The Lions will travel to Dallas this week to face a Cowboys team fresh off of an ugly divisional win over the rival Redskins. Dallas will have a short week of preparation and will likely focus on repairing their lackluster passing game, as well as an unproductive red zone offense. The key to addressing both of these deficiencies is one in the same, and his name is Jason Witten. The All-Pro tight end has long been the focal point of the Cowboy offense, and quarterback Tony Romo will be focused on feeding him the ball early and often.
Detroit will use a variety of personnel and coverage schemes to negate Witten throughout the afternoon, but success rests in the hands of Western Michigan product Louis Delmas. Witten has long been a matchup nightmare for opponents, with an athletic advantage over most linebackers, and a significant size advantage over most safeties. Detroit will most likely use a combination of Delmas and linebacker DeAndre Levy in coverage, as well as nickelback Eric Wright when Witten lines up as the slot receiver. All must contribute in some capacity in order to effectively neutralize the tight end, but Delmas’ role will be most crucial. Jason Garrett’s offense is built for down field passing, and flourishes when able to exploit the middle of the field and open up the sidelines for Dallas wide receivers. Delmas will often be responsible for covering Witten downfield, and preventing him from making the types of plays that serve as a lightning rod for Romo and the Cowboy offense. If Delmas and the Lions can hold Jason Witten in check, the Dallas passing game should be largely ineffective.
Detroit Offensive Tackles vs. DeMarcus Ware & Co.
Last Sunday in Minnesota, right tackle Gosder Cherilus was benched for the second consecutive week after missing badly on a block that led to a big hit on Stafford. Corey Hilliard replaced Cherilus on the Lions’ third offensive series, only to surrender two sacks in three quarters of play. While Cherilus and Hilliard were making Viking defensive end Brian Robison appear to be an All-Pro player, Jared Allen was busy making Jeff Backus look like he had already retired.
The task will not be any easier come Sunday, as DeMarcus Ware and company set their sights on Stafford. Whether it is Cherilus or Hilliard starting at right tackle, they must be able to control outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, or whichever defender Rob Ryan sends from the left side of his 3-4 defense. This is imperative, so that Scott Linehan is able to provide Backus with the tight end, or running back assistance that he will undoubtedly need to successfully corral Ware. Much of the reason Backus struggled with Jared Allen was due to his speed and quickness off of the ball. The left tackle was often left over extended, which resulted in poor positioning of his feet. While DeMarcus Ware does not possess the type of speed or motor that Allen does, he compensates in strength, and is considered one of the premiere pass rushers in the NFL. Backus, however, matches up well against this type of pass rusher, and should have more success than last week in Minnesota. If the Lions’ tackles can protect Stafford and give him time to go through his progressions, he should find success against an underachieving Dallas secondary.
Other Matchups to Watch
Tony Romo managed to fight through the pain last week against the Washington Redskins, who were unable to take advantage of the quarterback’s broken ribs and punctured lung. The Redskins were unable to land any significant hits on Romo, as he largely dealt with glancing blows, or a shove to the ground. The Lion front four will attempt to take advantage of a very young and inexperienced offensive line; one that has struggled with communication, as well as working together throughout the first three weeks of the season. This Sunday will bring the first real test to that rib cage, as Romo has yet to be landed on by a defender, or receive a hit that he did not see coming. If the defensive line begins to sense pain in the Dallas quarterback, the swarm will only intensify, and a Lion team that feeds off of defensive energy, will be ignited further.