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2012 NFL Week Thirteen Preview: Indianapolis Colts At Detroit Lions

The Colts travel to Detroit to take on a Lions team that is much better than their 4-7 record indicates. See which stat will most likely be the Colts demise Sunday.

Matthew Stockman

The Colts hit the road once again this Sunday, traveling north to the Motor City to take on the Lions. It's the last match-up with the NFC North for the Colts, who hold a 2-1 record against the best division in football, matching that of the 10-1 Texans.

The Lions come into Week 13 not enjoying their Thanksgiving holiday, losing to the Texans 34-31 in OT, a game they probably should have won in regulation. Texan RB Justin Forsett was clearly down, with both his elbow and knee, yet the officials all stared into space and let him continue to run, scoring a 70+ yard TD run that was assuredly going to be overturned. A new rule enacted this year (and one we Colts fans saw in Week 3) says that if you throw a challenge flag on a scoring play, it's an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the review stops. It didn't hurt the Colts back against the Packers because the play would have been upheld, but this turned a simple 7 yard rush into a TD. While things surely would have been different down the stretch, it's safe to assume the Lions would have won without Walt Coleman's crew making that massive screw-up. It dropped the Lions to 4-7 on the season, but it is no indication of how well they've been playing.

The Colts come in after beating the Bills 20-13 at home last week, improving their record to 7-4, and are just a couple wins away from claiming a Wild Card spot in the AFC.

The last time the Colts and Lions met Detroit was quite close to finishing out their historic 0-16 season, a 31-21 Colts win. Dan Orlovsky was under center for the Lions, and Calvin Johnson had a big day, something I fully expect to happen once again this Sunday. It was the Colts third straight win against Detroit, and improved their all-time record to 20-18-2. It's only the 7th time the two teams have met since the Colts moved to Indianapolis.

What can we expect when the Colts invade Ford Field? Let's take a look at the numbers and find out:

Statistic Colts Lions
Offense Rank Defense Rank Offense Rank Defense Rank
DSR 71.5% 11 75.7% 32 73.4% 5 70.3% 21
ANPY/A 5.137 18 7.061 30 6.163 13 5.678 17
Turnovers 1.82 19 0.73 32 1.84 20 1.35 24
Yds/Drive 32.86 8 35.26 31 33.95 5 30.49 19
ToP/Drive 2:57.0 7 2:53.0 30 2:39.0 20 2:40.0 12
Yds/Play 5.146 19 5.947 31 5.729 6 5.300 20
Orange Zone Eff 45.2% 27 62.5% 31 55.7% 19 48.3% 5
First Downs/Drive 2.03 2 1.98 29 1.98 4 1.76 21
3rd/4th Down 44.2% 5 40.9% 23 40.9% 11 40.7% 22
Avg Start Pos 26.7 32 28.2 5 28.4 26 29.0 12
3 and Outs 2.73 3 2.93 30 3.75 18 3.38 23
RZ Eff 62.0% 19 74.6% 30 76.4% 3 55.8% 4
Plays/Drive 6.381 2 5.948 28 5.916 7 5.760 20
Penalty Yds / Play 0.716 6 1.261 1 0.909 25 0.822 16
RB Success 40.4% 24 42.5% 12 47.3% 8 41.5% 9
Yds/Carry 3.92 19 4.61 26 4.30 11 4.10 16
Overall 12 32 7 18

Keys to the Game:

  • Despite the records, the Lions, at least statistically, look to be better on both sides of the ball to the Colts. This shows how much strength of schedule makes a difference in winning games just as much as how well you play in those games.
  • Let's start with the Colts Defense, where they have an opportunity to create some Turnovers, despite the fact they've been terrible at it all year. The Lions are ranked 20th in the NFL this season turning the ball over, so they've had some issues protecting the ball. A couple of these would really help the Colts Sunday.
  • The Lions are quite good at sustaining drives, ranking in the top 5 of several of our drive stats. However they are 20th in Time of Possession / Drive. What causes that? The Lions pass the ball 66.4% of the time, second highest in the NFL. Even if they are moving the ball, an incomplete pass stops the clock, instead of a run for no gain, which runs off 35-40 seconds. It's one of those stats that can be misleading, and this is an instance of that.
  • Even though the Lions don't run the ball that often, they're usually pretty good at it when they do. Mikel Leshoure didn't practice yesterday, but I fully expect him to play Sunday.
  • The Lions are deadly in the Red Zone, ranking 3rd in the NFL. Remember that Calvin Johnson character I mentioned above? He's quite good, and I have a hard time believing the Colts will be able to shut him down. The best thing for the Colts to do is just not let them inside the 20. If that happens, might as well just put the 7 on the board.
  • On Offense, Turnovers will once again tell the story for the Colts Offense. Andrew Luck has 10 interceptions on the road (2/game), while throwing just 3 at home. The Lions don't create that many turnovers, but the Defense hasn't seemed to matter in prior road games. Let's hope we see the first mistake-free road game for Luck.
  • The Colts should be able to move the ball, although they struggled last week against a worse defense. It looks to be the classic bend-but-don't-break defense we saw for so many years in Indianapolis, now being implemented by Gunther Cunningham. Lots of Plays/Drive, low Drive Success Rate, low Third/Fourth Down Percentage, etc. However...
  • The Lions tighten down considerably inside the Orange and Red Zones, ranking 5th and 4th in the NFL respectively. We've talked all season that the Colts would be in much better shape if they could convert once they get into scoring range, so this week looks like it could be a real struggle. If you need a kicker in Fantasy Football this week, Adam Vinatieri might not be a bad pickup. We'll be seeing him a lot this weekend I suspect.

I believe the Colts only need two more wins this season to secure a playoff spot, as I can't see both the Steelers and Bengals winning four games each (Colts will hold tie-breakers over both), and with the Titans and Chiefs still on the schedule, this game in Detroit would only be a bonus win in terms of the playoffs. In fact, if the Colts win Sunday, I'd put their chances over 95% of making the playoffs. But I just can't see it happening.

There's a part of me that wants to think the Lions will have the hangover effect from their Thanksgiving Day loss, especially with how it happened (the TD, plus a missed FG by a very reliable kicker). It might help the Colts jump out to a quick lead, but we all saw what happened in New England after a 14-7 Colts lead. I either think Johnson will have a huge day, or the Colts will have to double him all day, thus getting no pressure on Matthew Stafford and less help in the run game, and the Lions other WRs will have big days. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Another rough day for the Colts, who keep playing the better teams on their schedule away from home.

Lions 28, Colts 19