Broncos cornerbacks, in combination with pass rush, present tough matchup**
Opening up the season with losses to San Diego and Minnesota, the Lions have gotten off to a rough start. Their offense has faced difficulty finding their groove, but they still boast explosive talent in their passing attack that cannot be overlooked despite ranking 24th in the NFL in passing yards per play.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford can spread the field with wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, but the Broncos' secondary -- especially with Pro Bowl cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. -- may be the toughest challenge they face all year.
"They're excellent cover guys," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said. "Harris and Talib are outstanding defenders. They do a great job in covering all aspects of the game. It's difficult to create space with them."
The two cornerbacks' complementary skill sets seem to almost mirror those of the Lions' wide receivers. Talib's physicality and size matches up well with Johnson's 6-foot-5-inch frame, while Harris' quickness and technical prowess could match up with Tate's slippery moves and speed.
When studying opposing cornerbacks, Johnson puts the burden on the receiver in seeing how the defender reacts.
"For them, it's more so reacting," Johnson said. "Really, [when] you look at them, you want to see if there are any big giveaways -- things that you can probably attack -- but at the end of the day, it's really based off of how the receiver comes out of his route, how he disguises what he has to do. After that, it's just a reaction to the DB. You see how fast they react, but like I said, at the end of the day, it's all in what the receiver does."**
- Ben Swanson
Stafford day-to-day after Vikings game
Though Stafford was only sacked once in the Lions' road game against Minnesota, he took nine quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus. Following the game, he went in for X-rays on his chest and ribs, yet said on Monday that he feels "OK" and participated in walkthrough.
"He's coming along," Caldwell said. "We'll see what the doctors say. It's kind of a day-to-day thing."
So far, pressure has been affecting the Lions offense, which ranks 24th in passing yards per play and 25th in interception rate. When pressured, Stafford's completion percentage drops from 80.4 percent to 31.3, and yards per attempt drops from a 7.6 average to 4.5, per PFF.
Going against two Pro Bowl edge rushers and an aggressive pass rush could put the Lions in that situation often, and the secondary has three Pro Bowlers to hold its own against a daunting receiving corps.
"You couple that (the Broncos secondary) with what may be the most outstanding pass rush in the league with [OLB Demarcus] Ware and obviously on the other side with [OLB Von] Miller," Caldwell said. "Those guys do a tremendous job in terms of getting up the field and putting pressure on you.
"They're tough to handle. They're difficult. Our job is to certainly make certain that our offense is able to operate. If we don't get those guys blocked, it's not going to operate very well."
- Ben Swanson
Georgia Tech products Thomas and Johnson reunite
While the pair never played a down together in the Yellow Jackets' gold, Johnson and Demaryius Thomas spent a season together at Georgia Tech when Thomas was a redshirt freshman and Johnson was a Heisman contender and consensus All-American in his final campaign.
"He came in a year or two, maybe two years after I was there," Johnson said. "From the jump you could tell the kid had a tremendous upside and to see what he has turned out to be -- the big time player for Denver that he's turned out to be. It's [really] good, it's refreshing especially coming from Tech with the guy, to see him blossom as he did."
Caldwell can pull more similarities between Thomas and Johnson outside of their college connection.
"They all have their own distinct God-given abilities," Caldwell said. "People may draw a comparison because they're both big and fast and they both can catch and they both can light it up. They're two quality guys that have a lot of ability."
Johnson departed Tech in 2006, leaving Thomas to lead the team in receiving until his final season in 2009. Thomas and Johnson were both first round picks in the NFL draft – and are the only two receivers in Yellow Jacket history to be selected in round one.
"We might see each other in the offseason," said Johnson, a native of Georgia like Thomas. "Guys usually do their own things, but we'll cross paths during the offseason every now and then."
- Allie Raymond