The Lions are limping into Denver, both literally and figuratively, for their Week 8 matchup with the Broncos. The Lions have endured a two game losing streak, negative publicity and injuries to Matthew Stafford, Jahvid Best and prized rookie Nick Fairley while the Broncos are coming off a dramatic win propelled by the popular Tim Tebow.
Despite the dire circumstances, the Lions are faced with a great opportunity in this game. The Broncos are struggling in all phases of the game, they are without their starting running back and the Lions have the bye week in Week 9 to afford the team some much needed recovery time.
Oddly enough, the last time the Lions were 5-2 they played their eighth game against the Broncos and beat them 44-7 to go to 6-2. The Lions would follow that game by going 1-23 over their next 24 games and that ushered in the current front office and coaching regime. The Lions desperately need to erase some of the bad vibes that have clouded this team over the last two weeks, and the Broncos offer a great opportunity to do so.
The Broncos are ranked in the bottom third of the league in almost every defensive category, except for sacks. The Broncos pass rush is led by the 2nd overall pick, Von Miller who leads all rookies with 6.0 sacks. The Lions have done a terrible job with play calling as anybody that reads this site has heard before. Matthew Stafford is banged up and the only thing the Broncos do well on defense is rush the passer. The Lions need to take this opportunity to protect Stafford by running the ball and taking some of the underneath throws that defenses are giving them.
The Lions have played into the defense’s hands in since Week 3 against the Vikings but the Broncos give the Lions the matchup edge they needed to correct that. The Broncos have a poor run defense and they are giving up first downs on 41% of third downs. That means teams have had success running and utilizing the short passing game to keep themselves out of obvious passing downs. That is exactly what has plagued the Lions. If the Lions can run and get the ball out of Stafford’s hands quickly, they can neutralize the only strength of the Denver defense.
Champ Bailey figures to spend a lot of time covering Calvin Johnson, and despite Bailey being one of the best corners of the last decade, that is a matchup that favors the Lions. The Lions need to get Calvin Johnson involved in the game earlier, but not by throwing the ball, but running the ball and attacking the defense underneath so it frees CJ up for the deep ball.
The Lions like to run the high tempo offense, but with the high altitude in Denver, they would be wise to take a slower more deliberate pace to keep players fresh and give the defense ample time to recover between drives.
The Lions offensive failures are squarely on the coaching staff for not putting their players in the best situations to maximize their talent. The Lions have an opportunity to get on track against a weak defensive opponent, but only if they take a more balanced approach and protect Stafford by keeping the play calling unpredictable.
The Lions have made no bones about conceding the run to shut down the pass, and they have done exactly that. However, the run game sets up the play action pass, which opponents have used with a lot of success the last two weeks. There is no reason to focus so heavily on the pass this week with Tim Tebow at the helm.
Everybody is fawning over last week’s comeback, but despite the two late touchdowns, Tebow played an awful game. He poses a unique threat running the ball, but his inability to read coverage, make quick decisions and throw accurate passes make him almost no threat to beat teams through the air.
The Lions are an aggressive defense, so I expect the Broncos to work in some option plays, misdirection runs and play action passes to try to get the Lions to take themselves out of position. I also expect a ton of running plays to wear out the high revving defensive line playing at such a high altitude.
The Broncos know they can’t beat the Lions through the air, so they will run the ball early and often. If the Lions concede the running game to them, they will play right into the Broncos hands.
The wild card will continue to be the Lions coaching staff. If they don’t stow the egos and stop trying to win their way the Lions simply won’t win many more games. The whole league knows what the Lions want to do and how to stop it, so until they start adapting and mixing up the play calls, the Lions will struggle.
Despite my reservations about the Lions play calling and predictability, I just don’t see the Broncos being able to hang with the Lions this week. The Lions front four will give Tebow his toughest test yet, and because the Lions can generate so much pressure with just the front four, Tebow will have to make throws that can beat the coverage. He hasn’t proven he can do that at the college level, let alone the NFL. The absence of Willis McGahee weakens the Denver offense’s chances of really beating the Lions on the ground as Lance Ball and Knowshon Moreno have had very little success in their short careers so far.
The Lions cannot take the Broncos lightly, especially with Tebow at the helm. The Broncos fans are obsessed with Tebow and the crowd and team feed off of his play. If he can string together a few good plays, the crowd becomes a factor quickly. I think the injury to Stafford may finally force the Lions’ hand into more conservative and balanced play calling and not only does that help them win this week, but maybe gets carried over into gameplans after the bye week.