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Broncos vs Lions 5 questions: What’s happened to Detroit?

The Broncos head to the Motor City to take on the Lions in Week 15. How are fans feeling heading into Saturday night?

Detroit Lioins v Chicago Bears Photo by Todd Rosenberg/Getty Images

A few weeks into the NFL season, the Detroit Lions were considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Fast-forward to Week 15 and the Lions are on the heels of a loss to the Chicago Bears and having lost two of their last three games.

Now come the Denver Broncos, winners of six of their last seven games. How are Detroit fans feeling heading into Saturday night’s game?

DraftKings Sportsbook doesn’t like Denver’s chances. The Broncos are a +4.5-point underdog to the Lions. The total for Saturday’s game sits at 48. The over has better potential than in previous Denver games, but the under has the best best this season.

To preview Sunday’s game, we go behind enemy lines to get a feel for the Lions with Ryan Mathews from Pride of Detroit. For those interested, here are my answers to Ryan’s 5 questions about the Broncos.

MHR: What has happened to the Lions heading into Week 15? Why have they lost two of their last three?

Ryan: Ian, what has happened to this Lions team? Because I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. One moment they were 8-2, in the hunt for the NFC’s No. 1 seed, and now they’re trying to just hold onto a division lead that’s shrinking in the lead-up to two games against the Minnesota Vikings over the next four weeks.

Truth be told, in the last month, the Turnover Monster has surfaced from the abyss to claim Jared Goff. Eight turnovers in three of the Lions last four games is disastrous no matter how you cut, and as the quarterback of an offense that desperately needs to not put the team’s defense on a short field considering they have their own host of problems cropping up, Goff has failed in that respect. Teams are blitzing Goff, they’re packing the middle of the field to congest the passing lanes, and they’re daring him to air it out to the sidelines–and he’s just not taking those chances. The offensive coordinator, Ben Johnson, he’s just not taking those kinds of chances and sticking to the plan that’s worked–granted–for the better part of the last year and a half: run the ball on early downs, get into third-and-manageable, extend the drive–and if it requires going for it on fourth down, Dan Campbell is aggressive enough to greenlight that.

And then there’s the defense, which showed early signs of promise, but over time, they’ve been exposed as a unit that can’t get off the field on third down–since Week 10, the Lions have allowed opposing offenses to convert 45.2% of their third downs, and that’s the fourth-worst mark over that stretch. They’re forcing fewer turnovers over that same stretch (0.8 per game vs. 1.25 per game in the first eight games before their bye in Week 9), and when the offense isn’t helping to win the turnover battle, it’s just a recipe for disaster. The pass rush has some push–they rank 14th in Pro Football Reference’s pass pressure rate (22.1%)–but have just 28 sacks on the season which ranks 25th in the NFL.

MHR: How are fans feeling about the Lions? Confident like early in the season or “Here we go again?”

Ryan: There’s a proud bunch of Lions supporters who are trying to pull fan cards of those concerned with the direction the team has been headed in for the past month, which, I get it: the Lions are 9-4, they have a clear path to their first division title in over 30 years, things could be much worse. But it’s fair to raise your expectations for this team after the way they’ve played and grown over the past 23 games going back to last season. Before this ugly spell of football over the past month, the Lions were 15-4 through Week 10 of this season if you went back to their 8-2 finish in 2022.

While there’s room to think of the other shoe dropping or Lucy pulling the football out from underneath them, Lions fans, for the most part, are still behind this team as they head into the home stretch. Check back in with me after the result of this Week 15 game against the Broncos …

MHR: What is the plan of attack for Detroit on Saturday night, offensively and defensively? How do the Lions get the win?

Ryan: As I talked about earlier, the Lions absolutely need to get this offense into manageable spots on third down. If they’re behind the sticks, this offense hasn’t shown a consistent ability to convert in those situations, so they need the ground game to be productive on early downs. It feels like that’s Ben Johnson’s plan and he’s sticking to it, but it sure would be nice if the Lions were more interested in mixing it up and passing the ball on early downs to keep linebackers and safeties further from the line of scrimmage.

Defensively, Detroit needs to be opportunistic and force some turnovers. The Broncos are right there in the middle of the league in giveaways (16th, 18 total), so there’s a chance for Ford Field to come alive and give this defense a boost. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has been much more aggressive in terms of dialing up blitzes in hopes of getting to the quarterback, so it’ll be interesting to see if they continue that approach against Russell Wilson who ranks 20th in passing grade out of 28 qualifying quarterbacks against the blitz according to Pro Football Focus.

MHR: What is your best for Saturday’s game at DraftKings Sportsbook? And what do you think of the current spread?

Ryan: Looking at the player props, I think it makes sense to lay some money on Jahmyr Gibbs’ longest rush over 12.5 yards at -120. He has 18 runs of 10-plus yards in his rookie year on just 128 carries–14.1% of his carries. Gibbs has had a long rush greater than 14 yards in four of his 11 games so far this year, and three of them have been indoors. He’s getting more opportunities, and I think the Lions are going to continue giving him the rock against a Broncos team that ranks 31st against the run in DVOA.

The line has been fluctuating a bit, opening at -3.5, moving up as high as -5 on Wednesday morning, but currently sits at -4.5. I know the public is hitting the Lions pretty hard, but I’m not so sure I like Detroit at anything more than -3 because this feels like a one-score game in the making.

MHR: What are your expectations and predictions for Saturday’s game?

Ryan: With the way the Lions and Broncos have played over the past month, I’m expecting a competitive football game. Detroit is a better team than they’ve been over that stretch, and there are some numbers I’ve seen that make me think Denver is a good matchup for this Lions team — like their defense on first and second down, allowing 5.8 yards per play, tied for the most yards per play in that situation in the NFL this season.

There’s going to be a playoff atmosphere in Ford Field this Saturday, and it should be really lively for this all-important game for both teams.