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The weakest part of the Dallas Cowboys defense this season has been their passing defense, and the Detroit Lions presents the toughest passing attack since Dallas gave up over 400 passing yards to both the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos. The Cowboys defense has really settled down over the past two weeks, including stopping one of the NFL’s best offenses in Philadelphia. However, Matthew Stafford and the Lions pass offense is a different beast.
Matthew Stafford leads the Lions attack and is currently third in the NFL in passing yards this season with 2,129. It is a situation he is used to being in. He was the second leading passer in 2012 behind Drew Brees and ahead of Tony Romo, and he was also the third best in 2011 behind Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
Stafford has 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions this season, tied with Romo and Philip Rivers for scoring passes. However, much like Romo, Stafford gets little respect for his playing abilities because of the Lions team struggles. The Lions only won four games in 2012, but this is a different Detroit team.
Much of that comes thanks to the arrival of Reggie Bush. The former Heisman Trophy winner was seen as a flop when he played for the New Orleans Saints, but reinvented his career with the Miami Dolphins. Now, playing with the high octane Detroit offense, he is having a career year. Bush has 426 rushing yards and one touchdown on the ground as well as 23 receptions for 305 more yards and two receiving touchdowns on the season so far, giving the team a wrinkle in their offense they have been missing.
The receiver corps has Calvin Johnson, the man who remains one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. He has 33 receptions for 492 yards and six touchdowns on the season, and he even missed a game earlier in the year with injuries. Unfortunately for the Lions, that is it for their offensive production. Nate Burleson is out for the season with an injury and Ryan Broyles has not stepped up yet, with only seven receptions for 77 yards on his first season following his ACL tear last year.
Heading into week eight, Detroit is once again struggling. While their offense relies on only two real targets for Stafford to work with consistently, their defense is not strong enough to allow them to keep up with high scoring teams. They have given up over 20 points in every game but one (Cleveland Browns). They have proven they can win over tough teams (Chicago Bears), but they have also lost to lesser teams (Arizona Cardinals).
Through seven games this season, Detroit has 13 sacks and 13 turnovers. If the Lions want to beat Dallas, they need to shake up Romo so those pass rushers will need to work hard in the game. They also have to avoid penalties, which might be a problem. Nsamukong Suh, the star of this defense, has almost as many fines as he has sacks (3.5) this season.
Tony Romo will also have to watch out for linebacker DeAndre Levy, who has four interceptions on the season. With Stafford and Romo so evenly matched, this will come down to the supporting players, and while the Cowboys have more weapons on offense, the Lions have playmakers and can win if the Cowboys turn the ball over too much.
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Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com.