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Eye on the Lions: Breaking Down the Matchup

Posted Dec 15, 2016

Giants.com's Michael Eisen scouts the opposing offense, defense, and special teams: 


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants will conclude their home schedule Sunday in a game that will have significant postseason implications in the NFC. They host the Detroit Lions in MetLife Stadium. Both teams are 9-4. But the Giants, who currently hold the conference’s No. 1 wild card, trail the Dallas Cowboys by two games in the NFC East. 

The Lions’ 9-4 gives them a two-game lead over Green Bay and Minnesota in the NFC North. The Giants have won seven of their last eight games, while the Lions are riding a five-game winning streak. Detroit leads the alltime series, 21-20-1. The teams last met on Sept. 8, 2014, when the Lions won in Ford Field, 35-14. They last faced each other here on Oct. 17, 2010, a 28-20 Giants victory.

What is the Lions’ biggest strength?

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who can beat you with his arm and his legs. Stafford has completed 66.7 percent of his passes and has thrown 22 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, including 17 touchdowns and three picks in Detroit’s 10 victories. In the red zone the last two seasons, Stafford has thrown 42 touchdown passes and just one pick.

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This year, he’s also rushed for a 193 yards, including the game-winning 7-yard touchdown run with 3:17 remaining in the Lions’ 20-17 victory last week vs. Chicago. Stafford suffered a middle finger injury on his throwing hand in that game, but will face the Giants.

What player is key to the Lions’ offense?

To avoid repetition, Stafford is ineligible to be named here. And that makes it a difficult choice, because the Lions have numerous players who make significant contributions on offense. We’ll go with Stafford’s favorite target, Golden Tate. He has team-high totals of 71 catches for 820 yards. Tate has a knack for breaking tackles, as his NFL-leading 516 yards-after-catch demonstrate. He has eight receptions that have gained 25 or more yards. When Stafford needs a big play, he most often looks for Tate, such as their game-winning overtime touchdown pass vs. Minnesota.


What is the strength of the Lions’ offense?

The variety of weapons that complement each other. The Lions are the only NFL team with five players that have 40 or more receptions: Tate (71), wide receiver Anquan Boldin (55), running back Theo Riddick (53), wide receiver Marvin Jones, Jr. (46) and tight end Eric Ebron (43). Tate excels at turning short passes into long gains. Boldin is a strong veteran who makes the tough catches across the middle.

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Riddick – who missed the victory against Chicago last week with a wrist injury – has 133 receptions since the start of the 2015 season, the most by an NFL running back. He makes Detroit’s screen game go. Jones is the deep threat as his per-catch average of 17.4 yards demonstrates; and Ebron is Stafford’s go-to receiver on third down.

What player is key to the Lions’ defense?

Darius Slay, Detroit’s best cover corner. Like the Giants’ Janoris Jenkins, Slay is often assigned to cover the opposing team’s best wide receiver, and he consistently does an outstanding job. He also has a knack for making a big play. Against Philadelphia, his fourth-quarter forced fumble led to the Lions’ game-winning field goal, and his interception clinched the victory. He also picked off a pass with 30 seconds remaining against Minnesota on Thanksgiving, leading to Matt Prater’s deciding field goal as time expired.

What is the strength of the Lions’ defense?

The skill and depth up front. End Ziggy Ansah is the Lions’ most disruptive pass rusher - and he doesn’t have a sack this season (he had 30.0 the previous three years). But Ansah has 30 quarterback pressures and 12 hits. Tackle Haloti Ngata is a powerful run-stopping force inside. Kerry Hyder is listed as a backup, but he came out of nowhere – well, the practice squad last year – to lead the team with 8.0 sacks and 18 quarterback hits. Hyder has a relentless motor.

What is the strength of the Lions’ special teams?

This might be the best special teams the Giants have faced this season. Detroit is good at everything. Three of their four core teams – punt return and coverage, and kickoff coverage, rank in the top 10 in the NFL. And their kickoff return unit is ranked 13th. Kicker Matt Prater has made 21 of 31 field goal attempts, and was selected NFC Special Teams Player of the week three times in a five-week span before Giants punter Brad Wing was honored this week. Punter Sam Martin is second in the league with a 44.6-yard net average.

Based on the scouting report, the Giants must do this one thing to win:

Bother Stafford. It will be helpful if the Giants can pressure and sack him, but at the very least they need to hurry him up and not let him get into rhythm. Because once Stafford gets comfortable in the pocket, it’s very difficult to slow down the Lions’ offense.

Statistics you should know:

1)      The Lions have trailed in the fourth quarter in 12 of 13 games. They won eight of those 12 games.

2)      Since Jim Bob Cooter was promoted to offensive coordinator in Week 8 of the 2015 season, Stafford has thrown 41 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions.

3)      When the Lions defeated New Orleans, 21-13, on Dec. 4, they snapped Drew Brees NFL-record streak of 60 consecutive home games with a touchdown pass.