The Detroit Lions (0-2) finally have their home opener in Week 3 of the season. The bad news is the 2-0 Denver Broncos are coming to town for a Sunday Night game at 8:30 PM at Ford Field on NBC. Two primetime games in the next two weeks will put all eyes on Detroit to try and save their season. This will be a tough home game for Detroit against Denver’s menacing defense (18.5 PPG). Detroit’s protection, run blocking and run defense must improve in this home game for Detroit to try and save the season.
This preview we will take a look at what Detroit must avoid in order to win.
Don’t Get Stafford Killed
Pass Protection has been the biggest issue for Detroit this season. Both of Detroit’s tackles have struggled along with their new center Travis Swanson. Communication has been poor and unblocked players have teed off on Stafford way too much.
Stafford had completed 80.4% of his passes for a 102 QB rating in the 51 attempts he was protected this season. Stafford is a dismal 10/32 without protection with two sacks and two interceptions. Protect Stafford and the Lions can score points. Allow Stafford to be killed on Sunday and the Lions season will take a huge hit.
The good news for Detroit is LaAdrian Waddle should play over struggling Cornelius Lucas at right tackle. It’s unknown why he didn’t play last week. Right guard Larry Warford (ankle) can shake off the rust and has played much better in almost every other game of his career. Left Tackle Riley Reiff has played stronger in past seasons in pass protection too. Manny Ramirez has been good in pass protection thus far this season. The talent is there and the communication should be easier at home. Detroit can fix this problem especially at home.
However, the bad news is Demarcus Ware (+9.9 pass) and Von Miller (+7.7 pass rush) are absolute terrors. Even if Detroit improves, these two monsters can destroy any QB whenever they want. Malik Jackson, Vance Walker and Antonio Smith have had some success too at 3-4 DE in pass rush for Denver. Detroit will be fully tested in Week 3 in pass protection. Waddle must play this week and Reiff, Warford and Swanson must play well enough to limit the damage from Miller and Ware and the DE rush.
Stop with the Damn Turnovers
Detroit turned the ball over 33 and 34 turnovers in 2012 and 2013. They lost a ton of games because of that issue. Detroit has 5 turnovers in two games this season and some of them have been backbreakers. Detroit’s second interception against San Diego set up a short field to get San Diego within one point. Detroit’s lone interception against Minnesota helped let Minnesota finish the game after a field goal. The two fumbles against Minnesota were momentum killers.
Detroit must avoid multiple turnovers. Setting up short fields for other teams is just inviting losses.
Don’t Get Gashed in Run Game
Detroit did a good job in Week 1 against the run of San Diego but let Adrian Peterson run wild in Week 2. CJ Anderson is not Peterson and the Broncos offensive line has been poor in run blocking except Evan Mathis. Anderson has battled injury and averaged 2.3 YPC. Backup Ronnie Hillman averages 3.6 YPC. Detroit better stop the run this week like in Week 1.
Don’t Let Manning Break You Down with Short Passes
Peyton Manning has struggled with 58% completion, 3 TDs and 2 interceptions through two games. Manning’s offensive line has protection problems except for Louis Vazquez. Manning is not mobile. The short passes must be stopped or Manning will have a day like Rivers in Week 1. Ihedigbo, Tulloch and Mathis rebounded in Week 2 nicely. Detroit needs DeAndre Levy back this week.
Demaryius Thomas (176 yards) and Emmanuel Sanders (156 yards and 2 TDs) are very dangerous receivers. Slot WR Jordan Norwood, Andre Caldwell and TEs Virgil Green and Owen Daniels shouldn’t be much of a threat to Detroit. Detroit must take away either Thomas or Sanders and limit the other or they will be looking at a shootout against Peyton Manning. Darius Slay has done a great job this year and should handle one of the WRs. Rashean Mathis must play like Week 2 against the other or it could be another Keenan Allen (166 yards) type situation for Sanders.
Detroit’s pass rush has been under the radar good. Rivers was pressured 10th most of all QBs in Week 1 and Bridgewater was pressured over 40% of his limited drop backs. The problem was there was only 23 drop backs needed for Bridgewater with Peterson running possessed (4.6 YPC). Detroit must stop the run and take advantage of a poor Denver offensive line to disrupt Manning.
Run the Damn Ball
Detroit ran only 16 times in Week 2 and Stafford was their leading rusher. This just can’t happen. Everyone other than Riley Reiff has struggled in run blocking for Detroit and Brandon Pettigrew (hamstring) out in Week 2 hurts the run blocking too.
Abdullah looks good when he gets a hole but Bell looks slower after his knee and Achilles surgeries this offseason. Detroit must figure out a way to run block better and actually run it more so Stafford doesn’t have to pass 50 times in a game. Ware/Miller would surely destroy Stafford if given 50 chances. Detroit ran well in Week 1. The talent is there; now they need execution.
Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate rebounded in Week 2 with good games after being blanketed in Week 1 by Flowers and Verett. The Broncos have the coverage firepower to stop Johnson and Tate with Aqib Talib (+5.1 coverage) and Chris Harris Jr (+3.1 coverage). Detroit must win this matchup to give Stafford proper support.
Lance Moore against Bradley Roby (+1.6) and Eric Ebron against free safety Darrian Stewart (+3.0) and TJ Ward and Denver’s coverage LBs must help Detroit. Stewart has been good in coverage but the LBs (-2.5 combined) and Ward (-1.6) have struggled. Eric Ebron has had a nice start to the season with 96 yards and 2 TDS. Ebron must break out even more if Calvin/Tate are covered well on Sunday night.
Detroit 28 Denver 21
Detroit needs this game badly after a dreadful 0-2 start. Home games are very important after two road losses. Detroit can finish 10-4 or better this season with plenty of home games left. Detroit shines at home in this one and creeps back into the race. I don’t want to think about the alternative.