3TFO: Colts @ Lions, Week 13
This game features an exciting intra-conference matchup between the Lions and the Colts. Detroit is coming off an agonizing overtime defeat on Thanksgiving against the Texans, a game in which they had multiple opportunities to win, but squandered them with the help of a considerable coaching blunder. The loss was a big blow to their playoff chances, as they now sit at 4-7, far behind in the NFC North and wild-card battles.
They now have to host a hot team in the Colts, though they get the benefit of a few days of extra rest. The Colts, at 7-4, might be too far behind to win the AFC South, but they are right in contention for a wild card spot, an amazing feat given their struggles a year ago. With two games against the Texans left on the schedule – though their Week 17 matchup could end up being meaningless for Houston – Indianapolis can’t afford to take a week off and will surely be up for this game.
Blocking Suh and Fairley
The Lions’ defensive line receives a lot of attention every week, and deservedly so. They feature one of the league’s most talented tackle tandems with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Despite problems off of the field at times and unsportsmanlike issues on it (mostly in the case of Suh), the two, along with reserve Sammie Lee Hill, have been the only players of the Detroit front seven to generate any significant pressure rushing the passer. Suh is coming off perhaps the best game of his career, certainly his highest-graded at +8.1, after terrorizing Matt Schaub for seven hurries and three hits. His running mate Fairley hasn’t been too bad either, ranking third in Pass Rushing Productivity among qualifying defensive tackles with 24 QB disruptions on the season. The question is whether they can sustain it; Suh’s 10 disruptions against Houston accounted for 32% of his total pressure on the season, while Fairley’s two best games of the season came in Weeks 10 and 11.
They should be licking their chops going against a Colts line that ranks sixth worst in Pass Blocking Efficiency, while eight of the 11 players who’ve received snaps at the position have graded negatively in pass protection. The Colt interior of guards Joe Reitz and Mike McGlynn have combined to allow 34 disruptions, while center Samson Satele has given up 15, the fifth-highest of all centers. McGlynn at RG will have the primary task of handling Suh, who plays almost exclusively on the offensive right at DLT, while Reitz will face time against Fairley and Hill, both of whom split time at DRT. We’ll be watching whether Satele favors a certain side his blocking, as it could be a long game for the guard that’s left to go one-on-one against the Lions.
The good thing is they’ll have help from their mobile quarterback, as Andrew Luck takes a sack on just 14.3% of plays that he’s pressured, despite being pressured at the NFL’s fifth-highest rate on 36.3% of snaps.
Colts’ Running Game vs. Lions’ Run Defense
A week after getting pounded on the ground for 205 yards at 7.3 yards per carry, the Lions will look to tidy up their run defense against the Colts. They’ve missed 76 tackles on the season, with just Fairley, end Willie Young, and linebacker Justin Durant, grading positively against the run in the front seven. The Colts, though, aren’t the strongest rushing team. Indianapolis is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, while Satele and left tackle Anthony Castonzo are the only players on the line who’ve graded positively in run blocking. They’re solid through the right-side A-gap, but excel running to the left edge – averaging 4.8 YPC – which is also where they run most frequently with close to twice as many attempts as any other gap. It will be up to end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who plays primarily at DRE, to set the edge against Castonzo and the Colt tight ends and funnel the rushers inside.
In their efforts to stop the run, Detroit will also have to be wary of play fakes and maintain discipline, particularly in the back seven. Play action accounts for 17.8% of Luck’s passing attempts, below the league-average of roughly 20%, but he’s been exceptional on those plays with a 9.5% higher completion percentage and 3.5 higher YPA, both top five in terms of improvement on play action fakes among quarterbacks. While there’s little evidence that teams need a successful running game to establish play action, the Colts will still want to run the ball to slow down a good pass rush and keep a potent Detroit offense on the sideline.
Will Calvin Johnson replicate his eight-catch, 140-yard Thanksgiving Day performance? As he’s been targeted over 11 times per game, he should get every opportunity to do so against a considerably weaker pass defense compared to what he saw versus Houston. That Indianapolis defense, which is allowing opposing quarterbacks a rating of 96.6, could get a boost this week with the return of Vontae Davis, who has missed the past four games with a knee injury. That may not necessarily be a good thing for the Colts, however. In the five games he’s played, Davis gave up receptions on 78.9% of passes thrown into his coverage, while QBs had a rating of 143.6 on those throws, the highest rating allowed by any cornerback.
When not matched up against Davis on the outside, Johnson should see time against both Josh Gordy and Cassius Vaughn. Of the two, Vaughn has played significantly more snaps on the year and been the more effective CB, allowing 1.23 yards per snap in coverage compared to the 1.37 of Gordy. Both should be confident, as they combined to give up just four receptions for 24 yards on 11 targets against Buffalo. They’ll certainly need to be confident, going up against Johnson, who leads the league in receiving yards and is averaging more than 17 yards a catch. Of course, the Colts will undoubtedly give their corners help over the top, so safeties Antoine Bethea and Tom Zbikowski will need to be on their game as well. Though Zbikowski’s status is uncertain for Sunday, the tandem has been solid, if unspectacular, in coverage this season with each allowing fewer than 0.52 yards per snap in coverage.