On Sunday, the Detroit Lions will head to Tennessee to take on the Titans in a rare matchup. The two teams have only met three times in the past (not including the Houston Oilers), with the Titans winning all three games. This time, it appears the Lions are poised to get their first win against the Titans and Vegas has the Lions as 3-3.5 point favorites. Let's see if the charts agree.
Quick disclaimer: For the rest of the season, I will be using 2012 averages. However, for the first couple weeks, don't pay too much attention to the color-coded cells. Averages at this point are only based on two games of data and will likely look much different later in the season. For now, I will focus more on the raw numbers than the averages. As the season rolls along, I'll give more credence to the averages.
Lions Pass Offense (5th) vs. Titans Pass Defense (20th)
Though the Lions rank fifth in passing yards in the league, I think most Lions fans would agree that the passing attack has been disappointing thus far. The Lions rank 27th (!!!) in passer rating, 17th in yards per attempt and just 16th in completion percentage. Of course, it's important to consider their opponents up to date. We know that San Francisco has a great defense, but St. Louis is still up in the air. They've done a solid job defensively so far, holding their opponents to a passer rating of just 75.7, but we'll see if that continues in the future.
The Titans pass defense doesn't look too swell, either. Granted, they've played two tough offenses in New England and San Diego, but some of these stats speak for themselves: 29th in passer rating allowed, 32nd in completion percentage allowed and 25th in yards per attempt allowed. They've only nabbed one interception thus far and have five sacks on the season.
Player to watch: Alterraun Verner. Besides having a name that is a mouthful, this third year cornerback has come out of the gate strong. He already has two passes defended and the Titans' only interception.
Advantage: Lions +2. I feel like Matthew Stafford and the Lions will break out of their slump this week. The Titans have struggled against two proven pass offenses, according to almost any statistical analysis. If the Lions continue their struggles through the air, it may be time to worry.
Lions Run Offense (25th) vs. Titans Run Defense (30th)
The Lions actually ran it fairly well against the 49ers last week, relatively speaking. Last year, the Niners only allowed 77.2 yards per game at 3.5 a carry. This year, their averages are even better. However, Week 1's performance doesn't look quite as positive, given that the Rams allowed the Redskins to run all over them last week. But the Lions will finally have the services of Mikel Leshoure this week, and if the preseason was any indication, his impact will be huge.
The Patriots and Chargers were able to dictate the running game against the Titans significantly. Both teams tallied over 140 yards on the ground and surpassed their season averages in yards per carry as well. Interestingly, however, the Titans have yet to give up a rush of over 17 yards this season. This suggests that the Titans consistently give up yards in the running game, considering that they don't have any outliers affecting their yards per carry average (4.2, T-15th). I don't think their running defense is as bad as it appears in this chart, but they aren't that good, either.
Player to watch: Leshoure. I have not been this excited for a new Lions' debut since Stafford. I think Leshoure has the potential to cure much of the Lions rushing woes of the past. He will be a much needed option in third and shorts and he'll be a great goal-line back. I think he reaches the end zone at least once in this game.
Advantage: Lions +1. There's a lot of uncertainty in this matchup, but the Lions may try and pound the rock for the second week in a row to prove they can be a well-rounded offense. The Titans have been vulnerable on the ground but don't give up huge plays. Still, I like the Lions here.
Titans Pass Offense (22nd) vs. Lions Pass Defense (6th)
*Jake Locker + Matt Hasselbeck
It has been a tale of two weeks for Jake Locker and the Titans passing attack. Locker had a fairly impressive season debut against the Patriots (which completely shut down Arizona last week, despite losing the game). But he was ineffective last week in San Diego. It's hard to know what the "real" Locker is this early in his career, but the outlook isn't too bad. This year, the Titans rank 25th in passer rating, 19th in completion percentage and 28th in yards per attempt. They aren't exactly stellar numbers, but considering his age and his supporting cast, it could be much worse. The Titans have also only allowed two sacks and have thrown just two interceptions.
The Lions haven't given up many yards through two weeks, but they rank 27th in passer rating allowed. However, the Lions actually held both teams they faced below their current passer rating average. I don't expect this to last, but it's interesting to note.
Of course, the good news for the Lions is that they will likely have Chris Houston and Bill Bentley back in the lineup after both couldn't go against San Francisco. The Lions will still likely be without the services of safety Louis Delmas, meaning they'll have to go with John Wendling again, who I'm ... not too impressed with.
Player to watch: Houston. It'll be interesting to see how improved the Lions secondary will be with their No. 1 cornerback back in the lineup.
Advantage: Draw. Again, there are too many unknowns to draw a conclusion here. Locker has promise but struggled mightily last week. The Lions have starters returning to the lineup, but I'm still unsure that the secondary is very good even when at full strength.
Titans Run Offense (32nd) vs. Lions Run Defense (17th)
Aaaand, wow. Those are some terrible looking stats. Yet somehow their chart is not completely red. I'm guessing that that will change later in the season. The Titans' current rushing leader is ... Jake Locker. Chris Johnson's current struggles are no secret to fantasy lovers out there. His 21 yards on 19 rushes is absolutely shocking. Hey, but on the good side, Tennessee, you guys haven't lost a fumble yet!
Now that looks promising. Despite giving up a lot of yards and an awful yards per carry in San Francisco last week, they actually held the Niners below their averages (again, this is likely to change). Overall, the Lions' statistics hold up pretty well: their 4.2 yards per carry average ranks tied for 15th, they've only given up one rush of 20+ yards and no rushes of 40 or beyond. Thus far, this looks to be the Lions' most improved unit from 2011.
Player to watch: Steve Hutchinson. Hutchinson is a Pro Bowl player, but his first year in Tennessee has been full of struggles. Could this be the week he settles in?
Advantage: Lions +1. I can't imagine Johnson keeps up his pace for 168 total rushing yards this year, but I don't think he breaks out this week. The Lions' interior defensive line is too good.
Home field advantage? The Titans have sold out the game against the Lions, which is good for their 138th sellout in a row. However, that advantage didn't seem to help too much in their opener against the Patriots. Good news for the Lions: weather should not be a factor. The forecast calls for 72 degrees, sunny, with little-to-no wind. Perfect football weather.
Rebound or trap game? The Lions, having come off an emotional loss last week, will have to show that they can respond to adversity against the Titans. But most are assuming they will, so they must also make sure they don't become complacent and get off to another slow start. They were able to defeat the Rams despite struggles early, but they may not be able to repeat this performance on the road.
The Lions have a solid +4 advantage. That is a pretty significant advantage in these previews. I can come up with a lot of scenarios of how the Lions win this game, but I'm finding it hard to come up with ways the Lions drop this one. I guess Stafford could continue to struggle and turn the ball over a couple times, but I really don't see that happening. The Lions pick up their first road victory of the year and their first win against Tennessee in franchise history. Lions 38, Titans 17.