Offensive vs. Defensive Lines for both teams
Most NFL experts will admit that beyond the allure of skilled athletes, and even in spite of greatness in the coaching ranks, football games are won or lost at the line of scrimmage. Traditionally this has meant a battle to control the ground game, with the offensive line fighting to gain leverage and push the defender, and the defensive line digging in and holding their ground. Now, however, the NFL is a passing league, and that will be evident this weekend, even in the face of a possible snow storm.
The Lions are woeful in the running game, which has all but become an arbitrary means of keeping the defense honest, and has often resulted in difficult long yardage situations. The Broncos found success behind the rejuvenated Willis McGahee, but he will likely miss Sunday’s game, or be limited, due to a fractured hand.
This week’s battle in the trenches will feature some of the league’s premier pass rushers going head to head with two of the more underwhelming pass protecting offensive lines. The Broncos feature a pair of intimidating edge rushers in Elvis Dumervil and rookie Von Miller, who already has amassed six sacks on the season. Tackles Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus have struggled mightily this season in pass protection with speed rushers such as Jared Allen (and Brian Robison), but held their own against the likes of DeMarcus Ware. Both Miller and Dumervil use their quickness to get the edge, and collapse the pocket from the outside. Whether Stafford or Hill starts at quarterback for the Lions, neither stand a chance if they face the type of assault from defenders that Stafford has seen over the past two weeks.
Denver’s offensive line faces a different type of challenge altogether. Detroit may not have an outside presence equal to Denver’s, but Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch command a certain level of respect from opposing players. The interior of the Lion defensive line is what sets this group apart from most others. Denver will likely play to Tebow’s strengths, and while the polarizing quarterback may not be prototypical, he is the perfect recipe when facing an aggressive defensive line such as Detroit’s. Tebow’s greatest asset is his ability to extend the play with his legs, and the Lions have already had difficulty in maintaining a disciplined pass rush.
The Broncos should be able to take advantage of this by moving Tebow around, and waiting for running lanes to open up. They can also benefit from screen passes as Knowshon Moreno is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. If the Broncos utilize Tim Tebow’s running capabilities against this attacking defensive front, they should find more than adequate running lanes and breakdowns in coverage down the field. If Tebow is forced to throw from the pocket, the broncos have a slim chance of producing offensively.
Calvin Johnson vs. Champ Bailey
Calvin Johnson is so talented, that opposing teams brag about “shutting him down”, even after he gains 113 yards on seven receptions. Johnson leads the NFL with 10 touchdowns to date, and has continued his success even with the struggles of Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ red zone offense. Champ Bailey is no longer an elite cornerback in the NFL, but he is still a skilled player nonetheless.
Bailey prides himself on being a lockdown corner, and in his past ability to take a receiver out of a game single handedly. It will be interesting to see if the Denver coaching staff feels he can still deliver, or if they will provide safety help throughout the game. If Johnson finds himself in a one-on-one matchup with Bailey, Stafford will be looking to him often, and will likely break out of his current two game slump.
Other Matchups to watch
It will be interesting to see how the Lions defend Tim Tebow. Given the porous run defense over the past two weeks, it would make sense for Detroit to load the box in an effort to stop the run first, and dare Tebow to throw the ball downfield. The Lions will also likely use more blitz packages than in recent weeks to disrupt the quarterback, and force him into quick decisions, where his extended throwing motion could force some errors.