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Mailbag: How should Detroit Lions defend Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams?

The Detroit Lions face a daunting task against Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams offense. Here are some things they can do to limit the damage.

Detroit Lions v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It’s playoff week, and that means our coverage is all focused on the Detroit Lions’ Wild Card matchup with the Los Angeles Rams. So for this edition of the Midweek Mailbag with myself and Erik Schlitt, we’re taking only questions about the upcoming matchup between the Lions and Rams.

Naturally, this week we got a lot of questions about how the Lions plan on defending against a red-hot Rams offense. Many are understandably concerned about what Matthew Stafford, Puka Nacua, and Cooper Kupp can do through the air, but one of the most challenging parts of this Rams offense is how balanced it is with an excellent run game. Knowing the Lions, stopping that rushing attack is going to be objective number one.

“If you can make the Rams one-dimensional—and it’s not going to be easy. This is a good rushing attack, Kyren Williams is having a heck of a year—but if you can do that, suddenly you can get Matthew Stafford into third-and-longs,” I noted on the podcast.

“Suddenly you can pin your ears back a little bit and as much as Matthew Stafford is the boogeyman right now and is scary (against) this pass defense right now, the one thing he can’t do is run on you a bunch. He’ll do it every now and then, and he can manage the pocket kind of okay, but he mostly an immobile quarterback and if you put pressure in his face, he is going to get sacked. The Lions have been very good at really combining those two things: stopping the run and then getting pressure over the past month.”

In terms of coverage, it’s a trickier proposal. The Lions clearly have a huge weakness right now at outside cornerback. But with a decent crew of nickel corners and safeties, there are some things they can do without necessarily conceding too much in the run game.

Schlitt, for example, believes the Lions should consider playing more dime in this game—getting all three safeties (C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Kerby Joseph) on the field without taking snaps away from nickel corner Brian Branch. That way, you have speed out there on the field to match the likes of Nacua and Kupp, but don’t sacrifice too much in terms of run defense.

“I would love to see dime sets and using Branch and CJGJ as third linebackers, essentially,” Schlitt said. “Get your best athletes on the field and try to match that offense, because I think both of those guys are good enough against the run that they can do it.”

We get very in-depth in that conversation and more in this week’s Midweek Mailbag. Here’s a look at some of the topics on this week’s show with timestamps into the episode:

  • (2:30) — Offensive, defensive game plans vs. Rams
  • (7:45) — Will the Lions be able to run the ball this week?
  • (11:00) — Do the Lions match up better against smaller receivers (Nacua, Kupp) compared to No. 1 receivers who beat them up the past few weeks (Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb)?
  • (16:50) — Are the Lions cornerbacks being left out to dry by safeties?
  • (24:40) — Should Jahmyr Gibbs get more involved in the passing game if Sam LaPorta is out?
  • (27:50) — What’s the biggest matchup advantage for Rams? Lions?
  • (25:20) — Is the season a disappointment if Detroit loses to Los Angeles?

You can listen to the entire episode below:

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