In recent weeks, the Detroit Lions offense has struggled mightily to put up points on the opposition. Two weeks ago, they faced the second ranked 49ers defense and managed to put up only 19 points in that game. Last Sunday, they faced a pretty loaded Falcons defense and managed only 16 points. Through the first five games of this season, the Lions had one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, averaging close to 32 points a game. In the last two games, however, the Lions offense has struggled, averaging just 17.5 points. On Sunday, they will face a Denver Broncos defense that has struggled for the most part in 2011; the question is whether or not the Lions will be able to take advantage of that.
The Broncos defense is coached mainly by their head coach, John Fox, who is in his first season in Denver after spending the last nine with the Panthers as their head coach. Fox has a long history as a football coach that started way back in 1978 as a graduate assistant at San Diego State. Since then, he has coached for seven different universities, one USFL team, and seven NFL teams in various roles. His NFL coaching career started in 1992 as the Chargers defensive backs coach, a role he held for two years. After that, he was the Los Angeles Raiders defensive coordinator from ’94 to ’95, a personnel consultant for the Rams in ’96, and the Giants defensive coordinator from ’97 to ’01. He was hired as the Panthers head coach in 2002 and remained in that position until last season.
As you can tell, John Fox is incredibly inexperience. He may quite possibly be one of the most underrated head coaches in the NFL. With the Panthers, he built a team that was relevant on a yearly basis and led them to their first Super Bowl appearance in 2003. He also was on the Giants' 2000 Super Bowl coaching staff. Interestingly enough, he has accomplished all of this without doing anything different or special compared to his peers/colleagues in the business.
For the most part, John Fox has really played the standard NFL defense, a 4-3 that rushes four men and drops back seven; at least, he did while he was in Charlotte. With the Broncos, he has decided to snazz things up a bit, especially with rookie phenom Von Miller. With Miller, the Broncos now play a pretty aggressive style of defense, one that you could almost call a 5-2 since they bring a five-man rush on many, if not most, occasions. This means that they often leave two linebackers to cover the shallow zones of the field or even to stop the run.
While they are getting solid pass rush with this strategy, registering just one sack less than the Lions and tying with the Packers thus far, they are still giving up a fair amount of yards through the air and on the ground. The Broncos rank 19th in the league in pass defense and 17th in the rush defense. They are also ranked 29th in the league in points given up with 25.8 per game. The good news for the Lions offense is that 11 of the 15 touchdowns the Broncos defense has given up so far have been through the air, and they have just three interceptions so far this season, which ranks them 28th in the league.
For this week’s play breakdown, I am going to show you guys the Broncos' new 5-2. As you can expect, this type of aggressive "blitzing" can generate quite a bit of pressure, especially when you have premium talents like Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller in your front seven. But the play I am about to show you actually won’t be a passing situation; it will be a running one. In the play below, which starts at the 1:53 mark, the Raiders overload the weakside of the field, which immediately gives them a numbers advantage. They simply use the extra men on that side of the field to block everyone, and the play results in a huge gain for Darren McFadden.
Now, the play above is only possible because of the type of defense the Broncos were playing. Because they were willing to rush five, they had to bring a safety down into the box to contain the Raiders running attack, and because they did that, they were left with just one safety responsible for the entire deep portion of the field. Darren McFadden was simply able to torch them since the Raiders were already overloaded on that side and had done a great job of getting everyone blocked.
All of this really means is that the Lions are facing a defense that they can take advantage of, but only if they can play soundly on offense, something they have not done for quite some time now. Matthew Stafford needs to get out of his funk and start leading the offense to consistent drives. They don’t need to score on every possession, but three and outs are basically the same thing as turnovers, except that you are giving the opponent the ball about 40 yards further than a turnover would. With any offense in the NFL, if you give them enough chances, they will score on you like the 49ers and Falcons did.