Scouting report: DEs must pressure Stafford

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Scouting report: DEs must pressure Stafford

Will the blitz work against a potent Lions' offense?

December 6, 2013, 4:30 pm
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The Eagles can't afford to blitz Matthew Stafford, meaning Trent Cole and Brandon Graham need to generate pressure from three- and four-man fronts. (AP)

Outside of the Broncos, and maybe the Eagles, no NFL team has as much offensive firepower as the Lions.

With incomparable wideout Calvin Johnson, 5,000-yard passer Matthew Stafford, and two dynamic running backs in Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, the Lions have more weapons than most defenses can handle.

The offense is centered on the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Johnson, a receiver with a linebacker’s body and the athletic skill set of an NBA All-Star forward. Johnson will break Jerry Rice’s receiving records if he stays healthy and plays another eight or nine years.

Teams have to devote several defenders to Johnson and play a variety of coverages, which opens up the rest of the field for Bush, one of the league’s best dual-threat halfbacks, and for Bell, a strong and powerful runner with deceptive quickness and great hands out of the backfield.

Bush is fourth among NFL running backs with 448 receiving yards. Bell, who had a cup of coffee with the Eagles in 2010, is a better between-tackles runner than Bush and secures the ball.

The Lions, who have the league’s fourth-best scoring offense, rack up yards as well as anyone in the league. The only way to slow them down is to generate a pass rush against Stafford, who’s among the league’s best quarterbacks at getting rid of the ball but struggles with accuracy and is turnover-prone.

Detroit doesn’t give Stafford much help up front. Much of the offense is run from empty-backfield sets, which invites the pass rush but also challenges coverage. The Lions will run against two-deep formations and use 335-pound rookie right guard Larry Warford as a puller in the ground game. Warford is a nice player and athletic up front, a good complement to lunch-pail center Dominic Raiola, one of the NFL’s dirtiest offensive linemen.

The concern for the Eagles is safety Patrick Chung, who’s still subbing for injured rookie Earl Wolff (see injury report). His penchant to over-pursue and play too quickly could haunt him on screens and quick outs to the flat against Bush or in coverage against tight end Joseph Fauria, a 6-foot-7 rookie out of UCLA who’s a tough matchup in the red zone. Fauria’s six TDs are are second-most on the team.

The Eagles may need to position Nate Allen in Rittenhouse Square to keep Johnson from beating them deep and force the Lions to put the ball in the hands of Bush and Bell.

The Lions will slow down themselves on offense, which is why their record is just 7-5 despite their high-powered offense and decent defense. They turn the ball over too often to be considered an elite team. Only four QBs have more interceptions than Stafford, and one is Geno Smith, who’s an interception waiting to happen. Bush has had fumbling issues lately.

Stafford has a little Brett Favre in him. He’ll throw side-armed or try to make plays outside of the pocket, which often leads to passes high or wide of his targets. He and Peyton Manning are tied for the fewest sacks among starting QBs, but Stafford is much more willing to take low-percentage risks.

Although he’s a poor passer against the blitz, Stafford doesn’t see many pressures. Teams can’t afford to throw the house at him and leave one guy on Johnson, so Stafford has been blitzed on only 27 percent of his passes.

The Eagles, who matched up as many as nine different defenders on Larry Fitzgerald last week, are apt to do the same against Johnson, so the onus is on Trent Cole, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry to generate pressure in a conventional three- or four-man rush.

The Lions are strong on the interior offensive line but can be attacked at the edges against left tackle Riley Reiff and right tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Neither of those two are a good matchup against Cole and Graham.

If they can sack Stafford at least twice, the Eagles stand a great chance to win. The Lions are 0-3 this year when that happens, with an average loss margin of nine points.

For Geoff Mosher's scouting report on how the Eagles' offense stacks up against the Lions' defense, click here.