For most of 2014, the Detroit Lions did well not to let opposing receivers dominate games or change their complexion with big plays. In itself, that helped the team to wins and also their dominating defense.
That notion will be put to the test in a major way as Detroit prepares to take on the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs. The Cowboys feature Jason Witten, one of the best tight ends in the game, as well as receivers Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. All have combined for 15 touchdowns and 1,744 yards.
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Oh yeah, and if that’s not enough, there’s also the major issue of that Dez Bryant guy.
For all the questions Bryant sees swirl about being a prima-donna receiver who does nothing but worry about money and whine about getting the football, the Cowboys actually do a fantastic job of spreading the ball around successfully while also allowing Bryant to remain a statistical beast and have his share of big games.
This past season, Bryant went off for 1,320 yards and 16 scores as Tony Romo’s main elite deep threat. In the last three meetings he’s seen against Detroit in 2010, 2011 and 2013, Bryant has put up 117 total yards receiving with a whopping five touchdowns against the Lions’ defensive backfield.
Others will talk about the importance of stopping DeMarco Murray on the ground. The fact is, the Lions’ run defense is probably good enough to hold its own in that department. Clearly but quietly, limiting the big damage Bryant can do though the air will be of most importance on Sunday afternoon.
Though he’s scored his share of touchdowns against the Lions career, Bryant still hasn’t gone over 100 yards against them in a single game. That’s key to remember, because if he had, Detroit likely isn’t able to come from behind in 2011 and 2013 to score clutch fourth quarter wins. A few more big plays from Dallas, and specifically their big play threat Bryant, could have certainly turned those games around.
Though he’s scored his share of touchdowns against the Lions career, Bryant still hasn’t gone over 100 yards against them in a single game.
Sunday, Detroit will need to do much of the same against Bryant to win on the road. If he scores a few touchdowns in the red zone, the Lions will look at that as a victory, especially if Bryant isn’t the one getting them there by catching plenty of chunk yardage passes deep and through the middle of the secondary.
Defensively, the Lions plan to deal with Bryant should be simple. First and foremost, they need to hope their defensive line can do a good job of getting home against Romo in the pocket and slow the running game on their own. In the secondary, Detroit needs to make sure they have plenty of safety help available for Bryant at all times. Though he can still pull the ball down atop multiple players, one-on-one match ups with Bryant are always most dangerous.
Dallas has much offensive diversity to be concerned about, but it’s important to remember what has driven most their recent success: an elite wide receiver capable of changing the game with only a few catches. Bryant has yet to influence a game against Detroit in this way despite plenty of personal success.
If the Lions are to break their ugly playoff drought on the road, they’ll have to keep Bryant the quietest in both the yardage and overall impact department.