How Matthew Stafford and the Lions Should Attack Titans' Struggling Defense
After two games of the 2012 season, Madden NFL 13 cover boy Calvin Johnson is still without a touchdown catch and Stafford's thrown twice as many interceptions (four) as touchdowns (two).
Including 2011, the Lions are 8-3 when Megatron finds the end zone, as opposed to just 3-4 when he doesn't.
Detroit should be able to move the ball efficiently in a number of ways on Sunday against a defense that has been gashed to the tune of 72 points in just two games. Tennessee remains as one of the NFL's six winless teams after being outscored by at least three TDs in each loss.
Here are three potential ways for the Lions offense to find success.
Find Brandon Pettigrew Early and Often
Just like any other game, Johnson is going to draw extra coverage every time he runs a route. Last week, All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis was able to minimize Pettigrew's involvement with his freakish ability to cover tight ends like glue. His ability to cover the Lions' tight end by himself allowed the secondary to keep their focus on Megatron.
Not only do the Titans not have Patrick Willis, their linebacking corps is one of the NFL's weaker units, especially with LB Colin McCarthy declared out for Week 3 (via the Titans' official team website).
Tennessee's defense has allowed five passing TDs in two games—all of them to tight ends. They drew the daunting task of slowing Patriots' tight end duo Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in Week 1, but turned Chargers' backup TE Dante Rosario into a one-week fantasy stud last Sunday with three touchdown catches in a single game.
Before that game, Rosario hadn't scored a touchdown since 2009.
Gronk and Hernandez lighting you up is one thing, but how exactly were Philip Rivers and the No. 3 TE on the depth chart able to hook up with such ease against this Titans defense?
For one, the linebackers have been slow to recognize whether the play is a run or a pass, and they are not athletic or instinctive enough to recover before it's too late.
The play above is broken into three pictures. The Chargers have three receivers on the field, with one running back and a tight end, Rosario (No. 88). Actually, backup TE Randy McMichael is on the field but lined up to the left as a wide receiver.
Despite all of the possible pass-catchers on the field, Tennessee's two inside linebackers bite on Rivers' fake handoff to the RB, and with the safeties outside helping the corners, it's easy pickings for San Diego.
It's baffling that a pass-catcher could make his way into the end zone so completely unaccounted for, but it happens—even in the NFL.
The Chargers were able to find success over the middle of the field all day, and that was without a receiver like Megatron to draw the extra coverage he commands. Two of Rosario's TDs came in the first quarter, and the Lions should look for similar opportunities early in the game with Pettigrew, as well.
Continue to Stick With the Run
Want to keep those indecisive linebackers on their heels? Pound the ball up the gut, and you'll likely get your wish.
Welcoming back Mikel Leshoure from his two-game suspension should add another dimension to the running game, something else Tennessee hasn't been able to stop.
San Diego, like New England in Week 1, was able to mix in some rushing success to keep the Titans D honest, creating that much more room for Rivers in the passing game.
In the beginning of the 88-yard drive which ended with the Rosario TD pictured above, San Diego ran a simple fullback dive in a two-tight end set, right up the gut.
The Chargers' interior O-line is able to muscle the Titans defensive front where they want them, and FB Le'Ron McClain (No. 33) rumbles for a 17-yard gain through a gaping hole.
Despite an early deficit, Detroit stuck with the run game (26 rushes to 32 pass attempts) against a tough 49ers defense, and though it wasn't much, it did find some success.
Together, the powerful Leshoure and fellow running back Kevin Smith can pound away at the Titans D-line and force the linebackers in to help.
Attack the Safeties With the Deep Ball
In addition to the previously mentioned struggles, Tennessee's safeties have been horrid in coverage. Pro Football Focus graded starting strong safety Michael Griffin as the NFL's worst safety in terms of pass coverage after two weeks.
His partner, free safety Robert Johnson, has been nearly as bad.
Both have struggled to provide proper assistance in run support and have been gashed by one big pass play after another. At this point in the young season, they simply look lost out on the field.
Calvin Johnson isn't hard to find, but he's nearly impossible to defend. Stafford has experienced a rough couple of games, but Megatron is still averaging over 100 yards per game despite his struggles with accuracy and decision-making.
If Stafford finds his groove on Sunday, the Lions will be able to get out of the Music City with a decisive victory.
All Screenshots compliments of NFL Game Rewind.
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