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Denver Broncos at Detroit Lions Preview: Offensive line needs to step it up

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The Denver Broncos travel to Michigan to face the Detroit Lions. The Broncos are struggling to find offensive rhythm, while the Lions are hanging onto their season by a thread. This could spell trouble for the Orange and Blue.

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Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Detroit Lions
Sunday, September 27, 2015 - 6:30 PM MDT
Denver Broncos

AVG. YDS (RNK)

TEAM CATEGORY

AVG. YDS (RNK)

11th Pass Off. 26th
31st Rush Off. 29th
24th Pass Def. 1st
29th Rush Def. 18th
0-2 Ford Field, Detroit, MI 2-0
NFC North Spread: Broncos by 2.5 AFC West

The Denver Broncos are headed to Ford Field to take on the Detroit Lions on Sunday Night Football. The two teams are having similar problems offensively, but one team has one of the best defenses in the NFL, so their records are polar opposites heading into this game.

That defense is going to be key to holding back the initial burst of excitement and energy that the home team will likely have being under the bright lights of the national stage, otherwise the Broncos could find themselves repeating history if Peyton Manning and that offense can't find a way to break out of their early season slumber.

Both teams are relatively healthy entering this game, but the Lions could be missing a couple of key players on defense come game day. We'll want to monitor that situation closely. Any prime time road game should give you pause, but the Broncos should come out victorious in this one.

Strength against weakness

Here are some of the bigger match-ups to watch in this weeks game between the Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos.

Broncos offensive line vs Lions defensive line

The Broncos offense is either really bad or its not as bad as people think. Some think, we just need to let Gary Kubiak and Peyton Manning figure things out. There is one thing no one can deny and that is that the Broncos have the fourth worst cumulative offensive grade via Pro Football Focus (-32.6), behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks and these Detroit Lions.

Most of that atrocious offensive score comes from the offensive line, which has been truly horrendous through two games. People might think that they are terrible against the pass rush, but that would be mostly wrong. The offensive line has a respectable (-4.9) grade. I say respectable, because it is when put up next to their run blocking grades (-18.3).

In order for that score to improve, the Lions (+12.3) against the run will need to falter quite a bit. It's time for these guys to flip flop their run grades:

OT Ty Sambrailo (-3.8 Run Block)

OG Louis Vasquez (-3.5 Run Block)

C Matt Paradis (-3.5 Run Block)

OT Ryan Harris (-5.3 Run Block)

The only respectable run blocker thus far has been Evan Mathis who has an outstanding zero run blocking score. At this point, I'll take that over what we've seen so far. C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman will have another difficult game if things don't start improving in the run game.

Broncos wide receivers vs Lions Secondary

Peyton Manning (-7.4) is going to need to find his deep ball, otherwise the Lions will crowd the line of scrimmage and dare him to beat them over the top. This will negatively impact the run game and the pass game. Manning must start burning defensive coordinators who don't respect his arm.

The good news is that the only two offensive players with positive PFF grades are none other than Emmanuel Sanders (+2.3) and Demaryius Thomas (+1.9) - minimum 50 snaps. Both of these players have the ability to get open down the field and with the Lions secondary hobbled a bit this week, they should have some big opportunities against them.

Manning just has to get the ball to them, instead of beyond them. Based on how far off he was hitting these deep balls against the Baltimore Ravens and how much closer they were against the Kansas City Chiefs, I think that might just happen finally in Week 3.

Broncos secondary vs Lions wide receivers

There is little doubt that the reason the Broncos are sitting at 2-0 is because of their defense. The elite pass rush that sports two starting OLB and two backup OLB that keeps everyone fresh and terrorizing the quarterback, is leading to turnovers and the best overall pass defense in the NFL

This embarrassing wealth of pass rushers, is going to be put to the test against Matthew Stafford and the Lions. I would start listing out the green from PFF, but for players over 50 snaps that have a (+2.5) or greater the list from highest grade to lowest is: Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, Vance Walker, Shaquil Barret (28 snaps), Sylvester Williams, Malik Jackson and Chris Harris Jr. I included Barret, because the guy is a beast when he is on the field.

Every single starter has a positive PFF grade. The only guy under a (+1.0) is Danny Trevathan. Overall the Broncos defense sits at a league high (+39.8). The only other teams above 20 is the St. Louis Rams (+36.8) and Kansas City Chiefs (+22.5).

If the Lions are going to muster any kind of offense, it's got to come from Matthew Stafford (-7.9) and the passing game. Running the ball just isn't going to work against this defense. It may for a play here or a play there, but eventually someone is going to make a mistake.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that both of these teams have had tremendous offensive woes to start the 2015 season. Both teams have offensive lines that have not been able to pass protect consistently and are terrible in the run game. If this continues, both teams will end up in a defensive battle that is clearly angling in favor of the Broncos here.

We could be facing a multi-week process of building chemistry within the offensive line. If I had to guess, it will be the pass protection that comes together first, because Manning isn't going to let that fly for long.