Detroit Lions vs. New York Jets: Complete Week 4 Preview for Detroit
The Jets come in off a tough Monday night loss to the Chicago Bears. They pulled within five points of Chicago with just less than 10 minutes left but couldn't overcome their three turnovers.
But all of that is in the past, much like Detroit's Week 2 win over the Green Bay Packers. This game represents a chance for Detroit to at least keep pace with Chicago for the division lead.
More importantly, it's a golden opportunity for the Lions to earn some road confidence. They enter the game as a pick 'em, according to Odds Shark, which means the line-setters think the Lions are three points better.
Detroit has struggled with expectations and away games. A win in the Big Apple would go a long way toward reversing those trends.
Lions Week 3 Game Recap
For the first time, quarterback Matthew Stafford was not the story of the game. Week 3 was all about the defense.
The Green Bay Packers would attest to that.
Detroit limited the Packers to just 76 yards rushing. More importantly, the defense completely throttled the Aaron Rodgers-led passing attack.
The Lions played two deep safeties, kept everyone in front of them and tackled well. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's tactics allowed Rodgers just 162 yards passing, including no passes longer than 18 yards.
Stafford did struggle at times with two picks and one fumble. However, he dealt well with the constant pressure from the Pack and can only really be faulted with one bad decision (a deep ball into double coverage).
The quarterback said the Lions play "complementary football"—the defense picked up the offense this week, and the offense will eventually reciprocate. The tantalizing thought is if both can hit on all cylinders, the Lions might ride this win to a slew of others and a NFC North crown.
News and Notes
Kicker Freeze Out
All puns aside, rookie Nate Freese has been given the boot in favor of former Eagle Alex Henery.
The team had no choice after Freese missed a 41-yard field goal at the end of the first half. The inability of the offense to put up points when penetrating deep into opponent territory was proving too costly.
Head coach Jim Caldwell gave Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press a little insight into what swayed him toward Henery:
We had a number of guys come in and had them sort of go through a battery of tests just in terms of the kicking duties and things of that nature and felt that he was the best out of the bunch. He was accurate. Not only that, he was really decisive in terms of his kicks. He was a guy that I think without question has experience in the league and is going to be able to do the things that we require him to do."
Henery has knocked in 86 percent of his career attempts, though he was bested by a rookie this preseason and ultimately cut by the Eagles. However, his sharp workout must have alleviated those fears.
Regardless, it was time for a change. Continuing to roll with Freese would have been the definition of insanity and quickly worn thin in the locker room.
Stephen Tulloch is the latest in a growing line of limping Lions. Unfortunately, Detroit's defensive captain is done for the year due to a torn ACL.
The Lions brought in Josh Bynes to shore up the depth chart. Paula Pasche of The Oakland Press has the lowdown on the new guy:
Bynes, who is 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, started six games and played in 15 in 2013. He had 45 tackles and three pass break-ups. Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was the Ravens secondary coach last season so obviously he knows Bynes and, in turn, Bynes knows the defense. Expect Bynes to compete with Tahir Whitehead to fill Tulloch's cleats at middle linebacker.
Bynes' experience with Austin means he will be an instant contender for playing time. He started six games for the Ravens last year and played in nine others, racking up 46 tackles and only missing four.
A large part of Detroit's defensive success is directly related to how well it has tackled. Bynes won't be able to do everything Tulloch did, but he gives Austin another takedown artist.
Don't Mess with Success
The fallout of Tulloch's injury extends further than a roster spot. When he went down against Green Bay, DeAndre Levy made the defensive calls, but Tahir Whitehead mostly played the middle.
The Lions are going to continue with that approach. Whitehead will start in Tulloch's stead, and head coach Jim Caldwell explained why to Monarrez:
You could go a number of different ways. But Tahir has practiced there and, obviously, we've worked with him there quite extensively. And also, there's a couple things you learn after a few years. It can go either way sometimes, but typically, if a guy's playing really, really well, you don't necessarily want to move that guy. And you want to maybe allow someone else to take the other position.
Levy's been playing extremely well at his normal spot. So if we didn't have to disrupt him too much, we didn't plan to do so. But we still have flexibility. He can still play there. It just depends on the team, depends on the circumstances. It may happen this week. It may happen next week. You never know.
Caldwell is spot-on here. Levy has graded out as the third-best outside linebacker through three weeks and has keyed Detroit's ascension to the top statistical defense.
So long as Whitehead doesn't hurt the defense, Levy needs to remain outside.
*All injury reports are from DetroitLions.com.
**Statuses are conjectures until the team releases official statuses.
That's a long list. There's plenty to be worried about, but let's be positive for just a moment.
Ihedigbo looks ready to play his first game in Honolulu blue, which will help soften the Tulloch blow. He's a run-stuffing safety who will line up in the box to help shut down the rush.
Also, Waddle is finally back at practice. If he can't go, the Lions will be forced to utilize Garrett Reynolds and Cornelius Lucas again. Nobody wants to see that.
As for Ansah, Fairley, Bell and Johnson, none should miss any time. They all played last week, and no reports surfaced that anyone aggravated their injuries further.
The oddest injury of the week goes to Fauria. He apparently had a "mis-step" at home Tuesday night, per Paula Pasche of The Oakland Press, and hasn't been able to go since. Eric Ebron would be called upon to pick up the slack, leaving only two tight ends on the roster.
We can't avoid it any longer. Johnson twisted his ankle late against the Packers. He did return to the field but was mostly used as a decoy. It isn't uncommon for Johnson to rest during the week, but this isn't a case of a veteran healing from normal bumps and bruises.
Don't forget that everyone assumed Megatron would play leading up to the first 2013 Green Bay game. He was a late scratch. If history repeats itself, look for Ryan Broyles to make his first appearance on the active roster.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Detroit's Secondary vs. WR Jeremy Kerley
Kerley has the build of a slot receiver and is mostly used in that role. However, with the injury to Eric Decker casting doubt on his availability, Kerley will be utilized in a variety of ways, making him an issue for more than just the nickelback.
Even if Decker returns, Kerley is the key to keeping quarterback Geno Smith under wraps. Smith was Kerley's favorite target last year. And after his seven-catch, 81-yard output against the Bears, it appears the relationship has been rekindled.
If Detroit can take away Smith's go-to guy while creating pressure, the Lions might be able to force the Jets quarterback into multiple turnovers.
DE Nick Fairley and DE Jason Jones vs. OG Willie Colon and Breno Giacomini
The Jets have racked up the second-most rushing yards this season, and they'll try to keep that going against the Lions. Obviously, keeping Calvin Johnson on the sideline while moving the chains is nice, but keeping the pressure off Smith will go much further toward a New York win.
But the Jets aren't that versatile in terms of where they run. As fellow Bleacher Reporter Jeff Risdon broke down in his game-plan piece, they rely heavily on the right side of the line since D'Brickashaw Ferguson isn't much of a run-blocker.
That means the onus will primarily fall on Nick Fairley and Jason Jones to hold down the front line. While Fairley will surely get some penetration, it's imperative that Jones set the edge and not let anything escape his containment.
OG Larry Warford vs. DE Muhammad Wilkerson
This could have gone to either side of the line because the Jets have a pair of wreck-your-day 3-4 defensive ends in Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. However, Warford gets the spotlight here because more is expected from him than Rob Sims.
Warford has struggled to maintain the standard he set his rookie year. If the Lions are fortunate enough to welcome back LaAdrian Waddle, they will certainly try to run to their power side like the Jets.
That won't happen if Warford doesn't battle Wilkerson. The latter is tied for the team lead in sacks with two, so this offense will only go as far as Warford allows.
Lions' X-Factor of the Week: WR Golden Tate
Points will be difficult to manufacture for both teams. Neither run game should find a lot of room to operate, and first downs will require an aerial attack.
And when it comes to picking up first downs via the air, Golden Tate is the weapon of choice for the Lions.
Well, aside from Calvin Johnson. But Rex Ryan has made it quite clear that he won't let Megatron see single coverage, which means Tate—who is second on the team with 10 first downs—should find opportunities to punch holes in zones or beat his man for chain-moving conversions.
This will be a true matchup of strengths.
Both teams have front sevens that frustrate opponents. Additionally, both have probably bolstered their numbers by playing one weak opponent.
So where are the advantages?
It's hard to find any for the Jets. They need to run the ball for the offense to put up points, and even the loss of Stephen Tulloch won't make that easy because it all starts in the trenches.
That inability to find rushing lanes will put Geno Smith in too many uncomfortable 3rd-and-long situations. Considering he has the second-worst accuracy rate among 27 qualifying quarterbacks and could be dealing with a hamstrung Eric Decker, he'll force the ball.
Those turnovers will lead to short fields and points. Detroit has the only real advantage in this game by virtue of a passing attack that is loaded with weapons. While the Jets have only given up the ninth-most yards passing, they've given up the second-most touchdowns via the air.
It won't be a pretty game, but style points don't decide the outcome.
Prediction: Detroit 24, New York 10
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.
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