USA TODAY Sports
The Lions are big road favorites to hand the Cardinals their 10th straight loss. The statistics seem to agree, but there is one hidden factor that could blow this game up.
The Detroit Lions head to Arizona this week to take on the struggling Cardinals. Both teams are looking to end their extended losing streaks. The Lions have lost five straight, including three straight in which they've held a double-digit lead. The Cardinals have lost nine straight, and, most recently, got spanked by the Seattle Seahawks 58-0. The Lions come in as 6-point road favorites. Will the charts agree?
Lions Pass Offense (1st) vs. Cardinals Pass Defense (5th)
So ... the Lions like to pass the ball ... a lot. They've outgained their opponents' averages in every game this year. However, they continue to struggle to be an efficient pass offense, performing near averages in terms of passer rating.
Matthew Stafford and the Lions rank 20th in passer rating (84.4), 16th in yards per attempt (7.1) and 16th in completion percentage (60.8 percent). They've been disappointingly average. And now without Nate Burleson, Titus Young, Ryan Broyles and likely Brandon Pettigrew, Stafford is running out of targets.
The Cardinals' high ranking is no joke. They've held 10 of 13 opponents below their passer rating average and only four of 13 outgained yardage averages. This is especially surprising considering the Cardinals' nine-game losing streak.
Arizona ranks second in passer rating allowed (71.9), 17th in yards per attempt (7.1) and fourth in completion percentage (55.4 percent). They also rush the passer well, tallying 34 sacks on the year (tied for seventh). Finally, they are capable of making big plays, forcing 19 interceptions (third).
Advantage: Even. Once again, I don't feel like the Cardinals will be able to hold the Lions in check all game. However, they are fully capable of ending drives with sacks and interceptions. This matchup will be won or lost by Stafford's ability to stay upright and prevent turnovers.
Lions Run Offense (21st) vs. Cardinals Run Defense (30th)
The Lions run offense has been fairly productive as of late. In the past four weeks, the Lions have surpassed 100 yards and 4.2 a carry in each game. However, part of that has to do with strength of opponent. Overall, they've surpassed yardage averages in just five of 13 games and yards per a carry in four of 13.
Overall, the Lions are a slightly below-average running team. They average a respectable 4.2 a carry (tied for 14th), but lack a home-run threat.
What started as a great run defense has turned into a disaster. The Cardinals have allowed six of their past eight opponents to rush for 160 yards or more.
Now, part of the reason for such high numbers is the opponent's propensity to run the ball more against the Cardinals. Arizona has faced the third-most rushes, likely due to falling behind in games early. However, the Cardinals are still ceding 4.4 a carry (tied for 18th).
Player to watch: Joique Bell. While Mikel Leshoure took the reins early in the season, it appears Bell is slowly earning himself more carries. Last week, Bell was actually in for more offensive plays (43 to Leshoure's 31) and Bell is averaging much more per carry (5.4 to 3.7)
Advantage: Lions +1. The Lions have made it a point of emphasis all season to get the running game going. While they are still far away from being a huge threat on the ground, they have made it to respectability. Against a team that is struggling to stop anyone, the Lions should have no problem hitting the century mark.
Cardinals Pass Offense (28th) vs. Lions Pass Defense (13th)
Okay, stick with me, because this chart needs its own separate legend. For Weeks 1 and 6, both Kevin Kolb and John Skelton were in the game. For Games 2-5, it was just Kolb. For Games 7-9, it was just Skelton. Weeks 10 and 13, it was Skelton and Ryan Lindley. And for Games 11 and 12, it was just Lindley.
It hasn't mattered much who has been behind center, as the Cardinals pass offense has been awful. Lindley starts this week and there's no reason to be afraid of him. This season, he is completing 48.3 percent of his passes, has yet to throw a touchdown, has thrown five interceptions and has a QBR of 6.8.
And to make matters worse for Lindley, the Cardinals cannot seem to figure out a way to protect the quarterback. They've been sacked 51 times, which is nine more than any other team in the league.
The Lions pass defense has been pretty meh all season. Lately, they've held some good quarterbacks below their passer rating averages, but when the game is on the line they have faltered. Overall, they've held five of 13 below passer rating averages and just four of 13 below yardage averages.
The Lions rank 20th in passer rating allowed (89.3), tied for 12th in yards per attempt allowed (6.9) and 22nd in completion percentage allowed (62.8 percent). They are prone to giving up the big play, allowing 10 plays of 40+ yards (tied for fourth most). However, Lindley hasn't completed a pass over 28 yards, so there's not a huge threat there.
Player to watch: Cliff Avril. Avril leads the Lions with a quiet 9.5 sacks. Expect him to add to that total Sunday.
Advantage: Lions +1.5. While the Lions have been anything but stellar against the pass, they haven't been killed by it either. With Lindley at quarterback this week, the Lions would have serious problems if they allowed a big day through the air.
Cardinals Run Offense (32nd) vs. Lions Run Defense (20th)
The Cardinals running game is a disaster. Arizona has three backs with 50+ carries and none are averaging more than 3.4 a carry. The best of the bunch has been LaRod Stephens-Howling, who has 318 yards and 4 touchdowns. However, Beanie Wells is back from injury and has been getting the bulk of the carries now.
Overall, the Lions have done a good job against the run, holding 10 of 13 opponents below yardage averages and six of 13 below yards per carry averages. Lately, however, the Lions have struggled. Last week, especially, the Green Bay Packers basically won the game by taking it to the Lions run defense.
The Lions are ceding 4.7 a carry (tied for 27th), but much of that is the result of playing some of the better running teams in the league. They have played seven games against top-10 rushing teams.
Player to watch: Ndamukong Suh. It's looking more and more like Nick Fairley will be out this week, so look for the Lions to rely heavily on Suh to disrupt plays in the backfield. He'll likely have to fight through many double teams, so be on the lookout for Sammie Hill, too.
Advantage: Lions +1. Even with their recent struggles, the Lions have no reason not to win this matchup. Wells is averaging just 2.4 a carry and doesn't have a rush longer than 12 yards.
Suck for ... Te'o? With both teams mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and both sitting at 4-9, the two teams are in a heated race for draft position. Neither team will purposely be losing this game, but this game has HUGE implications in the draft order for next April. That get you excited? Yeah, me neither.
Secret weapon. Though the Lions tried to utilize this weapon with little success in San Francisco, they are again unleashing their most potent attack: me. I will be in attendance, this time with my full crew that helped annihilate the Raiders last year in Oakland.
The Lions have a significant +3.5 advantage. While this is not a dominant advantage, they do also seem to have the edge in three of four matchups. Arizona's offense is terrible, so I think the only way Detroit loses this game is if they give up big plays while on offense. As long as Stafford holds on to the ball, the Lions should come out on top and make my six-hour car ride worthwhile. Lions 31, Cardinals 13.
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