Warning: the following preview is rated TV:MA. It is intended for masochistic audiences only.
The Detroit Lions (0-2) make their Ford Field debut on Sunday night, hosting the Denver Broncos (2-0). The home crowd can't be feeling too excited for a game that was considered must-see less than two weeks ago. In fact on Wednesday, tickets were still available for the game. Things are looking pretty bad right now, and with Peyton Manning coming to town, the city of Detroit has been juiced of their optimism. But are things as truly bad as they seem? (yes, they are) Let us consult the charts. (please don't make me)
Lions pass offense (ranked 11th by yardage in 2015) vs. Broncos pass defense (1st)
Last year, the Lions' pass game floated around mediocrity. So far, it looks like Detroit is in for more of the same in 2015. Here are Matthew Stafford's stats from last year compared to this season:
|Completion %||Yards/Attempt||Passer rating|
Not exactly the new-and-improved offense Lions fans were looking for. Though the raw protection numbers don't point to a big problem along the offensive line (two sacks allowed, sixth-least; 12 QB hits, 17th), anyone who watched a few minutes of either game knows the Lions' passing game is being disrupted by the opponent's pass rush. Stafford has done his best to mitigate the damage, but he's no miracle worker.
Oh no. Oh no no no no no. Nope. No no nope.
In two weeks, the Broncos have held their opponents to 267 total passing yards (first) and a passer rating of just 45.1 (first). Denver boasts an impressive secondary and an even better pass rush. They are tied for the most interceptions in the league (4) and have the fourth-most sacks (7).
Player to watch: Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are going to eat the Lions' offensive line and dismember Stafford. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are going to eat the Lions' offensive line and dismember Stafford. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are going to eat the Lions' offensive line and dismember Stafford.
Advantage: Broncos +3. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are going to eat the Lions' offensive line and dismember Stafford. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are going to eat the Lions' offensive line and dismember Stafford. But hey, LaAdrian Waddle may be back this week! Doesn't matter, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are going to eat the Lions' offensive line and dismember Stafford.
Lions run offense (31st) vs. Broncos run defense (18th)
The Lions are headed for another season of little-to-no running game. Detroit hasn't had a top 10 rushing attack since 1998, and even though the Lions added the thrilling Ameer Abdullah, it doesn't look like that streak will end this year. Again, the offensive line has been the bane of the offense's existence. The one positive outlook is that Abdullah has managed to average 4.5 yards per carry with almost no help from the offensive line. Imagine what he could do if the line ever gets its act together.
It's also important to note that the Lions may not be 100% sure what they have in their running game, as they have attempted the fewest rushes of any team through two weeks (32).
If there's even a slight weakness to this impressive Broncos defense, it's their run defense. Last week, the Kansas City Chiefs were able to control most of the game on the ground, frustrating the Broncos to the tune of almost 150 yards rushing at over 5 yards per carry.
However, this was a pretty solid unit last year, and I imagine the Chiefs are going to have a pretty solid running game this year. I wouldn't take last week's defensive performance as the norm for Denver.
Player to watch: Danny Trevathan. The inside linebacker leads the team with 16 total tackles, including one for loss. He and Brandon Marshall have done a good job plugging the middle of the field thus far.
Advantage: Broncos +1. Denver's defense is extremely good, but they are slightly vulnerable to the run game. However, Detroit hasn't shown any signs of being a threatening running team in over a decade. Even with a talent like Abdullah, it's hard to imagine them winning this matchup.
Broncos pass offense (26th) vs. Lions pass defense (24th)
Denver was absolutely dominant passing the ball in 2014, but it has been an entirely different story through two weeks this season...or at least it seems that way. It's hard to know how good the Ravens and Chiefs defense will be in 2015, but Baltimore allowed the Raiders to blow up their defense last week and the Texans had a somewhat successful passing game against the Chiefs in Week 1.
All that is to say: the Broncos are probably significantly worse than last year at passing the ball, but I'm not ready to bury them yet. Denver ranks 27th in passer rating (74.2), 32nd in yards per attempt (5.1) and 25th in completion percentage (58.8 percent). Additionally, they have been sacked the fourth-most (7).
It's weakness vs. weakness as the Lions have struggled mightily defending the pass in 2015. I hope you had a light breakfast, because the next group of stats may make you nauseous:
Detroit ranks 26th in passer rating allowed (108.8), 30th in yards per attempt allowed (9.1!!!), and...gulp...32nd in completion percentage allowed, ceding completions on 81.4 percent of passes. Yikes.
Player to watch: Emmanuel Sanders. Darius Slay has been solid in coverage this season, so I don't expect Demaryius Thomas to go off on Sunday. However, Sanders is the kind of receiver that could give the Lions Keenan Allen-esque nightmares.
Advantage: Draw. Last year, this would have been a marquee matchup. This season, both units have been terribly disappointing. Both teams will probably look better as the season rolls on, but for now, this matchup could go either way, and I don't think either team will dominate this facet of the game.
Broncos run offense (29th) vs. Lions run defense (29th)
Denver's rushing attack was all over the place in 2014, but this season it has been stuck in neutral. Due to a myriad of offensive line issues, the Broncos rank t-30th in yards per attempt (2.8) and don't have a run over 16 yards.
Say goodbye to that beautiful green chart, because it's the last time you'll see it. Detroit's identity last year was stopping the run, and so far in 2015 they have fallen way short of that goal. The 199 yards ceded against Minnesota last week was over 40 yards more than the Lions gave up in any single game last year. The absence of DeAndre Levy has caused some poor linebacker play, and unfortunately, it looks like the Lions will be without Levy's services for at least another week.
Player to watch: Ezekiel Ansah. Although Ansah, has been battling a back injury this week in practice, if he can go, it will be huge for the Lions. Ziggy has been one of the few bright spots for the Lions' defense. Specifically, Ansah has been extraordinary against the run, tallying three tackles for loss already in 2015.
Advantage: Lions +1. I'm giving the Lions the advantage here just because Denver has been that bad at running the ball. While I don't have a lot of confidence in Detroit holding the Broncos below their 2.8 yards per carry average, there's no reason to expect an Adrian Peterson-like performance this week. Denver's running game should not be a factor this week.
Desperation at home. The Lions backs are against the wall, and with a big challenge ahead next week waiting in Seattle on Monday night, Detroit really needs a tally in the win column. Even with the pessimism surrounding the team right now, Sunday night at Ford Field should provide an extra boost for the boys in Honolulu Blue.
Last week's prediction: On Paper joined the Lions in their winless depression. My prediction of 20-17 wasn't far off from the actual 26-16 score, but I had the teams mixed up. In the comment section, jordan.wimer.89 nailed his prediction of 27-17 Vikings. Here is your prize, presented without comment:
This week's prediction:
The Broncos prevail with a pretty significant +3 advantage. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has watched either the Lions or the Broncos play a game this year. Denver hasn't exactly been dominant in its 2-0 campaign, but Detroit hasn't given its fans any reason for optimism. Are the Lions as bad as they have played through two weeks? I don't know, but if they don't show any signs of improvement soon, it will be too late to even matter. Broncos 23, Lions 10.