The Detroit Lions Could Clinch Their Division This Weekend.
The Dallas Cowboys are fourth in points per game, and fifth in total offense. They are also fourth in red zone efficiency, and second in rushing offense. On the defensive side of the ball, they have the number one rushing defense and are fourth in the NFL in points allowed. In short, this week the Lions are facing a team that is the cream of the NFC crop, or at least have been so far this season.
Fear not my fellow kings of the jungle; there is hope. The Cowboys have the 28th ranked passing defense in the NFL, playing the Tampa Two that many of us recall hating for many years under coach Rod Marinelli, Dallas’ current defensive coordinator. The Tampa Two allows an infinite number of short passes to be completed underneath defenders that are dropping in to deep zones.
The Cowboys do have some good players on defense, primarily in their back seven, but they have been beatable. Their success against the run, and on the scoreboard, has been the result of getting early leads and sucking up incredible amounts of time with sustained drives. Other teams have been forced to throw early and often. Something that the Lions should be doing anyway given their offensive strengths.
For the Lions, the stakes are as high as they can be. A Lions win and a Green Bay loss this weekend (among other much less likely tie related possibilities) clinches the Lions their first Division title in 13 seasons.
The Cowboys Offensive Line
Forget Ezekiel Elliot and Dak Prescott for a moment. This is one of the greatest offensive lines ever assembled. This position group is the foundation of the Cowboys success. They are great in both the running game, and the passing game, capable of both zone and man blocking at the highest levels. Each is able to face off with top tier pass rushing linemen alone. The Lions defensive line need to reach the potential they have flashed, at least keeping these Giants off of linebackers DeAndre Levy and Tahir Whitehead, in order for there to be any hope of halting the Cowboys running game.
If the Lions win this game, expect Tate to have had a big day. The majority of the Lions receivers are going to be able to get open underneath the zone coverage of the Cowboys. It is Golden Tate’s ability after the catch that sets him apart from the Lions other options in the passing game. Tate’s background as a running back, and placement at the perimeter of the play puts him in a very good position to make plays against a Tampa Two defense. Each defender’s first step after reading pass is toward their deep zone drop, giving Tate just a little more room to operate than against some defensive systems. On any given play, a broken tackle likely puts Tate in the end zone.
The Lions’ linebacker played in 30 snaps in his second game back from the meniscus tear that kept him out 12 weeks, and made eight tackles. If an NFL player were to perform at that level for an entire season, presuming an NFL average of 62 defensive snaps per game, he would end a season with 260 tackles. How much DeAndre Levy can play will be a massive key for the Lions against the run heavy Cowboys Given the stakes this week and next; the Lions need everything Levy can give as soon as he can give it. A setback would be a tremendous blow to the Lions playoff prospects however, and Levy has played just 48 total snaps since week one. The team nearly doubled his snap count from week 14 to week 15, and Lions fans should be hoping for 40+ snaps from Levy this Monday.
He has proven that while he is certainly not the perfect running back, in all aspects of the game he is the best the Lions have on their roster. With suspect blocking Riddick has managed a career high 3.9 yards per carry, on a career high 92 rushing attempts. Lions fans should take coach Jim Caldwell’s advice this week and check the report. The health of Theo Riddick’s wrist will determine exactly how one dimensional the Lions defense will be. Riddick’s yards per carry may not be good, but his replacements Dwayne Washington (2.9), and Zach Zenner (3.5) have been unable to keep defenses honest, or exploit the defense’s lack of effort to stop the run.
Lions 27, Cowboys 28
I expect a close but disappointing game for Lions fans this week. Dak Prescott will likely complete 75% of his passes, almost all for five to ten yards in the air. Ezekiel Elliot will likely gain over 100 yards rushing. Golden Tate will finish with multiple touchdowns. Matthew Stafford will have similar numbers to Prescott, but with 25% more attempts and yards. In the end I just think the Cowboys are the better team, with much on the line and better coaching. That of course sets up a week 17 showdown with the Packers for the NFC North crown, and likely the only playoff spot that a team in the division will see this year.