The Detroit Lions sit with the same 4 – 3 record as their opponent, the Dallas Cowboys. For the Lions, it has been a season much like the Cowboys in where they have had offensive explosion and defense that has struggled to find their way. There is no question of the talent level on this Lions squad but again, like the Cowboys, they have yet played that complete game where everything just clicked in all phases of their game.
For the Lions, it really starts with their quarterback, Matthew Stafford who at times has played with brilliance but has also missed some throws on tape that were completely on him. Stafford just like his days at Georgia, plays the game in the majority of time in the shotgun with a very talent group of skilled guys around him.
Calvin Johnson and Kris Durham are the starters at receiver but you will also see a mix of Kevin Ogletree and Ryan Broyles in various packages. Johnson is one of the most dynamic players in the league and Scott Linehan will line him up either on the outside in a traditional way or he will put him in the slot. He is a very similar player in what you have here with Dez Bryant. His route running is not his greatest strength but it is what he does when the ball is in the air that makes you think of Bryant.
He is such a physical player and this is where he presents the most problems. If you are a defensive back and you are not ready to deal with his power, then it's going to be a long day. Stafford is not afraid to throw him the ball when covered because he knows that he will adjust to make the catch. Has had some surprising drops in the red zone on some fades and a slant but has also made some unreal plays as well.
In the backfield, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell will split time but you will also see them in the backfield together in this attack. The older that Bush has become, the more he has adjust to this role of a jack of all trades type of back. There was once a day in New Orleans where Sean Payton would have to create plays for him because he wasn't that productive of a runner. Bush is a much better overall ball carrier and you will see him carry the ball either inside or out.
Where he is the most dangerous is how he plays as a receiver out of the backfield. His hands and explosiveness, makes him difficult to handle one-on-one in the open field. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are going to have to be on their games to not allow him to do as much damage as he shown.
Joique Bell is a physical downhill runner that doesn't have many open field moves and will try to finish runs with power. He can be a load to deal with once he gets going. An area of his game that needs to be noted, is how he catches the ball out of the backfield. Likes to run routes in the flat on screens and underneath on check downs. Has a really nice feel for this.
Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria are the tight ends and both do a nice job of getting down the field and into routes. If there is a weakness with the group, it is that neither of them are very good point of attack blockers. Matter of fact, I would rate them as very poor in this area. Pettigrew and Fauria are threats in the red zone and on 3rd downs as well. Pettigrew is the more elusive of the two and because of his size, he can be a match up problem. Fauria has the size as well but he is not as quick or mobile as Pettigrew. As much as tight ends have given this defense problems, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox will have to be ready because Matthew Stafford will be looking in their direction a great deal. [embedded_ad]
There have been games where Stafford has been protected well, then others where this offensive line has had its issues. I thought last week against the Bengals, despite the loss, they were on their games. Corey Hilliard has been the starter at right tackle for Jason Fox, who hurt his knee in the Green Bay game. Fox returned to practice this week and could be ready for the game against the Cowboys.
Riley Reiff is the starter on the left side and in his 2nd season, looks more athletic on tape than he does powerful. Will fight to stay in front of his man but there were some snaps where he was carried back into Stafford's lap. Rob Sims at guard is a stiff moving player that doesn't have much athletic ability but unlike Reiff, he does play with power. Loves it when defenders rush him down the middle, because he can handle that.
Rookie Larry Warford was one of my favorite players to study in that 2013 draft. Warford's strength is his ability to play with power but he has surprising feet. He is not stiff nor does he have any trouble when it comes down to bending. He plays with an outstanding base and can be a hard guy to move. Of the two guards on this line, Sims is the one that tends to struggle the most which is where we might see Jason Hatcher take the majority of his rushes.
Dominic Raiola is a veteran center, that doesn't make many mistakes. He is an aware player that is quick to help across the pocket when asked. Plays on his feet and can work to the 2nd level with ease. Has the feet and foot work to adjust to games and stunts. Overall, a solid performer.