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Gameday: Pass Rushers & Playmakers Worth Watching

Posted Oct 23, 2013


Dallas Cowboys

The Nemesis: DeMarcus Ware 

Last week against the Eagles, DeMarcus Ware sat out of the game with a quad injury, which was the first time he had missed a game in his career. For the majority of this season, Ware has been battling through several different ailments that have hampered his performance.

But after a week of rest, he appears ready to return to the starting lineup. In five games against the Lions during his career, Ware has notched 64 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. He will be battling Riley Reiff, who is in his second season as the starter at left tackle. Reiff is the type of tackle who Ware tends to have his most success against.

Reiff is not a powerful setter and tends to catch blocks, which allows the defender to get some push on him. Against the Rams, Jake Long set soft and Ware had a field day with him. Reiff is very athletic, which will help him against Ware when he tries to take him wide around the edge. But like we saw with Long, Ware can hit him with a straight bull rush, then play off that. If Reiff feels like he is going to have to deal with power all day, it should help him in other areas of the game.     

The Weapon: Dez Bryant

These Lions corners have had to deal with some outstanding receivers this season: Larry Fitzgerald, Pierre Garcon, Brandon Marshall and A.J. Green. They practice every day against Calvin Johnson, which is a chore in itself, but Dez Bryant will present a different set of challenges for them.

Unless you have lined up and faced Bryant, he is a different cat. Of the two starting cornerbacks for the Lions, I thought that Chris Houston was the better of the two. If Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan decide they want to attack one side of the field, Rashean Mathis is that guy. Mathis does have quickness to run with anyone that he faces, but he is not the most physical of cover guys.

Opponents have had success attacking him inside on routes, and he has done little to fight them from doing that. Naturally, the way that Bryant plays during a game will give him a great deal of problems. When Bryant gets into the flow of a game, and he is out to prove a point, like he will be in this game, physically he will be too much for Mathis to handle.  In two career games against the Lions, Bryant has caught six balls and three of those catches resulted in touchdowns. Expect the same on Sunday.     

 

Under The Radar: Drake Nevis

On the game film I was able to study on the Lions, I liked the matchup with DeMarcus Ware vs. Riley Reiff, but also keep an eye on Drake Nevis as a nickel rusher.

Nevis has finally worked himself into shape and has become a solid rotational player for this defensive line. Nevis is playing with far more technique than when I saw him with the Colts this summer. He really only had one move and that was the strong club move that would knock the blocker off balance, then he would rush up the field.

Now you see him doing a better job of using his hands and feet, working together. Where Nevis will have an advantage is working against guard Rob Sims. In watching Sims play, he is all about power and not quick movement. If Nevis is smart, he will not try and rush Sims down the middle but try and play him on the edges and see if he can attack his shoulder.

Nevis and the other Cowboys defensive tackles need to stay active against Sims and make him have to match their movement. The more that they can get him to have to move, the more he will struggle to sustain his blocks. I have seen inside pressure affect Stafford in a big way.

 

Detroit Lions

 

The Nemesis: Calvin Johnson

On Sunday, two of the best receivers in professional football will be on the field when the Lions face the Cowboys. As tough as this matchup will be for the Lions to have to cover Dez Bryant, the Cowboys are going to have their own issues dealing with Calvin Johnson.

Both these receivers are so similar in the way they play, you could put Bryant in a Lions uniform and Johnson in a Cowboys uniform and you would not be able to tell the difference. Johnson is as dynamic as it comes for a receiver. He can run his routes anywhere and at any level to find a way to get open. He can separate with his stride, and, no matter where the ball is thrown, he will find a way to make a catch.

He is a powerful player who plays well in the air. Any opportunity to catch a jump ball, it is his. The Lions can line him up either on the outside or in the slot, and he is productive. The closer he gets to the goal line, the more physical he gets. He likes to use his hands to push and shove to by space, and he will not just run fade routes in the red zone -- you will see him run the slant as well. He’s one of those receivers that just keeps coming after you down-after-down.

The Weapon: Reggie Bush

Bush is a mismatch player in every sense of the word, and he will line up all over the field in order to find the best way to attack the defense. He’s come a long way since his days with the Saints in terms of being a more complete back.

You will see him carry the ball in normal down-and-distance situations with a great deal of effectiveness, and he is not afraid to hammer the ball inside but is better when he can run it off the edge or on a sweep or reverse.

The Lions coaches are creating ways for him to get the ball, because he has more explosive quickness and burst than what the Cowboys faced last week against LeSean McCoy. Where Bush and McCoy are similar is how they are able to catch the ball in space, whether on the screen or the inside “Texas” route.

Bush is one of those players that can score from anywhere on the field at any time, so the Cowboys have to be alert when he is in the game. He’s going to be a handful for Sean Lee and Bruce Carter to have to deal with because of the way he is able to play in space. He’s a very natural football player that has the ability to breakdown a defense in a flash.

Under The Radar: Ziggy Ansah

One of the most difficult players to get an idea of where he was going in the 2013 NFL Draft was BYU defensive end, Ziggy Ansah.

When the Lions selected Ansah with the fifth overall selection, there were those that were surprised of how high he went and others that thought the selection was the right one. Ansah is very raw but you can see the talent on tape. 

He is really playing on more natural ability than anything at this point. He is explosive and can quickly get the edge. He is doing a much better job of using pass rush moves as he is working to the quarterback. That has helped him post three sacks this season, and there were times where he was close to getting more. He is a long, rangy player that can play with some surprising power.

Ansah really wants to get up the field as fast as he can, then try and retrace his steps to handle the run. The Lions have some special packages where he lines up as a defensive tackle, while Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley play as defensive ends.

Ansah will line up across from Tyron Smith in this game, and Smith will need to be ready to handle his up field rush. If Smith is going to have success against Ansah, it will be by getting his hands on him quickly.

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