Buffalo Bills vs. Detroit Lions: Complete Week 5 Preview for Detroit
Much like Detroit, the Bills' strength resides up front. The Lions have offensive line issues, and with guys like Mario Williams stampeding toward Matthew Stafford, Detroit will need to get the ball downfield in a hurry.
Detroit comes in off a rare road win against the New York Jets. It represented another step toward respectability for the 3-1 Lions that sit alone atop the NFC North.
The Bills (2-2) have fallen flat after winning their first two games. They can still smell the AFC East title but need to start stringing wins together to remain a threat.
Does Detroit have what it takes to defend the den when favored by more than a touchdown, per Odds Shark? Or will former head coach and now-Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz ruin the reunion?
There's only one way to find out. Well, I guess watching the game would make more sense, but until then this preview will give you everything you need.
Lions Week 4 Game Recap
The different storyline each week is making for an entertaining season. And in Week 4, the story centered on the receivers not named Calvin Johnson.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford couldn't feed Megatron since he was was severely limited by his ankle injury. No problem. Stafford completed passes to eight different receivers, including eight completions for 116 yards to Golden Tate.
Jeremy Ross also looked quite good. He only hauled in two passes, but he picked up 65 yards and a touchdown due to two forced missed tackles.
How Stafford was able to find those receivers while constantly under siege by the New York Jets defense is beyond me. The line faces another tough test this week, and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi knows he has to do more to protect the franchise quarterback.
The defense put up another valiant effort. Cornerback Darius Slay recorded his first interception, and the defense as a whole did well to keep the Jets' ground-and-pound offense from grinding out a win.
The Buffalo Bills will present a very similar challenge to this defense with their running game, albeit with a veteran quarterback at the helm this week that rattles just as easily.
News and Notes
No Suh for You!
When the Lions tabled negotiations with Ndamukong Suh until the end of the season, they must have known that the media would continue to belabor the issue. We can't help it. We need something to critique besides the third- and fourth-string right tackles.
But the front office couldn't have anticipated this proclamation:
A quarter way through season, the Lions are preparing to lose free-agent-to-be DT Ndamukong Suh and he is preparing to move on, per sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 28, 2014
It's entirely too early to know how things will work out. It could even be a negotiating play by Detroit to show Suh the team is willing to move on.
I don't know.
Suh has been one of the most instrumental players on this team. He impacts the way offenses block, giving everyone around him a chance to shine. The Lions could franchise Nick Fairley in the hopes of another motivated year, but he'll never be Suh over the long-term.
More than likely, Detroit is hoping that Suh will see there isn't a market for his supposedly outlandish demands, but there will be plenty of desperate teams with cap space. That feeling you have in your stomach is why you should never play roulette.
Unfortunately, lightning has struck twice for Montell Owens, and the Lions had to place him on injured reserve. The dark skies for Owens opened a ray of sunshine and a roster spot for George Winn.
The practice squad player was promoted this week, as Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com explained:
The Lions promoted Winn, a Southfield native and U-D Jesuit product, to the 53-man roster on Tuesday as the team’s depth at running back has taken a recent hit with injuries to Joique Bell (head), Theo Riddick (hamstring) and Montell Owens (hamstring).
To make room on the roster for Winn, the team placed Owens on Reserve/Injured for the second year in a row, ending his season.
He'll contribute on special teams immediately, but don't anticipate too many carries for the preseason crowd favorite. Winn's fumbling issues are extremely worrisome against the tough Bills defense.
Credit Where Credit is Due
Not all of the news this week has been doom and gloom. In fact, one linebacker that everyone has now mentioned as underrated is getting the proper recognition he deserves, per Paula Pasche of the The Oakland Press:
Linebacker DeAndre Levy has been named the NFC defensive player of the month for his efforts in the Detroit Lions’ first four games.Levy is the first Lions' defender to receive the monthly award since Stephen Boyd in 1998.
Nobody is going to argue against Detroit's leading tackler grabbing this honor. The key stat isn't his 35 tackles, but the 20 stops (third among 4-3 OLBs), which means the play was a failure for the offense, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Additionally, his coverage ability sets him apart from his peers. He has the third-lowest passer rating allowed (60.1), and the two that rank ahead of him have only seen 10 more snaps—combined.
This should be the first of many accolades for the sixth-year linebacker.
|Golden Tate||WR||not listed||LP||LP||Probable|
*Practice reports and injury statuses are from DetroitLions.com.
The facts aren't all in, but the offense will be operating without the benefit of two complementary pieces—Fauria and Bell.
That means Eric Ebron will get more run at tight end this week. Last game, he responded with a touchdown on three catches, two of which were of the acrobatic variety.
As for the running backs, with Bell and Riddick out, George Winn could get a chance to tote the rock. His preseason fumbling issues would have limited him to special teams, however, if Riddick were merely limited.
Johnson is probably just resting his ankle, but the real concern is Tate's sudden injury. He's officially listed as probable and no one is raising the alarm, but the Lions will have a tough time without their top two wideouts.
However, if Tate can't go, Jeremy Ross is going to see more time with Ryan Broyles staying on the active roster. Ross has performed well and the Lions could likely survive thanks to their depth at the receiving position.
Everything looks set for Waddle to make his much-needed return, and safety Carey also seems well enough to go. While there is optimism surrounding Vaughn, this Sunday seems a bit soon since he couldn't practice Wednesday.
Considering Fairley and Taylor finished last week, this seems precautionary, but if both can't go, look for Jason Jones to kick inside often and Darryl Tapp to see more playing time at end.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Detroit's Interior O-Line vs. DT Kyle Williams (or his replacement)
Defensive tackle Kyle Williams plays the role of Buffalo's Ndamukong Suh but gets the press of DeAndre Levy. He's that important. He draws extra blockers and still leads the team in sacks (3), quarterback hits (4) and hurries (10).
But he isn't healthy, and his knee could preclude him from Sunday's contest. That would have a huge impact on this game.
In almost as many snaps combined, probable replacements Corbin Bryant and Stefan Charles have one sack, one hurry and one quarterback hit. And they certainly won't require the manpower to move. Since Kiko Alonso went down in the preseason, Detroit will bang away at the middle of this defense to soften up the edges.
TE Eric Ebron vs. Buffalo LBs
Detroit's struggling run game could get a boost if Williams doesn't play and LaAdrian Waddle returns, but it'll still be tough to run on Buffalo's talented front seven that is allowing the third-fewest rushing yards per game.
That's why Detroit will need to use Ebron to put a little space between those linebackers and the line of scrimmage. Not a single Bills backer has a positive coverage grade and heavily-played Preston Brown is allowing opposing passers to post a 115.4 rating, including a 81.4 completion percentage.
LBs DeAndre Levy and Tahir Whitehead vs. RBs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller
The Buffalo Bills will be starting Kyle Orton, who gives the Bills a quarterback capable of making a decision and throwing the ball within the vicinity of his receivers. But he doesn't have the mobility of EJ Manuel, so look for a lot of dump-offs to his dangerous running backs.
And to try to stop the heat Detroit will be sure to bring, the Bills will try to run the ball as well (122.3 per game). The defensive line will get penetration and can wreck plays in the backfield.
However, the main task of slowing the run will fall to the linebackers. Levy and Whitehead need to tackle strongly against these elusive running backs or Detroit won't be able to turn the pass-rushers loose on 3rd-and-long.
Lions' X-Factor of the Week: WR Jeremy Ross
Obviously, if Golden Tate doesn't play, Ross gets bumped up the depth chart and is the No. 2 receiver. If not, it doesn't matter. Ross can still have a huge impact on this game stretching the field or pulling in passes just behind those overmatched linebackers.
Ross is the reason Ryan Broyles isn't playing. The former Green Bay Packer has shown strong hands by catching all seven of his targets and has much better explosion. His momentum has been building for three weeks and this will be the game where Ross explodes onto the scene.
Detroit has been full of disappointment for decades when it comes to its professional football team.
The Lions lose games they should win. They don't win on the road.
But that's why the Lions brought in head coach Jim Caldwell. They wanted accountability and an even keel.
Coincidentally, their injuries will actually help them in that regard.
All of the injuries Detroit have sustained has created adversity. Adversity wards off complacency by raising the level of urgency; that in turn creates focus.
Detroit is the better team. They have a healthier, more complete defense that should be able to nullify Buffalo's main threat—the run game.
But Buffalo can certainly keep Reggie Bush and any other running back in check. That means this game boils down to Matthew Stafford versus Kyle Orton.
Not the Stafford of old who threw away games. This one throws away passes and picks his spots.
And that will be all the difference because Detroit can take advantage of those extra opportunities, while Orton was enjoying retirement just a month ago. One spent his summer studying the offense; the other didn't have his playbook when these teams met in the preseason five weeks ago.
Score: Detroit 24, Buffalo 13
Brandon Alisoglu is a Detroit Lions Featured Columnist who has written about the Lions on multiple sites. He also co-hosts a Lions-centric podcast, Lions Central Radio. Yell at him on Twitter about how wrong he is @BrandonAlisoglu.
All advanced stats, grades and positional rankings are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and require a subscription.