I believe the Jets are a good team, but I think they are the most overrated team in the league.  They have a great running game and an aggressive defense, but their passing attack is disjointed and the aggressiveness on defense can be exploited.  I think the Lions will keep this game close and may even be in a position to win the game.  However, the Jets defense can flip momentum so quickly and once they establish the running game the offense is hard to stop.  I think the Jets prove to be a little too much for the Lions tomorrow, but I think the Lions will see that Mayhew and Schwartz made the right choice when they picked Stafford over Sanchez.


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