Coming off their biggest win of the season, the Giants aim to keep momentum on their side as they face the Detroit Lions at home. The Lions and Giants have identical records at 9-4 and this game is crucial for both sides as their respective divisions are still up for grabs.
ST: There are two big questions for the Lions heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Giants, but let’s first touch on QB Matt Stafford. How is that dislocated finger doing?
MM: Stafford’s finger is going to be one of the focal points of Sunday’s matchup. Stafford hurt the middle finger on his throwing hand when his hand collided with a Bears’ defensive player during the first half of last week’s contest against Chicago. It was evident some of his throws were affected by the injury and he admitted after the game that both his accuracy and velocity were impacted.
Stafford has said this injury isn’t as bad as a finger injury that plagued him a few years ago and he wasn’t listed on the final injury report – so it’s possible he is able to push through with no real drop off in play.
Of course, that would be wishful thinking for Lions fans and, the truth is, the injury is serious enough where Stafford will be wearing a glove and that, in itself, could have an impact.
Stafford used several different gloves after the first-quarter injury and has practiced all week with one. Expect him to play with a glove on this throwing hand which will feature his middle finger to be fully covered but his other four fingers to be exposed.
This should be interesting.
ST: The second big question revolves around the fact the Lions haven’t played outdoors since October 2nd. It is already snowing in New Jersey and it is bound to be freezing out here. What kind of challenge does this present to the Lions?
MM: The Lions have talked about being an “indoor team with an outdoor mentality”, which sounds great but hasn’t translated to much success outdoors.
The Lions are 5-9 in outdoor contests since Jim Caldwell took over as head coach and that’s probably not a product of coaching or philosophy – it’s about the way the team is built. The Lions do not have a strong running game and will likely lean on Dwayne Washington a lot in this contest. Unfortunately for them, Washington hasn’t looked like the same explosive back that he was in the preseason and has not demonstrated the type of vision needed to get to the second level, where he can use his speed/power combo to do some damage.
Simply put, the Lions are built to play in more favorable conditions – where they can use the short passing game as an extension of the run game. If the weather impacts Stafford’s ability to throw the ball (which could be multiplied by his finger injury), the Lions could have some problems on offense.
ST: Let’s get back to Stafford. Other than last week’s performance, he is having a great year with a QBR of 97.8, a touchdown to interception ratio of 3.1 and could eclipse 4,000 yards by the end of the season. What do you attribute to his success this year?
MM: This could be a long answer but I’ll keep it short; Stafford has flourished since Jim Bob Cooter has taken over the reins of offensive coordinator.
Stafford’s skillset has always been there and – despite the lack of national recognition for these traits – he is also a hard working guy with exceptional football intelligence. However, there always seemed to be roadblocks.
His mechanics and decision making struggled under Scott Linehan. The offensive line was a disaster under Joe Lombardi.
With Cooter, Stafford is empowered at the line of scrimmage and he’s adjusting to the defensive look. The Lions are getting into the right protections, reducing the drop backs with pressure. Stafford isn’t forcing throws and he’s reading the defense well.
There is a palpable chemistry with Stafford and Cooter. There is no doubt that Stafford possess all the attributes you’d want in a franchise QB but, with Cooter, those skills aren’t being coupled with poor decisions and unblocked rushers.
ST: Switching over to the Giants, their defense has been stellar in these past few weeks especially against the Cowboys last week. Their blitz packages have been key in forcing bad throws and ultimately killing drives quickly. How do you think the Lions O-line will protect Stafford in this one?
MM: The weather, the finger and the glove are what seems to be scaring most Lions fans but, the Giants defense is the biggest thing to fear heading into this game.
It’s not atypical for a defense with new faces to take a few weeks to hit its stride and the talented unit in New York seems to be doing just that. I was thoroughly impressed in what I saw from the secondary against Dallas but – even more – was the pass rush they generated against a stellar Cowboys’ offensive line.
The Lions aren’t brining an O-Line with that type of talent with them to New Jersey this week, so they have to combat the pass rush with quick passing and the running game – the latter of which might be tough to establish against the Giants’ front and the former might impeded by the weather and Stafford’s injury.
The circumstances seem to favor the Giants in this one and the Lions defense will need to come up big as I can’t see Detroit pouring points on the board.
ST: What is one matchup you are looking forward to this Sunday?
MM: I think the marque one here is Darius Slay vs. Odell Beckham Jr.
Of course, Slay is questionable with a hamstring injury and the matchup might not happen. If it does, it could be a good one.
Beckham is one of the most recognizable players in the league and Slay doesn’t have close to that level of attention but he’s one of the top players at his position and it could be a fun matchup to watch.
I’m hoping Slay is active and healthy for this one.
ST: Finally, what is your prediction for this road game for the Lions?
MM: It’s a big game for the Lions. At 9-4, their record isn’t as secure as it looks. If the Packers win their next two games and the Lions lose one of their next two (the next is at Dallas), Green Bay will come to Detroit with a chance to steal the division the last week of the season.
If that happens, this game could have significant wild card implications.
With that said – I can’t see the Lions winning this one. The Giants defense is for real and the Lions enter the game without their top two running backs (Ameer Abdullah and the doubtful Theo Riddick) and an injured quarterback playing with a glove on this throwing hand.
It’s not a recipe for success.
I’ll take the Giants in a low scoring game – maybe 17-9