The New York Giants will head to Detroit to take on the desperate Lions in a NFC battle.
What: New York Giants (5-9) at Detroit Lions (7-7)
Where: Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.
When: Sunday, Dec. 22, 4:05 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox, check local listings
Detroit needs to win and get some help to get into the playoffs. The Giants have been officially eliminated in what has been a lost season in the Big Apple.
On paper, the Lions are clearly the superior team. Detroit tops New York across the board in offensive comparisons. In some cases the gap in averages per game is stunning:
|Yards||Rushing Yards||Passing Yards||Points|
*All figures and statistics are from NFL.com unless otherwise indicated
New York has been shut out twice. No other team in the NFL has been shut out even once this season. One of those zeroes came last week at home against the Seattle Seahawks.
New York is the only team in the NFL with more giveaways than the Lions. The Giants have turned the ball over at least once in every game so far, and the Giants have nine games with at least three giveaways.
Making matters worse for the Giants is that top receiver Victor Cruz is now out for the season, per Kimberly Jones of NFL Network:
NYG: Victor Cruz underwent arthroscopic debridement of the (left) knee today by Dr. James Andrews in Fla. Cruz ends '13 with 998 rec yds.— Kimberly Jones (@KimJonesSports) December 19, 2013
Pressuring Manning into errors is one of the keys to victory for Detroit. Without his top receiver, Manning is apt to struggle even more. The Lions will have opportunities to secure some elusive turnovers.
Linebacker DeAndre Levy remains tied for the league lead with six interceptions. The problem has been that the rest of the Lions defense has combined for just seven interceptions. This is an excellent week for safety Louis Delmas or corner Rashean Mathis to pull one down.
Ball awareness will be critical this week. That has not exactly been a strong suit for the Lions secondary this season. Without Cruz to threaten the deep seams, this is an opportunity for the corners to play more aggressively and keep an eye in the backfield.
Another way the Lions can attack the Giants is by exploiting the edges of the defense. Teams have done a good job exposing some holes in the back seven.
Seattle found success last week in spreading the formation and creating space for its playmakers to operate. Here's one of the plays it used that the Lions can readily reproduce.
The Seahawks split out running back Marshawn Lynch wide, leaving an empty backfield. This creates some inherent matchup advantages for the offense.
Seattle capitalizes by quickly clearing out space for Lynch. The inside receiver runs a post, which pulls the inside corner and the safety over the top towards the middle of the field.
This effectively isolates Lynch on a single corner. Imagine Reggie Bush in the same situation, one-on-one in the open field.
The corner gets caught leaving too much room to the outside. He's also staring into the backfield and loses track of Lynch. That's a dangerous mistake.
Quarterback Russell Wilson whips the ball to Lynch, and he has a lot of room to operate. Lynch makes the first tackler miss and picks up a chain-moving gain before the rest of the Giants defense can corral him.
This is a prime opportunity for the Lions to capitalize on the versatility of their running backs. Both Bush and Joique Bell are excellent receivers, and play concepts like this would allow Detroit to convert third downs and keep the Giants defense off-balance.
Then there is the defensive side of the ball. Detroit's run defense was on a heck of a run in November, but the last two games, it has not been so dominant.
Part of the problem is that the Lions are reverting back to using the Wide 9 technique haphazardly.
Lining up the defensive ends well beyond the outside shoulder of the offensive tackles remains pretty effective as a pass-rushing tactic. The issues come when the the opposing offenses are in higher than 10 personnel.
|An explanation of formations|
|10||One RB||No TEs|
|11||One RB||One TE|
|12||One RB||Two TEs|
|21||Two Backs||One TE|
|Take Your Eye Off the Ball by Pat Kirwan|
When the offense is in a number higher than 10, playing the Wide 9 technique leaves the Lions defense incredibly vulnerable to the run.
Here is a play that Baltimore ran from 11 personnel. Other teams have run eerily similar plays and gashed the Lions as well.
The gist of the play is to let the ends take themselves out of the play, which Willie Young and Ziggy Ansah readily do from their wide alignment.
This allows linemen to release out and attack the linebackers. In this case, the center pulls around the B-gap and engages the linebacker in the hole. The left guard shoots out and picks off the back-side linebacker.
That back-side 'backer, Stephen Tulloch, does a good job of avoiding the block. The problem is that he commits to attacking the inside hole. When the back bounces to the outside option, Tulloch is stuck on a poor pursuit angle.
This particular play gained 11 yards before the safety was able to make a stop.
The solution here is simple. Stay out of the Wide 9 as a base defense, especially when there are multiple tight ends or backs to contend with. Using it to impact the passing game is great, but 1st-and-10 is not one of those situations.
The Lions must play like the superior team that they are in this matchup with the Giants. The playoffs, and as Jesse Reed of Bleacher Report notes, more than likely the fates of the coaching staff depend on it.