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Detroit Lions vs. Washington preview: On Paper

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A look at the matchup between the Lions and Washington.

Detroit Lions v Washington Redskins Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions have seemingly turned their season around after a 1-3 start put the team in a big hole. But their work is far from done. This week, they face the challenge of a team riding a four-game winning streak, double what the Lions can currently boast.

With the Green Bay Packers still a game ahead, and the Vikings two and a half ahead, the Lions can ill afford to lose a step, especially against a fellow NFC foe.

Washington is 4-2 and have looked better each week, culminating in a decisive home victory of the Eagles last week. Washington, too, is chasing a division leader. They currently sit just one game behind the high-flying Cowboys, who are on a bye this week.

The oddsmakers have the Lions favored by a single point, but let’s see what the charts have to say about it.

Lions pass offense (7th in DVOA) vs. Washington pass defense (11th)

Though Matthew Stafford hasn’t been putting up the yardage numbers he’s used to, just about every other statistic is currently at a career high for the veteran quarterback. Stafford’s completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating are all not only career highs for him, but they’re all ranked in the top ten among quarterbacks. For completion percentage and passer rating, he’s in the top three.

And he hasn’t been doing it against all terrible defenses. While the Colts and Packers have struggled to defend the pass this season, the Eagles and Rams had pretty stingy defenses before the Lions came into town.

For this week, however, it looks like Stafford may be without two of his favorite targets. Both running back Theo Riddick and tight end Eric Ebron have yet to practice as of Thursday. Stafford seemed to play well without both last week, but he will need the likes of Golden Tate and Anquan Boldin to step up again against Washington.

Washington’s pass defense has been pretty good, especially as of late. No quarterback has thrown for a passer rating over 85 in the past four weeks, and although they’ve played some pretty poor pass offenses over that span, they’ve held them all at or below their average passer rating.

Washington’s defense is bolstered by their pass rush. They have 16 sacks on the year (tied for sixth) and two players ranked in the top ten in sacks. Both Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy have five sacks on the year, and they have additionally combined for three forced fumbles.

Overall, Washington ranks 14th in passer rating allowed (89.6), t-19th in yards per attempt (7.3), and t-24th in completion percentage (66.8). Overall, they’re an above average squad who is playing well at the moment.

Player to watch: Josh Norman. Norman hasn’t exactly had the year he was expected to have in Washington thus far. However, Norman appears to be improving every week and he is close to returning to his normal level of play. He already has eight passes defended and 26 tackles on the year to go with one interception.

Advantage: Lions +1.5. The Lions have proven they can weather the storm against a good pass defense, and that’s exactly what they’ll have to do this week. While they haven’t faced a true shutdown corner this year the likes of Norman, with the Lions’ spread-the-ball philosophy, they should be able to avoid Norman for much of the game.

Lions run offense (21st) vs. Washington run defense (31st)

The Lions running game hasn’t gotten anything going since the loss of Ameer Abdullah. Of course, the loss of backup Theo Riddick and third-stringer Dwayne Washington hasn’t helped much, either. That being said, the problems run a little deeper than that, and it shows. Detroit hasn’t rushed for over 4.0 yards per carry since Week 2, despite playing some of the worst run defenses over the past three weeks.

Overall, the Lions are rushing for just 3.8 yards per carry (t-21st). However, they are earning first downs on 24.1 percent of their rushes, which is oddly good enough for ninth-best in the league.

Washington has been absolutely awful defending the run, despite their four-game winning streak. They’ve only held one opponent below 4.5 yards per carry all season, and all but one team put up over 100 yards against them. They’ve been especially bad as of late, allowing teams to average 123.8 rushing yards at 5.6 per carry since Week 3.

The raw statistics for Washington aren’t any better. They rank last in YPC allowed (5.0) and last in percentage of rushes earning first downs (28.9). They’ve also allowed eight rushing touchdowns (t-third most) and five rushes of 20+ yards (t-third most). This is a really bad run defense.

Player to watch: Dwayne Washington. It looks like the Lions rookie running back may be lining up for his first career start. With Riddick still out of practice and Forsett not quite looking ready to take over the workhorse role, Washington could be the primary back on Sunday. Washington has 76 rushing yards on 18 carries in his career, but could see that many touches alone on Sunday.

Advantage: Lions +1. Sadly the Lions just don’t have the current personnel to take advantage of the worst run defense they may play all year. Unless Riddick suddenly makes a dramatic comeback, I don’t see the Lions being the opponent to rush for over 100 yards for the fifth straight game on this porous Washington run defense. That being said, Zach Zenner looked okay last week, and there’s hope that at the very least, they’ll be somewhat efficient.

Washington pass offense (14th) vs. Lions pass defense (31st)

The Washington pass offense has been all over the place this season. Kirk Cousins has definitely racked up the passing yards (sixth overall), but the efficiency is what truly matters most. In that aspect of the game, Cousins has been inconsistent. In just two games, he’s significantly outperformed the defense’s passer rating average. He’s throw an interception in every game but one, but he’s also thrown a touchdown in every game but one.

Overall, Washington ranks 18th in passer rating (90.3), t-13th in yards per attempt (7.6) and 13th in completion percentage (65.2). I have them as an average passing offense in this league, which lines up nicely with Football Outsiders’ 14th ranking.

Injuries, however, could slow this unit down. As of Thursday, neither Josh Doctson nor DeSean Jackson had practiced all week. Additionally, while it looked like tight end Jordan Reed may return this week after appearing in Wednesday’s practice, he sat out on Thursday, suggesting he isn’t quite ready to see the field yet.

The Lions pass defense is awful. I’m not sure how they aren’t ranked worst in the league, but somehow the Jets have that honor. Detroit hasn’t held a quarterback below 100 in passer rating all year, and that includes a list of below-average quarterbacks faced. Every week it seems as though opposing quarterbacks are setting personal records and it usually has little to do with their own accomplishments. This Lions defense is just that bad.

But because this is a statistical breakdown, I’m afraid I have to show you just how bad it is. Detroit ranks last in passer rating allowed (119.3), 26th in yards per attempt (8.2), 32nd in completion percentage (73.7) (!!!) and last in touchdowns allowed (17).

Player to watch: Pierre Garcon. I don’t really know who is lining up for Washington at receiver this week, but one of them is bound to do well. Since Garcon is the only one I’m sure about, I expect him to do pretty well on Sunday, because just about every receiver has against this defense.

Advantage: Washington +2. Injuries could slow down this average unit... if they were playing any other defense. The Lions have yet to stop an opposing quarterback from lighting them up, and until they do, they are going to get worked in this section of On Paper. If Washington was full strength, this advantage would be at least 3.5.

Washington run offense (4th) vs. Lions run defense (26th)

While Football Outsiders appears to be in love with this running game, I’m not quite as convinced. Though they’ve had two very good games against the Browns and Eagles, they have been pretty underwhelming in their other four games. They’ve outgained defensive YPC averages in half of their six games and only hit 100 yards on the ground twice this year.

That being said, their two primary backs, Matt Jones and Chris Thompson, are both averaging over 4.5 yards per carry, and Jones is actually ninth in the league in yards and 12th in YPC.

The Lions run defense has been up and down... but mostly down. Four of six opponents have surpassed their YPC average against the Lions, with three of those rushing for over 5.0 a carry. They’ve only held one opponent significantly below their yardage or their YPC average all year.

Detroit is allowing 4.7 yards per carry overall (27th), while 25.9 percent of opponent’s rushes are earning first downs (25th). Last week, they gave up their first rushing touchdown of the season, but have still yet to allow a running back to reach the end zone on the ground.

Player to watch: A’Shawn Robinson. With Haloti Ngata likely out again this week, keep an eye on the run stuffing rookie. As our own Andrew Kato will point out later today, Robinson has been playing very well under the radar. He may only have seven tackles, but two of those are for losses, and he’s yet to been given a good chunk of playing time.

Advantage: Washington +2. While I don’t quite believe in the Washington running game as much as Football Outsiders, I do think they are a well above-average unit. And the Lions are easily one of the poorest run defenses in the league. They defend the run better than they do the pass, so they have a chance to mitigate the damage. Still, I’d be very surprised if Washington was held under 100 rushing yards on Sunday.

Last week’s prediction:

Last week, On Paper got back on the winning side of predictions, but also managed to get a lot wrong. I predicted 22 total points to be scored, and we were already past that total by halftime. Regardless, this one goes in the win column and a push against the spread. On Paper is now 3-3 and 2-2-2 against the spread. We’re as good as a coin flip!

A much better prediction came from Minnesota Lion and Enor, who both missed the final score by one. Minnesota Lion predicted 31-27, while Enor predicted 30-28. Here is your split prize this week:

You get to share the limited edition Peter Schrager version of the classic board game Sorry! In this version of the board game, one player states an reasonable opinion. The other player must immediately laugh in their face. However, the second player must completely retract their laughter two turns later and state the same exact opinion, but even more emphatically. Players take turns until everyone realizes Matthew Stafford has been good this entire time.

This week’s prediction:

Washington comes out with a +1.5 advantage. As you may have noticed, the offense has the advantage in each matchup this week. That suggests we may be in for another shootout this week. And with the Lions offense and defense playing the way they currently are, you can probably expect that every week going forward. This week, however, I expect to see a few more mistakes out of the Lions offense. Washington has a pretty solid pass rush and a few playmakers in the secondary. The Lions have needed Stafford to be perfect to win games, and I just don’t think he does it again this week.

Lions 27, Washington 34.