Welcome back, Pride Of Detroiters. If you're like me, you're just now coming down from the high that was the end of that London game against the Atlanta Falcons. Or maybe I'm still hallucinating, because my sources tell me that the 6-2 Detroit Lions are facing off against the 5-3 Miami Dolphins this week? This game could very well be the best of the week, and it has already been labeled as the game with the most playoff implications for Week 10. Both teams are riding a three-game winning streak coming into this game, so who will make it four?
Lions pass offense (9th) vs. Dolphins pass defense (2nd)
We're at the halfway point in the season, and the Lions' pass offense still hasn't gotten on track. Though they are beginning to put up the yardage, they are still moving the ball with terrible efficiency. They haven't significantly outgained a defense's passer rating allowed average since Week 1 against the New York Giants. Injuries have plagued the offensive side of the ball, but these problems run deep.
Detroit ranks 24th in passer rating (86.5), 23rd in completion percentage (61.2 percent) and 14th in yards per attempt (7.4). Overall, they just haven't gotten it together, and they've been a huge disappointment. Part of the problem is the offensive line. The Lions have given up 24 sacks on the year, which is the fifth-most in the league (second-most among teams that have already had their bye week).
The Lions will likely get Calvin Johnson back this week, along with at least one of their starting tight ends, but don't expect Detroit to suddenly have an elite offense again.
Detroit's struggles will likely only be magnified by a Miami defense that hasn't allowed an opposing quarterback to reach their passer rating average in five weeks. They have yet to allow more than 275 passing yards in a game, and they've held all but one team at or below their passing yards average.
Miami ranks second in passer rating allowed (76.9), third in completion percentage (58.5 percent) and first in yards per attempt (6.0). On top of that, their 25 sacks ranks them fifth in the league. Do not underestimate this defense; they are elite.
Player to watch: Cameron Wake. Wake finally has a decent supporting cast around him, and it has only made him a better pass rusher. Wake has 6.5 sacks on the year and is already at his career high of three forced fumbles this season. With a struggling Lions offensive line, expect to see Wake on top of Matthew Stafford at least once on Sunday.
Advantage: Dolphins +1.5. This matchup would be even more lopsided if the Lions were as shorthanded as they have been in the past few weeks. With Megatron back in the lineup, it gives Detroit some hope in this battle, but Miami still has a pretty clear advantage here.
Lions run offense (31st) vs. Dolphins run defense (12th)
And here's where the bad news gets worse. Detroit has the worst running game they've had in years. They've yet to surpass a single run defense's averages in one game this year, and they haven't really come close. Their one "successful" game running the ball was against the worst run defense in the league, and they only averaged 3.0 a carry in that game. I have run out of words to describe how bad the Lions' running game is. They aren't just bad, they're Charles Barkley "Turrible."
Just in case I haven't gotten my point across, the Lions rank t-31st in yards per carry (3.1) and only gain first downs on 16.3 percent of rushes (31st). Did I mention they can't run the ball?
The Dolphins, however, can stop the run. They have managed to hold six of eight opponents below their YPC average, while half failed to reach their yardage averages.
Overall, Miami is allowing just 4.0 a carry (t-11th) and giving up first downs on 18.7 percent of rushes (t-seventh). They are a little susceptible to long runs, having given up two rushes of 40+ yards on the season (tied for third-most).
Player to watch: Earl Mitchell. The veteran defensive tackle leads the team in tackles for loss with four. The Lions haven't been able to get much push up the middle, and Mitchell will be looking to keep that streak going.
Advantage: Dolphins +1.5. As I have said for the past few weeks, don't expect the Lions to suddenly turn things around in the running game. The Dolphins' defense is legit, and even though the Lions have gotten away with no running game so far this season, they're better with one than without one. They'll be without one again this week.
Dolphins pass offense (19th) vs. Lions pass defense (5th)
After a very sluggish start, Ryan Tannehill and the Miami pass offense appear to have righted the ship. Miami has met or surpassed passer rating averages in four of the past five games. Though Tannehill isn't exactly putting up gaudy numbers, he is moving the offense efficiently.
The Dolphins' raw numbers reflect that exactly: efficient but not flashy. They are averaging a passer rating of 90.2 (20th), 6.7 yards per attempt (28th) and a completion percentage of 62.9 (17th). Miami has only thrown for 14 touchdowns (t-14th) and only has one play of 40+ yards (31st), but they've also only thrown six interceptions (t-12th) and allowed just 17 sacks (t-12th).
They aren't an elite offense, but they aren't too bad, and -- most importantly -- they are playing at their best right now.
The Lions pass defense has been up and down this year but has mostly done a good job. Only two opponents have managed to outgain their passer rating averages against the Lions, while half have met their yardage average.
Though the Lions defense has had their troubles in past weeks, their overall numbers remain extremely impressive. They rank third in passer rating allowed (79.5), fifth in yards per attempt (6.7) and 13th in completion percentage (62.4). They've allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the league (9) and have the ninth-most sacks (23).
Player to watch: Kyle Van Noy. I'm not expecting a lot of Van Noy on Sunday, and he probably won't even get that many snaps against the Dolphins. But, dang it, I'm excited to see the rookie out there for the first time.
Advantage: Lions +1. The Dolphins are playing some of their best offensive football in a while, but the Lions defense will give them a bigger challenge than they've had in several weeks.
Dolphins run offense (4th) vs. Lions run defense (2nd)
The Dolphins have one of the best running games in the league. They've only failed to meet the defense's yards per carry allowed average in one game this season, and it was in a game they won 37-0. They've tallied over 100 yards in seven of eight games this season.
Overall, they are averaging 4.8 yards per carry (t-second) and gain first downs on 25.3 percent of carries (fifth). By pretty much every measure, this is a top-five rushing attack.
But the Dolphins haven't faced a run defense like this yet. Aside from the game against the New York Jets, the Lions run defense has been absolutely dominant, allowing no team to reach their YPC or yardage average.
The Lions rank tied for second in YPC allowed (3.3) and seventh in percentage of rushing attempts earning a first down allowed (18.7 percent). They've allowed the third-fewest rushes of 20+ yards (3) and have yet to cede a 40+ yard rush.
Player to watch: Tannehill. The Dolphins have found a lot of success running the read-option with Tannehill, and the end result is a quarterback averaging 7.9 yards per carry (!!). Although the Lions have played the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings, they haven't really seen much of the read-option this year, so it'll be interesting to see how they react.
Advantage: Lions +0.5. This matchup will be the most entertaining to watch. The Lions haven't been beaten on the ground all season, but the Dolphins are just hitting their stride. The Lions have faced similarly impressive running teams against the Jets and New Orleans Saints and have held up very well doing so. But they haven't had to do so without Nick Fairley, who will be out for an extended period of time. I still give the edge to the Lions, but just barely.
Kickers. We are all more than familiar with the Lions' struggles in the kicking game. This week, they will not be alone. Miami's kicker Caleb Sturgis has missed four field goals on the season, including one from 37 yards out (blocked) and two from 40-49 yards. I think it's safe to say that neither team would be very comfortable with the game coming down to a kicker battle.
Returners. The Lions haven't had much of a return game this season, but they may have an opportunity to break out this week. Miami is allowing the fourth-most yards per kick return in the league (29.0) and the third-most yards per punt return (12.8).
Last week's prediction:
On Paper is now 7-1 on the season after another narrow victory. My 24-23 prediction was spot on, and on any typical day it would have been the closest guess to the actual 22-21 score. But Spider1 barely bested my guess with his own 21-20 prediction. Here is your prize, Spider1:
Presenting The New York Times' much less popular robot: The Third Down Bot. You can consult your third down bot at any time if you are wondering whether your team should go for it on third down. Third-and-1 from your own 15-yard line? Third-and-goal from the 3? I cannot say for sure what the numbers tell you to do, but you know who does? The Third Down Bot.
This week's prediction:
In the end, the Dolphins have a +1.5 advantage. Miami is a vastly underrated team at this point, and they are playing at a high level that we haven't seen from them in a while. Their defense is going to give a struggling Lions offense a lot of trouble, and their offense can now put up a fight.
You may notice that the defense has the advantage in every single matchup, which means this is going to be a low-scoring, ugly-looking game. The Lions have fared well in those kinds of games thus far, but I think the Dolphins are just playing too well right now. Dolphins 16, Lions 10.