Lions at Broncos
► Kickoff: 4:05 p.m., Sunday, Empower Field at Mile High, Denver
► TV/radio: Fox/97.1
► Records: Lions 1-10-1, Broncos 6-6
► Line: Denver by 10.5
Detroit News contributor Steve Kornacki breaks down the Lions’ Week 14 matchup against the Denver Broncos.
LIONS TIGHT END T.J. HOCKENSON VS. BRONCOS PASS COVERAGE
Hockenson has more catches (61) for more yards (83) and more touchdowns (four) than any other Detroit pass catcher. He made the Pro Bowl in 2020 and remains a focal target for Jared Goff.
Denver all but snuffed out six-time Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night. Kansas City won, 22-9, but Kelce was held to three catches for 27 yards without scoring.
Broncos inside linebackers Kenny Young and Baron Browning are quick and athletic and can cover tight ends from sideline to sideline.
Denver has been able to overcome injuries to starting linebackers Josey Jewell (Hockenson’s collegiate teammate at Iowa) and Alexander Johnson because Browning, a rookie third-rounder from Ohio State, has responded in five starts and Young was obtained from the Rams.
Standout rookie cornerback Pat Surtain II (6-foot-2. 202 pounds) could cover Hockenson some. Denver’s secondary is the strength of its defense, and so it’s able to cover wideouts even with their big corner going to a tight end.
Broncos to watch
► Javonte Williams, RB: He’s a load to bring down, breaking tackles left and right. Williams (5-10, 220), according to Pro Football Focus, has the highest rate of missed tackles forced in one season in the NFL since 2006: 34%. He caught everyone’s attention by rushing for 102 yards and making six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown Sunday against Kansas City. He’s rushed for 670 yards and two touchdowns, sharing the position with two-time Pro Bowler Melvin Gordon III (605 yards rushing, five touchdowns).
► Teddy Bridgewater, QB: He started the season 3-0 and was the toast of the town, but has been 3-6 since and is close to becoming just toast with Broncos fans. He’s thrown for 2,775 yards with a career-high 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He struggled with two interceptions Sunday against the Chiefs, completing 22 of 40 for 229 yards and one touchdown. Bridgewater (6-2, 215), a first-rounder from Louisville in 2014, made the Pro Bowl in 2015. He later backed up Drew Brees on the Saints before returning as a starter in 2020 for the Panthers. Bridgewater is playing hurt, but remains steady while also being cautious.
► Pat Surtain II, CB: He had two interceptions against Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, returning one for a 70-yard touchdown. He then ran into the stands to present the ball to his father, Patrick Surtain, Sr., a three-time Pro Bowler in 11 seasons with the Dolphins and Chiefs. Surtain has 38 tackles (31 solos) and shares the team interception lead of four with safety Justin Simmons. He was the ninth overall pick in 2021 out of Alabama, where he was SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a first team All-America on the 2020 national championship team.
Facts and figures
► The Lions and Broncos both have completed 67% of their passes and thrown nine interceptions this season. And they both have nine rushing touchdowns.
► The Broncos have started six 2021 draft picks at least once: CB Surtain (first round), TB Williams (second), ILB Browning (third), RG Quinn Meinerz (third) S Caden Sterns (fifth) and OLB Jonathon Cooper (seventh).
► Which team has the last playoff appearance? You might be surprised that it’s Detroit (2016 with a wild card loss) over Denver (which hasn’t been in the postseason since winning the Super Bowl in Peyton Manning’s final game, Feb. 7, 2016).
Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.