Corey Williams and Ndamukong Suh vs. Chiefs’ Interior Offensive Line
The NFL’s most prolific running attack propelled the Kansas City Chiefs to a surprise playoff appearance in 2010, although short lived. The Chiefs were promptly ejected by the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC wild card round. The key to Baltimore’s success was the ability of Greg Mattison’s defense to stifle the Kansas City ground game. Corey Williams and Ndamukong Suh will be charged with the same task this Sunday, as they square off with center Casey Wiegmann, and guards Ryan Lilja and Jon Asamoah. While much of the public focus remains on Suh, Williams will be the catalyst in this matchup. The underrated defensive tackle will have an emphasized role as he is expected to force the Chiefs into double team situations, thus occupying an extra blocker. If the Chiefs are successful at moving Williams off of the line of scrimmage it will both create running lanes for Jamaal Charles, and prevent Lions’ linebackers from flowing unimpeded.
While Williams is attempting to control the line, Suh will be using his explosiveness off of the ball to gain penetration. If the Pro Bowl defensive tackle is able to establish himself in the backfield, he will be able to disrupt the cohesiveness of the offensive line and clog running lanes. It will be nearly impossible for Kansas City to double both Suh and Williams, so they will most likely attempt to chip with an extra blocker on their way to the second level. By dominating their respective assignments and forcing the Chiefs to focus on the line of scrimmage; Tulloch, Durant, and Levy will see fewer bodies and be able to make their reads and run fits. This matchup will be vital as the Chiefs not only led the league in rushing yards, but also in attempts with an average of 32 per contest. Kansas City will certainly be focused on establishing their ground attack after a lackluster week 1 performance.
Jeff Backus vs. Tamba Hali
Left Tackle Jeff Backus excelled in week 1 against Tampa Bay, making Adrian Clayborn look more like a seventh round draft choice than a first. This week brings a much more challenging task as the reigning AFC sack king rolls into Ford Field with the rest of a shell-shocked defense in tow. Tamba Hali flourished last season in defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 scheme. The main reason Hali was able to amass 14 and a half sacks in 2010 was due to the two gap responsibility of the defensive linemen, combined with a great motor and arguably the best set of hands in the league. This defensive scheme requires each of the three down linemen to control two gaps, or running lanes, rather than one, thus giving Crennel the freedom to send Hali from a wide variety of positions. The outside linebacker will frequently line up on the blind side opposite Jeff Backus and rush from an upright stance. The Kansas City 3-4 scheme also allows outside linebackers to widen out their alignment, giving this matchup a much more unique dynamic. Backus must be quicker than last week as this rush will often come from wider angles off of the edge, and with greater speed. His awareness must be elevated throughout the contest as well, as Crennel will have the freedom to delay and disguise his pass rush within the 3-4 two gap scheme. If Hali is kept in check, the Lions’ passing game should be able to replicate the dissection of an Eric Berry-less secondary that Ryan Fitzpatrick performed in week 1.
Other Matchups to Watch
One overlooked aspect of this game will be the conflicting psyches of these two teams as they enter Sunday afternoon’s matchup. The Lions are coming off of one of the lengthiest winning streaks in recent history, and perhaps once again playing with the confidence that hasn’t been seen since the departure of Barry Sanders. They are considerable favorites, and playing a sold out home opener that will feature an atmosphere of optimism that will seem alien to most Lions’ players and fans. The chiefs, on the other hand, are coming off of one of the most disappointing performances from around the league in week 1. This team returns much of the cast that led them to the playoffs, yet they were stunned at home by a mediocre Buffalo Bills team. Kansas City will be looking to get on track against Detroit, and will most likely be feeling disrespected, as well as the lingering sting of humiliation. Jim Schwartz seems to have his team in the right mindset for the matchup, and the Lions have not yet grown into the type of team that is consistent enough to overlook any opponents. There is no doubt that Detroit will be prepared for the Kansas City team that Chiefs fans, as well as coaches, expected to see in week 1.