Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams stood in front of his locker Wednesday and took questions from the media on the matchup this week against his former squad, the Detroit Lions. Williams was asked the question about the last time that the Lions won on the road, when he and current Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna were part of the victory some 25 games ago.
The Lions are not a bad football team and under Jim Schwartz can be difficult to deal with because of the talent in certain key positions. The biggest problem with the Lions right now is that like the Cowboys, they are playing with a backup quarterback. But Shaun Hill and Jon Kitna are not even in the same league.
Kitna finds a way to work the ball down the field to playmakers, while Hill tends to work the ball underneath to backs, tight ends and receivers. In the games I studied of Hill, I did not see the ball go down the field. Passes were short and between the hashes.
If you look at the Lions numbers for receptions, it’s tight end Brandon Pettigrew and running back Jahvid Best that are having productive seasons. Receiver Calvin Johnson leads the team with nine touchdowns, but you see him working the middle of the field and inside with Hill as the quarterback. The Lions really miss Matthew Stafford and what he brings to this team in his ability to make all the throws.
Would not be the bit surprised to see the Cowboys try to clamp down on routes underneath and in the middle of the field. Until Hill shows the ability to throw it down the field with any success, that is where he is going to go.
The Lions’ offense is having the same problems that the Cowboys are and that is the inability to run the football because the offensive line tends to struggle getting any type of push or securing linebackers at the point of attack.
I mentioned running back Jahvid Best earlier and came away impressed with what he has tried to do running the ball, but more importantly he has developed into a solid pass catcher. Best will run with power, but you see the quick feet and the ability to change directions. He will bounce the ball to the outside if the hole does not develop inside. Runs with his pads down and will deliver a blow to the defender at the end of a run. Like the way that he tries to finish his runs. Plays with great effort behind an offensive line that is struggling to buy him space.
On the defensive side of the ball, tackle Ndamukong Suh doesn’t look like a rookie. Suh is the anchor to a defense that does a nice job of rushing the passer. The Lions are ranked sixth in the NFL is sacks per attempt and only three sacks behind league leader Green Bay at 28. Suh is quick off the snap and has impressive upper body strength.
Against the Redskins, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham lined Suh up on the outside at end to try to create some scheme confusion for the Redskins. Suh can push the front of the pocket, but there are times where he plays a little high in the running game and will not be a factor in the play.
Corey Williams, who plays next to Suh, is a load inside at 320 pounds. Williams like Suh plays with good initial quickness and push.
A matchup to watch on the outside is defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch against Doug Free. Vanden Bosch is second on the team with four sacks and is a similar player to what Free played against three weeks ago, Aaron Kampman of the Jaguars. Vanden Bosch is one of those high effort and motor types of players. I like him better than Kampman because he plays the run with effectiveness. When you go to his side, you have to watch the way he plays with his hands and is able to disengage off blocks.
How Leonard Davis, Kyle Kosier and Andre Gurode work against Suh and Williams will determine how well the Cowboys move the ball, because I feel that Free will be able to handle Vanden Bosch one on one.
In the secondary, the Lions have a solid safety in second-year player Louis Delmas, who does a nice job of playing through the trash and finding the football. Delmas is a physical player against the run but also shows the skill to play in coverage.
On the outside, corners Alphonso Smith and Chris Houston don’t have much height. Both are in the 5-foot-9 range. In the two games I studied, against Washington and the New York Jets, Smith struggled with balls going down the field on him. Braylon Edwards of the Jets and Anthony Armstrong of the Redskins were able to make big plays on him.
In his press conference on Thursday, Jason Garrett was asked about attacking schemes and players on what you see on tape. Garrett said that you try and indentify a weakness and you attack it. If the Cowboys do take a shot down the field, with Miles Austin or Dez Bryant, it will most likely be in the direction of Smith.
Speaking of attacking schemes and players, the Cowboys shouldn’t sleep on the Lions’ Jim Schwartz. I promise that the former Titans defensive coordinator has pored over that game earlier in the season when the Titans and Cowboys met to get some ideas where he might attack. I guarantee that some calls were placed this week between Nashville and Detroit talking thoughts that went into that winning game plan for the Titans.
As mentioned earlier, the Lions haven’t played that poorly this season. Some of their losses have been to the elite teams in the NFL – 35-32 to the Eagles, 28-26 to the Packers, 28-20 to the Giants and 23-20 in overtime to the Jets.
If Stafford was playing quarterback for the Lions, I think this would be a much closer game. But still, there is talent on this roster and Garrett will need the same type of effort and intensity that his team played with against the Giants to come away with a victory.