Lions Defense Will Dominate, Stafford Must Rise Against Bills

The Detroit Lions will play host to the Buffalo Bills Sunday in what will be a decisive game for the Lions’ early control of the NFC North. The Lions enter this weekend with momentum, having paralyzed the New York Jets last week on the road. With the best defense in the entire NFL along with QB Matthew Stafford’s recent resurgence, the Lions will play Buffalo as overwhelming favorites.

The Bills are no foreign opponent to Detroit. The two teams have played 34 times in the preseason with the most recent edition being the Lions 23-0 blanketing on August 28th. Yet despite such a well worn exhibition rivalry, Sunday will mark only the tenth time that the two teams have met in regular season competition. And while this is the second meeting of 2014 for Detroit and Buffalo, both teams have evolved vastly and moved in different directions since. The Lions looked relatively average in August, but the story of this season (and this game) has become defensive domination. Even with an opulence of offensive star power, Detroit’s defense has given the Lions a significant advantage against opponents this year. The Lions are ranked 1st in the NFL in total defense and should shut down Buffalo’s mediocre-at-best offense, especially at home. Detroit has only allowed 15.5 points a game, which is 4th best in the league and the rush defense has only conceded 80.6 yards per game, which is 6th best. But most impressive has been the secondary, which has contained teams to only 186.5 yards per game, which is 2nd in the entire NFL. For a team that has been grilled repeatedly by the media for lacking a premier cornerback or ballhawk talent at safety, Detroit’s secondary poses a viable solution to Buffalo WR Sammy Watkins’ physicality.

The key for the Lions on Sunday will be once again to get their opponent’s offense off the field. Against Buffalo, Detroit should have no issue doing that. The Lions are 4th best in the NFL on third down defense, and have only allowed offenses to convert 34% of the time. And while granted the Lions’ offense hasn’t always been perfect this season, the Bills’ offense has been virtually miserable through all four games. Despite being 2-2 and 1st in the AFC East, Buffalo lacks any real passing game and is average at rushing the ball. QB EJ Manuel is 76 of 131 for 838 yards with just a 58 percent completion percentage; his 19.8 QBR is second worst in the league, only above Chad Henne in Jacksonville. RB CJ Spiller has been decent at times, but still only has 207 yards this season while Manuel owns the only Bills rushing touchdown of the season. And down the field, Watkins has been stifled by injuries, only managing to catch 17 of his 32 targets for just 197 yards and two touchdowns. On the whole, Buffalo is 25th in points per game, 27th in total offense, 31st in the red zone, 31st in passing offense, and has the 5th highest giveaway rate. Against a Lions defense that boasts the likes of Suh, Ansah, Johnson, Fairley, and Levy, the Bills will be at a severe disadvantage offensively.

 

Game Information

Date: Sunday, October 5th

Kickoff: 1:00 p.m. ET

Stadium: Ford Field (64,500 capacity)

Television: FOX

Television Broadcasting Team: Chris Myers (Play-By-Play); Ronde Barber (Color); Jennifer Hale (Sideline)

Detroit Radio: 97.1 The Ticket WXYT-FM

Radio Broadcasting Team: Dan Miller (Play-By-Play); Jim Brandstatter (Color); Tony Ortiz (Sideline)

 

Player Notes

Injuries once again stack up thoroughly against Detroit. RB Joique Bell (concussion), TE Joe Fauria (ankle), and LB Travis Lewis (quadricep) all missed practice this week and are subsequently out for the game. CB Cassius Vaughn (ankle) is doubtful while S Don Carey (hamstring) is probable. The good news is that T LaAdrian Waddle (calf) made full practices this week and is now listed as probable and so too is DT Nick Fairley (knee) who started the week in limited action. However, most disconcerting is the statuses of starting receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Johnson (ankle) did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday but did run around a little on Friday, and is now being pronounced questionable for the game. The Lions cannot survive without Johnson for an extended period of time, but the issue could become worse if Golden Tate (hamstring) against all odds doesn’t play Sunday. Tate was only listed as injured starting Thursday but finished the week in limited-only action; he is now probable.

For all the worship the Lions defense has gotten, the efforts of QB Matthew Stafford do deserve some praise. Stafford has not always been flashy this season nor has he been anywhere near consistent, but Detroit owes a lot to its sixth year signal caller. Stafford has never been this accurate in his career, and is 95 of 148 (64.2%) for 1,176 yards, which is 4th in the NFL. Although Stafford has struggled to find the end zone (only five TD passes), he has been competent on third down and has created another two rushing touchdowns despite a terrible running game.

But while Stafford has had the luxury of a top defense, a matchup with Buffalo will still pose a formidable challenge for the Lions’ offense. The Bills have only conceded 18.8 points a game which is 7th best in the NFL, and are 10th in total defense. Against the rush, Buffalo is 3rd, meaning RB Reggie Bush will likely continue his disgraceful performance this season. And while Buffalo is 5th in the league on 3rd down defense (36% completion percentage) and 4th in takeaways, their pass defense is 25th in the NFL. This means that once again there will be pressure on Stafford to give Detroit a legitimate lead even though the rush game will be lucky to surpass 70 yards. Buffalo’s front seven is gritty and will focus on collapsing the pocket, but Detroit should still retain an advantage on offense solely because of the Bills’ secondary. Fingers crossed on injuries, WRs Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate have become arguably one of the best receiving duos in the NFL and will be the keys to that offensive advantage. Johnson has caught 21 balls for 341 yards (6th in the NFL), averaging 16.2 yards a reception with two touchdowns. Johnson has averaged 85.3 yards per game and has showed no signs of slowing down with five receptions longer than 20 yards this season. Yet much of Johnson’s success is undoubtedly attributed to Tate, who has emerged as the team’s first true number two receiver in years. Tate’s numbers are actually quite analogous to Johnson, as he has 24 receptions for 317 yards (10th in the NFL), averaging 13.2 yards although no touchdowns yet.  With RB Reggie Bush still being a respectable receiving weapon out of the backfield and the recent contributions of TE Eric Ebron and WR Jeremy Ross, expect Detroit to once again rely heavily on the arm of Stafford to capitalize on the Bills’ slim coverage.

 

Historical Matchup
Detroit vs. Buffalo Regular Season Record: 4-4-1

Last Meeting: 11/14/2010; Detroit 12 – Buffalo 14 in Buffalo

Record in Detroit: 3-1

Record in Buffalo: 1-3-1

 

Final Game Notes

Holding on to the NFC North at 3-1, there is no doubt that a date with the Bills looks favorable for the Lions. The story looks almost the same as it has been all season: defensive shutdown. That shouldn’t be the hard part for the Lions this week. So long as Detroit’s defense stuffs Manuel, Spiller, and Watkins the Lions should be perfectly able to win by a large margin. But once again, question marks will loom above the offense which has been two faced all season. While the running game could easily be muted for another week, Matthew Stafford looks more primed than ever to bury the Bills and direct the Lions to 4-1.