The Lions come into a game favored by more than eight points for the first time since 2000. It’s been a while since they’ve been heavily favored and it’s also been a while since the Lions were on this side of a trap game. The Lions get the Chiefs at home after a 34 point loss in week 1, and now we will see how level headed Coach Schwartz can keep his players.
The Chiefs were probably the most overachieving team in the NFL last season. The Chiefs only won one game against a team with a winning record and lost by an average of 21.3 points in their three losses including a complete embarrassment in the playoffs against the Ravens. The Chiefs lost offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to the University of Florida which leaves Todd Haley calling the shots on offense.
Haley led the Chiefs to a 3-13 record in 2009 without Weis and a 10-6 record with Weis in 2010. His loss is definitely noticed as the offense has been abysmal in his absence.
On the other side of the ball, the Lions are riding a five game winning streak and just starting to build an identity on both sides of the ball. Coach Schwartz has been preaching a one step at a time mentality, this game will help determine if the players are in lockstep behind him, or if their success has started to go to their heads.
The Chiefs have a number of young defensive players that are among the best in the league at their positions. CBs Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers as well as LBs Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson make up the nucleus of the Chiefs defense. The Chiefs lost their fifth member of their young nucleus last week when S Eric Berry was lost for the year with a torn ACL. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, there is quite a drop off in talent after their young core players, especially on the defensive line.
The Chiefs play a 3-4 which the Lions are familiar with since it is very similar to the 3-4 the Patriots play. The Lions had a lot of success in the preseason game against the Patriot defense, as well as some early success against them last Thanksgiving as well. The Lions passing attack allowed them to dictate the pace of the game to the Patriots, forcing them to react to the Lions’ offense rather than the other way around.
I expect the Lions to use a lot of two tight end sets to keep the Chiefs in their base 3-4 defense, which gives the Lions better matchups in the passing game. The outside linebackers in the 3-4 are typically pass rushers rather than coverage guys, so that leaves middle linebackers or safeties to cover Pettigrew and Scheffler. The linebackers are too slow and the safeties are too small to consistently cover the two tight ends. If the Chiefs switch to a nickel package, the Lions can switch over to running against the smaller defensive backs that replace the linebackers. Jahvid Best compounds the matchup issues because of his speed and ability to run out of the shotgun against the nickel. If the Chiefs stay in their base, Best may struggle to find running lanes inside. The Lions drafted Mikel Leshoure specifically for the purpose of being able to attack 3-4 defenses, so it’ll be interesting to see if Kieland Williams will be active tomorrow to fill the void, or if he still needs more time to learn the offense.
The Chiefs have the two talented corners, but their safety situation is a mess with the loss of Berry. Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson abused Pro Bowl corner Aqib Talib last week, and Flowers and Carr are not quite in his league yet. That gives the Lions a huge matchup advantage on the outside as well as the matchups inside with Best and the tight ends.
Tamba Hali is one of the premier pass rushers in the league, but with all the matchup issues the Lions pose for the Chiefs, he may struggle to get to Stafford because of how overmatched the coverage should be. Outside of Hali and his 14.5 sacks last year, there isn’t any other pass rushing threat. Defensive end Wallace Gilberry was the next highest on the sack total with seven.
The Chiefs offensive line has had a lot of issues in pass protection which does not bode well for them against the Lions. The Chiefs averaged 2.8 yards per passing play against the Bills last week despite only giving up two sacks. Matt Cassel is also dealing with a very painful rib injury suffered in the final preseason game, which means he’s paying more attention to the pass rush than normal. Combine poor pass blocking with a shell shocked quarterback facing one of the most potent defensive fronts in the league and that is a recipe for disaster.
On the other hand, the Chiefs ran the ball well last week putting up over 100 yards at 6.0 yards per carry. This came despite the fact that they trailed most of the game. The Chiefs were the best running team in the league last year, so it’s important that the Lions get off to a fast start to take Jamaal Charles out of the equation as early as possible.
Charles is a dangerous receiver as well, but the Lions have two very good coverage linebackers in DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch. Look for the Chiefs to try to match Charles or Dexter McCluster up on Justin Durant, who is weak in pass coverage.
Dewayne Bowe is a big physical receiver that had one of the most impressive six weeks in recent memory last season. However, with Cassel under duress so much, he hasn’t been able to produce at nearly as high a level. Steve Breaston was acquired to take some attention away from Bowe, but with the pass protection as bad as it’s been, nobody in the receiving corps can make much of a difference.
Jamaal Charles is the wild card in this game because of his ability to score from anywhere on the field running or receiving. The Lions can dominate the offensive line of the Chiefs all they want, but the counter is a lot of screens and draws where Charles is at his most dangerous. The Lions can dominate this game if they keep Charles in check, but if he breaks a few big plays, he can cover up the Chiefs inability to sustain drives and keep the game close.
The Chiefs are overmatched in almost every aspect of this game, including facing a raucous crown at Ford Field. Unless the Lions take the Chiefs lightly and shoot themselves in the foot, I have a hard time seeing the Chiefs winning this game. I think they could keep the game closer than expected, but I think the Lions take this one.