What the Lions Need to Do to Stop Dallas' Offense
With superstar running back Ezekiel Elliott and rising star Dak Prescott at quarterback, first-year Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has the offense flying high in Dallas.
In fact, Dallas’ offensive unit ranks in the top 10 in total offense, scoring, rushing and passing.
So, how can the Lions stop it?
What Matt Patricia thinks
In examining Detroit’s struggling defense -- ranked 30th overall -- and its chances of stopping Prescott & Co., who better to hear from than Patricia.
Despite an extensive defensive background, including being the defensive coordinator for New England during multiple Super Bowl runs, Patricia’s side of the ball in Detroit has been largely disappointing.
On top of being ranked 30th in total defense, the Lions rank worse than 25th in both passing and rushing defense as well.
Stopping the Cowboys on Sunday would require a complete turnaround from a defensive unit that nobody should trust.
Regardless, there is football to be played, and the Lions can play spoiler.
With a new coordinator, franchise cornerstones at quarterback and running back and a stout offensive line, not much has changed from last season for the Dallas offense.
“I think Kellen Moore is doing a good job with this offense, and I would say it’s very similar to things that they did last year," Patricia said. "I think the philosophy behind what they do and with Jason Garrett, the head coach -- I think a lot of that is going to stay consistent on offense. Certainly, running the ball will be the No. 1 priority."
Before Patricia took over the Lions head-coaching gig, it was well-reported that he's a film junkie. In so many words, he pays a ton of attention to what other teams plan to do against Detroit.
So, what exactly is Patricia looking for against Moore & Co.?
He’s got his eyes on something before the ball is even snapped.
"There are a lot of shifts, motions, adjustments (and) personnel changes," Patricia commented. "I think one of the things that Kellen has done a great job of is the tempo in which they change their personnel in and out from the sidelines. They actually have almost a – maybe you call it a muddle huddle or sort of a mini-huddle that is by the ball, which allows them to sub without the officials technically having to stand over the ball. The way that they do it, the personnel comes on and off in a very difficult way to try to match or try to really realize what they’re doing. From that aspect of it, all of that work pre-snap is really important for us defensively to identify what they’re trying to do. Then, they line up quick and for a lot of the plays, they don’t necessarily snap the ball right away."
What we think
It’s going to take a lot to stop this potent Dallas offense, operating where it’s most comfortable: inside a dome.
Detroit must make Dallas predictable by picking up on the pre-snap habits and being a step ahead of what Moore plans to call next.
Playing the guessing game with Prescott and Elliott will get you in trouble.
Add receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, as well as veteran tight end Jason Witten, into that mix and well ... it could be a long day.
However, Detroit, despite its subpar numbers, still has talent defensively.
Veteran cornerback Darius Slay is still one of the 10 best corners in the league when healthy. And he seems to be healthier, as each week progresses.
Meanwhile, defensive linemen Damon “Snacks” Harrison, Mike Daniels, Trey Flowers and Da’Shawn Hand were all playing at a Pro Bowl-level a year ago.
Perhaps this defense’s high upside will finally scratch the surface Sunday, and limit Elliott while containing Prescott enough to give the offense a chance.
Where things get tricky, though, is with Detroit’s linebackers.
Pro Football Focus grades them as the worst group of LBs in the league.
It doesn't help that Jarrad Davis is the lowest-graded linebacker in the NFL, per PFF.
All in all, the Cowboys are beyond vulnerable at 5-4.
In games they’ve lost, Prescott has gone without a touchdown three times -- including one three-interception game -- and was held under 300 passing yards each time.
Additionally, Elliott has been held under 100 yards three times this season, and each time, it's resulted in a Dallas loss.
Basically, it comes down to limiting the production of Prescott and Elliott.
Simple enough, right?
Pressure them, and it becomes increasingly difficult for Cooper, rookie running back Tony Pollard and Gallup to pick up the loose ends.
It’s no simple X's-and-O's call.
However, via unique pressures on Prescott -- which the Lions haven’t whipped out yet -- and careful execution offensively, which uses as much of the game clock as possible, the Lions have a shot.
And folks, that’s the only way in which Detroit wins the Week 11 contest.