Quarterback Matthew Stafford has squared off against some tough defenses this season, but Sunday's matchup against the Indianapolis Colts at Ford Field could be the toughest test yet this season.
Indianapolis has the league's No. 2 ranked overall defense that's allowing just 288.0 yards per contest. Indy is fourth in points allowed (19.2), second against the pass (199.7) and third against the run (88.3). Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has his guys playing really good football to begin the 2020 season.
"Big, physical front that plays extremely hard and aggressive downhill," Stafford said this week of the Colts' defense. "Set of linebackers that can really run. They do a great job in coverage and playing over the top in the run game and running down running plays.
"And then the back end keeps everything in front of them ... does a really nice job getting their hands on the football. I think they're leading the NFL in picks, tips, touches, all that kind of stuff. They're doing a really good job and it'll be a huge challenge for us."
The Colts' 10 interceptions do lead the NFL, though interestingly they are one of just three teams who have yet to recover a fumble on the year.
Opposing passers have just a 71.7 rating against the Colts this year, which is the lowest in the NFL. Indy makes opposing offenses earn every yard, as the Colts have allowed the second fewest plays of 10-plus and 20-plus yards this season.
Veteran defensive end Justin Houston leads Indy with 3.5 sacks on the year, and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is a load inside. The Colts do a nice job with the marriage between their rush and coverage.
"It's a huge task," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said of the matchup against the Colts' defense this week. "I think just sneaky good, now. These guys are really good. They play aggressive, they play hard.
"Obviously, (DeForest) Buckner was a great addition inside to help them kind of create that penetration. He's got huge length, he can play the run, he's extremely strong. So, I think he's just solidified the inside part of that defense.
"They play quite a bit of zone. I think they do a great job in the deep part of the field of kind of reading the quarterback, breaking, and they've caused a lot of turnovers. I think speed overall, the element of how fast they play, I would say is one of the bigger things that just jumps off the tape."
Detroit's offense had just one touchdown last week before scoring their second, the game winner with no time on the clock, in their come-from-behind victory over Atlanta last week. Detroit will have to find a way to be more consistent on offense against a tougher defense than they faced last week if they hope to beat the Colts and get themselves above the .500 mark for the first time this season.
DO YOUR JOB
What's been the biggest difference the last couple weeks with the Lions' defense?
Detroit's been able to stop the run better coming out of their bye week the last couple games than they had the first month of the season. As a result, they've been able to pressure the quarterback more. The 16 and 22 points they've allowed the last two weeks to Jacksonville and Atlanta, respectively, are the fewest this season.
"You have to do your job and your job only," linebacker Reggie Ragland said Thursday, when asked about the improved play on defense the last couple weeks. "And then if a play comes your way, you make the play."
Ragland said a lot of the new pieces on defense, including himself, had to get to know each other a little bit and build trust up with each other, which is hard to do over a Zoom call and without playing a game until Week 1 of the regular season.
"This is a team sport," Ragland said. "You always have to trust the man beside you to know that he's going to do his job. That's been the biggest thing for us, just knowing guys will just do their job and not worry about nothing else and we're going to be good."
Ragland said that's been the biggest difference on defense for Detroit the last couple weeks.
Rookie running back D’Andre Swift has said on multiple occasions how much he values the relationship he's built with veteran Adrian Peterson. The duo have become Detroit's top two running backs over the last few weeks, with Swift picking up an increased role since the bye. Swift is playing some pretty good football of late, upping his average yards per carry to 5.3 on the season.
As the two backs have started to take on the majority of the role carrying the football, Peterson said their friendship has continued to grow as well.
"He knows that I have his back and he has mine," Peterson said Thursday. "He knows that if there's anything I can help him with, I'm here. He's continuing to grow as a player and I think that's the most important thing for me, just to have that relationship with him personally and do what I can do to help him develop as a player."
Not many veteran backs would have the same approach with a rookie increasingly cutting into his carries. Peterson's carried the football 26 times the last two weeks to Swift's 23. But for Peterson, at this point in his career, it's all about winning and paying it forward. Swift is the biggest winner with that being the case.
As for his season-low 26 rushing yards last week in Atlanta, Peterson said he's got to be a little bit more patient and trust the big guys up front a little better. It's something he's working on this week ahead of Sunday's matchup with Colts and their stellar defense.