Can the Lions Saddle the Colts?

November 30th, 2012

Jeff Risdon, DLD Lead Editor

Keeping Luck from throwing deep is critical to the Lions success

Andrew Luck and the Chuckstrong Colts travel to Ford Field this Sunday. Indianapolis stands at 7-4 and comes off a 20-13 win over the Bills last week. The Lions, of course, sit at 4-7 and I’m frankly more than a little fatigued about Thanksgiving Day chatter.

If the Lions can move on from the Turkey Day debacle, they stand a very good chance of winning this game. The sports books agree, installing the Lions as 4.5 point favorites despite being three games worse in the standings. Vegas believes in the Lions superior overall talent, no matter the records, and I do too.

Keys for the Lions:
–Start quickly on offense. Detroit did this well vs. Houston, going 80 yards on 12 plays for a game-opening touchdown by Mikel Leshoure. What made it especially impressive was that Matt Stafford was sacked on the first play and that the Lions converted a rare 1st down inside the red zone just before Leshoure’s run. The Colts rank 4th in the league in 1st quarter points allowed, so the Lions must come out sharp and focused. Stafford cannot afford to start with yet another 4-for-13 opening, a number he’s achieved three times this year–all losses.

–Avoid self-inflicted wounds. One reason the Colts are 7-4: they lead the league in penalty yardage differential. In their last three games the Colts have averaged just 27 yards in penalties, an amazing figure. No team has drawn more pass interference penalties than Indianapolis, and the Colts have more 3rd down conversions via penalty than any other team. The Lions rank 27th in penalty yardage differential (tied with Buffalo), though they are notably better at Ford Field, where they average nearly 20 penalty yards per game fewer than on the road. Turnovers also play a role here, and the Colts are pitiful at creating turnovers with just 7 takeaways in 11 games. The Lions aren’t great at protecting the ball (Hello Brandon Pettigrew!) but the Colts are not nearly as adept at taking the ball away as the Bears or Texans, to name two recent Lions opponents.

–Bombs away! The Colts will likely face the Lions without both normal starting corners. Considering the roll that NFC Offensive Player of the Month Calvin Johnson is on right now, this is very good news for the Lions. Normally I advocate some semblance of offensive balance, but this is a game where it might be wise to have Stafford throw 45+ times to attack the vulnerable Colts secondary. Indy doesn’t have anyone who can match up with Johnson, and if they shift coverage to help on Megatron, Ryan Broyles and the tight ends will have loads of room to operate.

–Win on special teams. Even with TY Hilton’s 75-yard punt return to the house last week, the Colts rank near the bottom in special teams across the board. They rank dead last in kick return average and next to last in opposing kick return average. The Lions, of course, are no great shakes here either, ranking 31st in kick returns. Something has to give here, and if Stefan Logan can finally do something positive, the Lions will have a much better chance to win.

–Don’t believe in Luck. Andrew Luck deserves a lot of the heaping praise he gets from the national media, but he’s far from infallible. In fact, tape study reveals that Luck makes a lot more mistakes than you are led to believe. Luck has thrown 13 INTs and several others that should have been picked. The Colts rank 30th in completion percentage despite Luck generally having solid protection, and he misfires a lot more than advertised on shorter passes. Where Luck has been great is throwing the ball down the field, both at completing deeper throws to Reggie Wayne and at drawing pass interference penalties. Safety play is critical, and as of Thursday afternoon it appears Louis Delmas is fit to play. Opponents’ yards per attempt are over half a yard lower when Delmas plays than when he doesn’t. The Lions have a serious problem with cornerback ball awareness, however, and Luck is not afraid to exploit it.

I like the Lions chances. They need to show mental toughness after coming off such an emotional and controversial loss, and that starts with Jim Schwartz. He cost the Lions a touchdown with his hot-headedness, and his inability to maintain his composure is too often reflected in the play of his team. As long as the Lions are only playing the Colts and not themselves, the offense should find lots of opportunities to outscore the Colts. Ndamukong Suh must not take the inevitable bait and focus on whipping Joe Reitz and Samson Satele, who are functional linemen at best. Suh, Fairley, and Avril all need to bring their “A” games, and if they do they can really control this one. I think they will have enough success to hold the Colts to fewer points than the Lions will score. Get out your saddles!

Prediction: Lions 30, Colts 24

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