The Detroit Lions (3-6) are on the road again in Week 11, taking on the New York Giants (7-2), in an NFC showdown.
Let’s take a closer look at the key things the Lions need to do against the Bears in order to keep their winning streak going. Check out the odds for this game courtesy of our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Giants’ base schemes
On offense, the Giants use a lot of base ideas coach Brian Daboll has brought with him from his coaching past, including loads of play-action, pre-snap motion from skill players, post-snap pull from offensive linemen, and he isn't afraid to go old-school, two-back sets. But when they adjust, they lean more on offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, whose creativity and blending of concepts keep things simple and fresh.
Their biggest asset is understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their offense. Quarterback Daniel Jones struggled with interceptions, so they scheme up plays that don’t put the ball at risk. They have a stud running back in Saquon Barkley, so they feed him at a very high rate. Tight ends are impacted by injury, so they turn to use six, seven or even eight lineman on the field at a time.
On defense, the Giants use Don “Wink” Martindale’s 3-4 base that he developed in Baltimore. That scheme will historically fluctuate between four and five players on the line of scrimmage and deploy a lot of Cover-2/man coverage concepts. Martindale isn’t afraid to lean on his personnel groups sometimes deploying six or seven defensive backs and others dropping eight in the box.
Here’s an example of a 2-4-5 base, with a Cover-2/man coverage scheme that is becoming common among 3-4 base teams:
Against the Texans (following their bye week) they mainly went to this approach late in the game after they jumped out to a lead. And while the above scheme is becoming more popular, the Giants wanted to load up the box against the Texans early in order to stop the run.
Here’s an example of their primary look vs. the Texans: 3-4 base with five on the line-of-scrimmage, a safety in the box, man coverage on the outside, and a single-high safety:
Loading up the box allowed them to not only stifle the run game but also sets up blitzing opportunities, something the Giants do nearly 40% of the time—by far the most of any team in the NFL.
This brings us to our first key:
Have a counter to their aggression
“They put stress on an offensive unit, probably more so than most defenses in this league,” Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “So, yeah we carry a lot of burden identifying these looks. We have to be able to communicate (and) be on the same page in order to execute this week.”
One of the best ways to counter aggression is with misdirection and quick developing plays. Slants to Amon-Ra St. Brown should be a staple, as should screen plays to D’Andre Swift and Kalif Raymond. The Lions should also not be afraid to spread the field out—something that will be easier if DJ Chark and/or Josh Reynolds return—and try and pull bodies out of the box.
Of course, the best way to slow down an aggressive defense is to establish the run. And despite having two of the best defensive tackles in the game in Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams, they are surprisingly vulnerable against the run.
Which takes us to our next key.
Dial up your own aggression with the offensive line
Lawrence (PFF’s No. 2 DT) and Williams (No. 9) are monsters in the middle and both stay on the field for over 80% of snaps. Last week against the Texans, that percentage was over 90 for both players.
“I mean (Lawrence) doesn’t come off the field,” coach Dan Campbell said. “It’s rare that you get a player that is that type of ‘nose’ if you will, but that shows how productive he is and versatile. So, he can play with leverage. He does play with leverage, he’s stout, he’s strong, he can push the pocket, he can get an edge and get around you, and so yeah, it certainly helps you because he can play the run and he can push the pocket in the pass game.”
In the passing game, Lawrence and Williams will be problems and further illustrates why the concepts in the above section are necessary. But against the run, the Lions offensive line needs to utilize movement and take the fight to them.
Since their bye week, the Lions have started implementing some outside-zone concepts into their offensive game plan and this could be the week to break a few more out. Getting back to some more trap and wham concepts will also help. Basically, any blocking scheme that keeps the Giants interior on their heels, looking sideways for a block that might be coming, or looking out their ear hole if they don’t see it coming.
Here’s an example of a successful run play from the Giants game last week where they predictably crash the middle, but the Texans counter by pulling their linemen, down blocking, and creating a hole on the right side.
Love the run concept, but even more was Dameon Pierce's vision to find the second level. Giants run defense obv a problem without 97 pic.twitter.com/IpvThDUXUu— Billy M (@BillyM_91) November 17, 2022
If the Lions offensive line stays on their spots, they’ll take a beating and eventually wear down. But if they get the opportunity to take the fight to the Giants, it’ll create an entirely new dynamic.
Win the turnover battle
On the season, the Giants are +4 in the turnover battle, while the Lions are -2, but over their last two games the Lions are +3, and no surprise, they won them both.
“They’re obviously emphasizing (creating turnovers) like most teams do, but they’re capitalizing,” Campbell said of the Giants. “I mean, Barkley who carries a heavy, heavy load is doing a good job of securing the football. Because they are so run-heavy, and the other thing is the passes that they are throwing are very high-percentage passes, so that’s why you’re not seeing the interceptions.”
It won’t be easy, as the Giants quarterback has only thrown two interceptions and just 10 turnover-worthy plays (per PFF) all season. But the Lions defenders need to be constantly looking for opportunities to help their offense get back on the field.
“Do your job” against Barkley
Like last week with Bears quarterback Justin Fields, the Lions need to pay extra attention to Saquon Barkley. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn had a lot to say about the Giants' talented back:
“You talk about vision, you talk about being able to break a tackle and take it the distance. That’s the one trait that you see with him that’s unlike any other back that we’ve went against. So, the ability to make sure we get the ball down is important with that player. Population to the ball is important with that player. This jump cut, his ability to burst is probably the best I’ve seen this year as far as a running back. Even the ones, the good ones we’ve been against. And I think he’s leading the League in rushing, so that tells you the story of who this guy is. So, it’s a hard job, alright? But I think our guys are up for the job and each week we have to go against a good player and it is what it is.”
Barkley’s lowest output of the season came three weeks ago against the Seattle Seahawks, who held him 53 rushing yards and won the game 27-13. If the Lions opt to focus on Barkley, they’ll have to repeat some of the checklist items they used on Fields last week:
- Know your responsibilities and “do your job”
- Own your gap
- Avoid the eye-candy
- Attack him in waves
- Wrap up
Barkley is going to make noise. That’s just the level of talented player that he is. But if the Lions can corral and contain, limiting his production, it’ll be a massive step toward a potential third win in a row.