Dissecting Best Individual Matchups to Watch in Detroit Lions' Week 5 Action
The Lions finally put together a game where they played well in every facet of the game. Save for some garbage touchdowns and a few errant throws from quarterback Matthew Stafford, it was an inspiring performance.
But we're not as interested in the big picture here. I'd rather dig into three skirmishes that will have a large impact on the overall result.
So let's get to it.
Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh vs. Offensive Guard T.J. Lang
The majority of Ndamukong Suh's snaps against the Chicago Bears were over the right guard with some shading toward the center. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham likes to move his defensive linemen around, so T.J. Lang will either get help from the center or the tackle, but the primary responsibility for blocking Suh will fall to Lang.
The Packers better hope he's up to it, because Suh has been an absolute menace this season.
The easy choice for All-Pro defensive tackle has created pressure (either a sack, hit or hurry) on 13.4 percent of his pass rushes, which leads all tackles. To make matters worse, he also ranks in the top 10 against the run.
But that's not all the havoc he wreaks. He sets up teammates by freeing up pass-rushing lanes, creating fumbles and forcing errant throws that lead to interceptions.
He's a monster.
However, lest you misunderstand, this matchup isn't an easy win for Suh. Lang has been battling tough defensive lines throughout the season and held his own.
For our purposes, the matchup against the similar 4-3 scheme of the Bengals is telling for Lang in his ensu(h)ing battle, because he posted a stunning 3.6 Pro Football Focus grade. Granted, Geno Atkins spends most of his time toward the right side, but the performance should give Green Bay a vote of confidence.
Your eye doesn't naturally float to the interior line during a game, but do yourself a favor and watch these two go to work. It should be a beautiful symphony of technique and brutal physicality.
Offensive Tackle Riley Reiff vs. Outside Linebacker Clay Matthews
Left tackles are drafted and paid to neutralize edge-rushers. New tackle Riley Reiff will have his hands full with stalwart outside linebacker Clay Matthews III.
Reiff has jumped into the starting role vacated by Jeff Backus and performed admirably. After getting a bit of an education at the hands of Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, Reiff has responded by posting a positive grade in each game thereafter.
And that impressive stretch was capped by holding his own against Lions killer Julius Peppers. The Bears defensive end got the best of him once, beating him around the edge for a fumble late, but that was it.
However, Matthews could prove to be his greatest test. He's a stand-up rush linebacker who will probe Reiff's ability to move his feet while engaging the body of a quickly moving target.
And that's exactly how Peppers beat him.
Matthews hasn't had a normal year by his standards. Through three games and now a hamstring injury, he has only posted an average 0.1 grade, but the defense still relies heavily on him.
That's because none of his fellow linebackers have been able to notch a single sack.
|Clay Matthews III||2|
Despite Matthews' modest success, those playing inside of him at defensive end, mainly B.J. Raji and Mike Neal, have done all right. That certainly has to do with the push he creates on the outside and the attention it garners.
That's why it's so vital to the Packers' interests that Matthews gets going. We'll see if he's able to haze the undergraduate, or if the young tackle will continue to anchor his offensive line.
Running Back Reggie Bush vs. Inside Linebacker A.J. Hawk and Friends
I'm cheating a bit. There's a good chance the Packers won't have A.J. Hawk fly solo against Reggie Bush all game.
But the Packers aren't going to put either of their corners on an island against Calvin Johnson for the entire game. It's not their way, and they lack a Patrick Peterson-type who would have a shot at holding his own.
Similarly, the Lions simply don't have the personnel to pull such a maneuver. And besides, which Green Bay receiver would the unlucky defensive back be forced to shadow all game? There are too many top-tier options.
So to save you from a third trench breakdown, I got a little creative to keep it interesting.
Admit it. You're pleased.
Anyway, when watching film of the Packers and the Cincinnati Bengals, defensive coordinator Dom Capers trusted linebacker A.J. Hawk quite a bit. Not only is he mirroring the running backs in the rushing game, they were often his responsibility in coverage as well.
No matter where they lined up (look toward the bottom sideline).
There is absolutely no way Hawk could handle Reggie Bush split out that far from help. In fact, such an occurrence is probably something that is keeping Capers up at night.
But Hawk isn't devoid of coverage skills. He is capable when he isn't put in space, so he'll still likely be the primary on Bush. And, of course, he'll be charged, along with the rest of the linebackers, with the task of filling holes and bringing the elusive back down.
But that could be a bit of a problem for a couple of reasons.
First, the Lions linemen have been doing a great job of getting to the second level and springing the backs for longer gains. That's not part of the individual matchup, but it's still an obstacle Hawk will face.
Second, and more importantly for our purposes, Bush is fly. What I mean is he buzzes around at lightning speed in tight spaces. When you think you have him in your hands, you open them up to find you're holding nothing but air.
Check out what he did to Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte last week.
It appears that he has the hole filled and Bush should be taken down easily.
But that's not how it goes down.
Bush gives him the slip, as he did to eight Bears throughout the game, and bolted for daylight.
These are exactly the types of things that Hawk must avoid. If the Packers are going to slow the Lions offense, Green Bay can't let Detroit establish the running game that balances the ever-present passing attack.
Good luck, Mr. Hawk. Nobody else has been able to stop a healthy Bush yet. Here's doubting you and your friends can either.
All rankings and stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and require a subscription.
Brandon Alisoglu has been covering the Detroit Lions and the NFL for two years. He has been published at Yahoo!, Bleacher Report, CNN and other websites. He also co-hosts Lions Central Radio with Nick Kostora that can be found on iTunes and Stitcher.
Follow him on Twitter for more football talk.
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