Allen Park — What does Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs have in common with your grandmother? Come Thursday afternoon, they’ll both be looking to cook.
Of course, the big difference here is that unlike whatever dessert you’ll be getting from grandma on Thanksgiving Day, the recipe to Diggs’ success is no secret. He has otherworldly athleticism and route running, phenomenal hands and has turned a 29.4% target share from an MVP-caliber quarterback into eight touchdowns and 103.3 yards per game this season.
In an extra fun twist, the Lions are catching Diggs after his worst game of the season. He was limited to a season-low 48 yards and was visibly frustrated on the sideline while being held without a target until hauling in a 5-yard touchdown on the Bills’ final offensive play of the first half.
“They’ve got receivers and it starts with Diggs,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “He’s versatile, he’s tough, he’s competitive, he’s got a vast route tree. And yeah, we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
You may remember Diggs better as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. A fifth-round pick in 2015, he played his first five seasons in Minnesota and was traded to the Bills in 2020 for a first-round pick that would become Justin Jefferson. Since heading East, he’s become a two-time Pro Bowler and was First-Team All-Pro in 2020.
“I think his confidence has just shot through the roof,” cornerback Amani Oruwariye said. “They put him in a position to make plays. He’s always been a good player, but having a dynamic guy like Josh Allen back there throwing him the ball, I think it’s giving him a lot of confidence to be able to play his game and they use him well.”
“I think he has that dog mentality. You can see how passionate he plays.”
On a talent level, he’s not all that different from a handful of receivers Detroit has seen this season. Philadelphia receiver A.J. Brown, Miami’s Tyreek Hill, Seattle’s DK Metcalf, Minnesota’s Jefferson — they all bring a similar threat to the table.
Outside of Jefferson, though — who they bottled at the expense of unleashing a big day for Adam Thielen — the Lions have struggled to find answers for game-breaking talents at the receiver position. Brown had 155 yards; Hill had 188; Metcalf 149.
Just like all those pass catchers, the Bills (7-3) have supplied Diggs with a high-level No. 2 in Gabriel Davis — who’s on pace to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving himself — that can help force attention to the other side of the field. Without third-year cornerback Jeff Okudah (concussion protocol), who was credited with the shutdown of Jefferson in Week 3, the task is a whole lot taller than it looked even a week ago.
“You’ve got to play your technique, man. There’s not really much you’re going to change based on how he runs routes,” Oruwariye said.
“You can try to impede his release, mess up his timing. They work on timing all throughout the week, so getting hands on him just messes up the timing. … I think they can get you on a route, but if you’re hustling and working harder than the guy, you can make a play.”
Can the swagger generated by a three-game win streak help buck the trend? For that answer we go to cornerback Jerry Jacobs, who, when asked what gives him the confidence that this is the game the Lions will shut down a big-time receiver, said, “myself.”
If you didn’t know any better, this response may be perplexing, possibly even concerning. But this is what large segments of the Lions’ defense has become over the last few weeks: A group of inexperienced bulldogs capitalizing on the fearlessness of their youth.
“Having the ability to know what you can bring to the table on the field when it’s time, and I feel like I can do that a lot with these receivers, so it’s going to be a good one,” Jacobs said. “I respect (Diggs) a lot, bro. … I’ve been watching him since I was coming out of college. I love his game.
“He talks trash, they gonna turn you up a little more, but he got nice routes, nice hands. I think he’s gonna be a good one, though. You know, same size, so he’s gonna be a good little matchup.”
Run-off in Detroit
Buffalo had struggled to find a consistent run game outside of quarterback Josh Allen all season, but finally got it when Devin Singletary and James Cook each ran for 86 yards against the Browns on Sunday.
With one of the NFL’s No. 3 passing attack, recreating that effort on the ground could be a nightmare for the Lions’ defense.
“They leaned on it. Those backs did a good job and when you incorporate that with this quarterback, it’s another element,” Campbell said. “I know they’ve traditionally thrown it, but we’re anticipating they’re going to try to run it. I mean, that was a good recipe for them. And so, I would think that they’ll try to do those things because they did have success against Cleveland.”
On the flip side, Buffalo’s sixth-ranked run defense limited Pro-Bowler Nick Chubb to a career-low 19 yards (min. 10 carries). Assuming the Lions will try to slow this game down like they did against the Giants, the trenches will dictate a lot of the action this weekend.
“Gap responsibility, they play with that. Their secondary comes up and hits. THe corners will squeeze, the safety, the nickel — I mean, they’re very disciplined. So, that’s what they did. They didn’t allow him to get going. And a guy like Chubb…if they can find a crease and get a couple steps into what the run is designed for, that’s where they’re very, very dangerous. But they’re not allowing that and…that’s why they’ve had success.”
Fired up at Ford Field
It’s been years since the Lions went into a Thanksgiving Day game with this much positive energy surrounding the team. In case you were wondering: No, you’re not the only one wondering about the atmosphere of Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day.
“That was one of the first things I thought of after this game on the plane ride home is like, man, this place is going to be — because it’s been good. I mean, it’s been electric. I can only imagine now,” Campbell said.
“I already know it’s going to be on fire.”