Lions vs. Broncos: Matchups to watch, key questions heading ALLEN PARK — This post will run through matchups to watch and key questions heading into the Lions-Broncos Week 16 game in Denver from MLive’s Benjamin Raven:Offensive player to watch: WR Danny Amendola
NFL Football 2019 Week 16
Team : Lions AT Broncos
Date : Sunday, December 22
Location : Broncos Stadium at Mile High – Denver, Colorado
Start Time : 4:05 PM ET FOX
Danny Amendola was the driving force behind Detroit’s modest second-half comeback last week. The wide receiver caught eight passes for 102 yards on a team-leading 13 targets. Amendola has seen at least eight targets in the three games quarterback David Blough has started. With or without Marvin Jones, the veteran wideout has been the rookie quarterback’s favorite target.
“I think it’s pretty easy to see Danny on the football field on game day, how tough, how hard he plays. He just continually works all 60-minutes of the game,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “He is definitely one of those guys that maybe — he’s not necessarily sure when his number is going to be called or when the ball is going to come his way, but he’s going to run everything like it’s going to be his way every time. I think that’s just the mentality that you love to have as a coach. You love those guys that just love to play the game.
“He’s excited about playing the game. He’s tough; he works hard. But like I’ve said before, what you see on Sunday is what you get every single day here in the building. Whether it’s a meeting, practice — he throws himself around. He’s trying to do everything he can to compete every single day. Sometimes I say, ‘I have to protect himself from himself,’ sometimes because it’s just maybe a seven-on-seven rep, and he doesn’t need to lay out so hard, but he doesn’t care, he just wants to go play ball, and he wants to compete.”Defensive player to watch: S Tracy Walker
Tracy Walker has kept his highly productive season rolling since returning from a knee injury that forced him to miss three games. Walker has 27 tackles in the last three weeks while playing the majority of defensive snaps. Denver’s offense has two capable running backs in Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, the blossoming Noah Fant at tight end and a bonafide No. 1 threat at receiver in Courtland Sutton. So, expect Walker to have another jam-packed Sunday afternoon on the back end of the defense.
Pro Football Focus has Walker graded at 71.9 overall, 63.1 stopping the run, 84.4 rushing the passer and 73.3 in coverage. His 89 tackles and 73 solo tackles lead the team despite missing three games.Related: Looking ahead: Detroit Lions draw another team on third starting QB in Denver BroncosRookie to watch: LB Jahlani Tavai
Jarrad Davis is on injured reserve, and Devon Kennard is questionable while Christian Jones has already been ruled out for Sunday. This all means linebacker Jahlani Tavai will continue to see an extended role through the final two games. He played 93% of the defensive snaps last week against Tampa Bay, which marked a career-high for the second-round rookie. Tavai had a modest five tackles but snatched the first interception of his career on the opening drive of the game.
“He gets better every single week. I really think, I really believe that the game is slowing down for him,” Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “He’s doing a really, really good job of making adjustments and alignments, and trying to help the front get lined up when we do have to adjust a little bit. I think that, to answer your question, I think he’s really growing. He’s doing a good job with the speed of the game, and like a lot of great players, as they get older and they mature, things slow down for them, and they are able to play at a fast pace.”Kenny Golladay vs. Chris Harris:
While Broncos cornerback Chris Harris moves around a bit in coverage, there’s a chance he’s matched up with Lions receiver Kenny Golladay more times than not. Detroit is very aware of what Harris can do, as the team reportedly made an offer for the veteran at the trade deadline.
Golladay leads the league with 10 touchdown catches and is nearly guaranteed for ample looks with Jones on IR. The third-year receiver’s production has dipped the last two weeks after exploding for 158 yards in Blough’s first start on Thanksgiving. He still has nine catches for 102 yards and one touchdown during that span.Related: Lions’ Kenny Golladay misses Pro Bowl despite leading WRs in TDs, cool with flying under radar
Harris is having a rough go the last four weeks out in coverage. PFF graded Harris at 56.9, 57.3, 49.6 and 53.1 in coverage the previous four times out, respectively. This season represents the nine-year pro’s worst in coverage per PFF at 64.8. His previous low was the 75.8 he posted in 2017 and 76.7 from his rookie season back in 2011.
“It’ll be fun. I’m looking forward to him probably following me around so I’m excited. He travels a lot,” Golladay said of Harris earlier this week.
How much of Vic Fangio’s defense has carried over from Chicago to Denver?Last season, Vic Fangio served as the defensive coordinator for the NFC North’s own Chicago Bears. Despite losing rising star Bradley Chubb after four games, Denver’s defense remains solid with some struggles against the run.
Fangio went from one all-world pass rusher to another with the switch from Khalil Mack to Von Miller. The Bears swept the Lions last season as the team won the division thanks to their stout defense.
“I think you see similarities with some of the things he’s done,” Patricia said on Friday. “Obviously, Vic’s been a lot of places, and you can kind of see the carry over from the different teams that he’s been with and some of those aspects as far as his packages that he has that he’ll bring out. I think some of it is expanded a little bit, too.
“There are a couple of different nickel looks out there that he’s running, too — some subcategory fronts and things like that. Certainly, you can see the foundation of what he does. Absolutely, of course.”Will Amani Oruwariye return to a more prominent role?
After a couple of weeks starring as one of Detroit’s few bright spots, rookie cornerback Amani Oruwariye fell out of the rotation with the return of Rashaan Melvin. He went from playing 44, 59 and 55 defensive snaps in the previous three weeks to only 13 against Tampa Bay.PFF graded Oruwariye at a putrid 27.7 in coverage last week while allowing four catches on four targets for 83 yards and a touchdown.
“I would say with Amani, he’s done a great job of studying, a great job learning, and I think he’s flashed some really good plays that we see that skill set that he has,” Patricia said last week. “For us, it will be being consistent. I think the more that he has those opportunities to play and being in a lot of situations instead of maybe play in just one particular situation — there’s the whole facet of the NFL game that he’s still trying to learn, so the situational awareness, maybe some of the different tips and tendencies based on early-down which may be different than third-down, some of the different sort of things that we say, ‘We have to do in this situation,’ and make sure that the game isn’t moving too fast for him in that avenue. When you have young players you try to build slowly with that.”Will David Blough and Drew Lock ‘cut it loose’ again?
The last time Blough and Drew Lock faced off, the two quarterbacks combined for 947 passing yards. Lock’s Missouri Tigers won 40-37 that day while he tossed for 375 yards and three touchdowns. Blough, in a losing effort for Purdue, threw for a school-record 572 yards and three touchdowns.