Enemy Intelligence: Detroit Lions

This week, the Titans take on the Detroit Lions at home at LP Field on Sunday at noon. The Lions are coming off a 27-19 defeat at San Francisco on Sunday night football following a 27-23 home win against the Rams.

To get a better idea of the opponent the Titans face, I watched the Lions-Rams game and then re-watched the 49ers game. After the jump, what I've seen of the Lions this year.

 

  • I go back and forth a little on how good Matt Stafford is. This is his fourth year, and he's still developing as a passer. He has a big arm, but the offense is less vertical than you'd think.
  • Part of the reason the Lions aren't a vertical passing offense is they've had to compensate for a terrible running game. That's partly bad blocking and partly mediocre running backs. Kevin Smith can carry the ball but isn't real special. They gave Joique Bell a few carries last week and I didn't see much out of him either. Mikel Leshoure is supposed to play this week in his first game after being selected in the second round last year. He wasn't a bad back coming out of Illinois, but he's a bit of an unknown quantity because I haven't see him.
  • You know all about Calvin Johnson. Megatron. Wears #81. Stafford's favorite target. Posted incredible efficiency numbers on a huge volume of targets. Can go up for the ball. Can break tackles. Can beat you deep. Double him in the red zone and hope-he's been triple-covered in the red zone before. I've seen him beat the double coverage.
  • Last week's passing offense seemed to feature a lot of fairly short throws over the middle of the field, trying to beat man coverage and maybe pick off a few players. It's possible they could do the same this week and try to take advantage of the Titans' linebackers and slot corner.
  • Tight end Brandon Pettigrew could have a big game-that's obvious given what the Titans have done against tight ends the last couple weeks, and he's probably the second-best target behind CJ81. He'll have inconsistent games catching the football, including a couple drops against the Rams in Week 1. It's easy for me to see him getting big yards going up the seams. They have a couple other tight ends, Tony Scheffler and Will Heller; Scheffler in particular will beat you if you don't give him attention, but Pettigrew is the threat.
  • The non-Megatron wide receivers don't scare me. Nate Burleson knows what he's doing and can put up numbers that way. Titus Young worries me most on wide receiver screens. Rookie Ryan Broyles was active last week but didn't play. Like Young and Burleson, he's more of a slot-type than a physical guy.
  • Left tackle Jeff Backus is not great in pass protection-better than Mike Harris of the Chargers, not as good (physically in particular) as Nate Solder (not that Solder's an All-Pro).
  • The defensive line gets most of the ink on the other side of the ball and for good reason. They're deep and really talented. Think like the 2000 Titans, that deep.
  • Defensive tackle: Ndamukong Suh is strong and unblockable at times, but you can run misdirection and get him out of position. Corey Williams (questionable) is the other starter at defensive tackle. Behind them are Nick Fairley, who's not as good as I expected him to be at this point, and Sammie Lee Hill, who's better than you think.
  • Defensive end: Kyle Vanden Bosch. You know him. Better, Michael Roos knows him. I'm not too worried. Cliff Avril is the opposite guy, and he can beat single coverage. Stewart can do okay against him, but if he has lapses, Avril will get pressure. Willie Young is the top backup, and he's an explosive guy who can get around the edge. Lawrence Jackson is the fourth defensive end; he's still a bust of a first-round pick (by Seattle), but isn't completely worthless.
  • The linebackers, DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch, and Justin Durant are all good scheme fits and good players who flow to the ball. I still think you can beat Tulloch in coverage, and the same is true of the other guys. They do a good job of filling when the defensive line charges upfield, though if the DL is aggressive enough you can still beat them; the 49ers showed a way to do this, but the Titans aren't the same kind of running team as the 49ers.
  • The secondary is not that good when fully healthy and right now it's injury-riddled. The safeties just aren't good enough. John Wendling played almost every snap at safety against the 49ers, and as a safety, he's a very good special teams player. I don't like Erik Coleman much better, and he'll be playing if strong safety Louis Delmas cannot. Delmas is questionable with a knee injury; when healthy, he's a good box player and hitter but isn't a natural deep safety.
  • Ha ha, Lions cornerbacks. Eric Wright was their best player last year, and he's now in Tampa. Chris Houston, who got roasted at times last year and held up okay at others, missed last week's game and is probable this week. They'll probably also get back rookie third-round pick Dwight Bentley, who missed last week's game with a concussion; I don't have a good read on him. Veteran Drayton Florence got a lot of snaps last week, just because they needed somebody, but he's out this week. Ex-Colt Jacob Lacey played the most snaps last week and he's questionable with a toe injury. If he plays or not, this is a group you can potentially make plays against. Then again, we're dealing with the Titans receivers here-Kenny Britt and Nate Washington are the only guys who when healthy are actually better than the Lions corners.
 
I'm still not sure exactly how good the Lions are. They moved the ball up and down the field on the Rams in Week 1, but Stafford threw three picks-only one of them was that bad, the others were just very good defensive plays. Offensively they had a reasonable amount of success against the 49ers-two punts, one interception, and six scoring attempts (one touchdown plus four made and one missed field goals). The signs are that they'll likely be able to move the ball against the Titans. Defensively, the 49ers did a good job against them. The Rams scored 23, but got a lot out of the interceptions (including a pick-6).
 
If the Titans want to win this game, they'll have to score points. I can't see them coming out of here with a 14-10-type win unless Matt Stafford does something like throw seven interceptions. When I thought about this game, I could see the Titans winning. Writing this piece, though, I think it'll be a tough challenge. As I wrote earlier this week, the Titans weren't as bad for most of the San Diego game. The Lions are in some respects a tougher challenge than the Chargers, but they're playing at home and you can get the sort of big plays the Titans will need to win against the Lions. Having more Kenny Britt and a healthier Nate Washington helps. It's easy for me to see the Lions winning by double digits, but I can also see the Titans winning. The Lions are favored by 3.5, which feels like a nice compromise between the uncomfortable though of a blowout loss and the real possibility the Titans can pull off a win.
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