The Detroit Lions return from their bye week rested from the fierce London battle and ready to take on the complicated second half of their 2014 schedule.
Lying in wait? The Miami Dolphins, who have quietly become one of the better stories in the NFL at 5-3. Under the offensive-minded Joe Philbin, Miami’s offense has evolved well will Ryan Tannehill, and is starting to score enough points to be considered a major threat.
Defensively, however, is where the Dolphins have quietly been best. Considering all the publicity and hype the Lions’ defenders have gotten, it’s easy to forget that they’ll be competing against some similar competition on Sunday afternoon at Ford Field.
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A quick glance at the numbers tells the whole story, with Detroit and Miami dueling in nearly every major defensive category. The Lions rank first in total defense, while the Dolphins check in at third. For rushing defense, Detroit rates second overall in the league, with Miami 10th. With regards to sacks, the Dolphins front has collected 25, while the Lions are close with 23. Nearly every defensive category presents a statistical toss-up.
The one area that could figure in biggest is pass defense. Somewhat stunningly, Detroit has shaken off their usual problems to rank fourth overall, only allowing 1,731 yards and nine touchdowns. If there’s one team that’s been slightly better, it’s Miami, who rates second allowing 1,609 yards.
After battling health problems all season, the Lions might finally have Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush back in the fold this weekend. Even though the team could still be without all three of their top tight ends, adding the threat of Johnson and Bush alone stands to make a significant difference in the game planning. Golden Tate has been great, but a team like Miami could neutralize him.
Even though the team could still be without all three of their top tight ends, adding the threat of Johnson and Bush alone stands to make a significant difference in game planning.
Somehow, Miami will have to cobble together the same type of efforts they have managed against other power passing attacks. The Dolphins held the New England Patriots, Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers without 100 yard receivers and only two passing touchdowns total. Even the Green Bay Packers didn’t go off against them, with Jordy Nelson collecting 107 yards and a score as the leader.
Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan, Jimmy Wilson and even Louis Delmas will have to be at their best to stop Detroit from spreading the ball around to multiple targets. Arguably, no other team possesses the depth of weapons the Lions do, so it will be the stiffest test of the year for Miami’s secondary, even without the threat of Brandon Pettigrew, Eric Ebron and Joseph Fauria being on the field with everyone else.
How Johnson is able to play and Bush’s abilities as a receiver will say plenty about Detroit’s chances of winning the game. To suggest the Dolphins against the Lions is a clash of the titans would be overstating things, but the match ups in the secondary will certainly have that feel.
All will make the biggest difference in determining a winner.