Welcome to Week 15 of the NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.
The Bills’ 14th game of the 2018 season will take place at New Era Field as they face the Detroit Lions. Here’s what to watch for:
BILLS’ ELITE DEFENSE BECOMING TURNOVER-HAPPY
While the Bills’ defense has been near or at the top of the league all year long in many categories, one area they weren’t excelling at for most of the season was creating turnovers.
Not lately. Over the last five weeks, Buffalo has taken the ball away from their opponents eight times – harkening back to the success the team had last season, in which they were a top-10 unit in turnovers created. Granted, they have come against players like Josh McCown, Blake Bortles and Ryan Tannehill, and young quarterbacks in Mitchell Trubisky and Sam Darnold, but still. The turnaround in that category has been impressive.
Watch for Buffalo to potentially increase the usage of their staple A-gap zone blitzes to try and create confusion for Matthew Stafford, who has faced the Bills just once in his career (a last-second loss in Detroit on the final day of the Wilson family’s ownership of the Bills).
INJURIES PLAGUING THE BILLS’ OFFENSE
With LeSean McCoy not expected to play on Sunday due to a hamstring injury – and backup Chris Ivory also dealing with a shoulder ailment – the Bills could be down to Marcus Murphy and recent practice squad call-up Keith Ford on Sunday. Change, however, shouldn’t be anything new for the Bills, given that the supporting cast around Josh Allen has been in flux all season long.
Despite the amount of upheaval on that side of the ball, Buffalo has had more success offensively over the last month. After performing at a putrid level for most of the season, since their first game against the New York Jets in November the Bills have had more than 300 yards of offense in all four games and scored an average of 26.3 points per outing – all thanks to the influx of speed from wide receivers Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie.
What will be an interesting storyline for this game will be Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s past history with Lions head coach Matt Patricia. Having worked together for seven years in New England, the two know each other’s tendencies inside and out, so the chess match between the two on Sunday should be fascinating.
BUFFALO TO FACE A DEFENSE ON THE RISE
Detroit is ranked in the middle of the pack against the run, but has gotten better since the acquisition of defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison. Harrison, a run-stuffing maestro, teams up with the athletic Ziggy Ansah and the agile Jarrad Davis to form the core of the Lions’ front seven.
11th against the pass, the Lions have an extremely underrated secondary that is versatile enough to carry out Patricia’s coverages. Cornerbacks Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Teez Tabor and DeShawn Shead can play outside and in the slot, and safeties Tavon Wilson, Glover Quin and Quandre Diggs can play deep and in the box, and are speedy and physical.
LIONS’ OFFENSE TRYING TO BECOME MORE PHYSICAL
Ever since Barry Sanders retired following the 1998 season, the Lions’ running game has been underwhelming. With Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn now running the show in the Motor City, they set about to change that with the drafting of guard Frank Ragnow and tailback Kerryon Johnson in April.
Even though the Lions are ranked just 23rd in the NFL in rushing, Johnson provided the team a shot in the arm, averaging 5.4 yards a carry and contributing 641 yards on the ground. Along with short-yardage extraordinaire LeGarrette Blount, the pair gave the Lions some oomph in their ground game in which they hadn’t had in years.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford remains one of the NFL’s most dangerous passers. Possessing one of the game’s strongest arms, in recent years he has also developed a mind and accuracy to match. According to the MMQB’s Andy Benoit, “Stafford continues to make the big-time, tight-window passes that he has always made – he’s especially deft throwing deep outside against Cover Two – but in coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s system, we’ve seen him play with more maturity.
“His bold throws are now also good decisions. Cooter has helped Stafford by using straightforward, static formations. The presnap stillness gives Stafford a clearer picture of defenses.”
The trade of Golden Tate to the Philadelphia Eagles and the loss of Marvin Jones for the season with a knee injury would make one think that the Lions are lacking in weapons for Stafford. Not so. The emergence of Kenny Golladay as a legitimate threat at wide receiver, the presence of one of the NFL’s best receiving backs in Theo Riddick and the underrated Luke Willson all are playmakers who can give the opposition fits – especially Riddick, whose speed and quickness makes him dangerous on angle and option routes.
Ragnow teams up with Taylor Decker and the injured Rick Wagner to give Detroit the nucleus of an offensive line that could eventually become one of the league’s better units.
THIS AND THAT
- With Matt Patricia taking over Detroit this season, he brought three colleagues of his from New England to help make over the Lions. Former Patriots coaches now on the Lions’ staff include quarterbacks coach George Godsey, offensive line coach Jeff Davidson and strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash, and former Patriots safety Steve Gregory is a defensive assistant.
- Patrick Mularkey – son of former Bills head coach Mike Mularkey – is an area scout for the Lions.