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Detroit Lions vs. Houston Texans preview: On Paper

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Our statistical preview of Lions-Texans predicts another close game.

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Detroit Lions v Houston Texans Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

We’re just seven weeks into the season, yet I think every single Lions fan has aged at least seven years after a wild first two months. Detroit is 4-3 and all seven of their games have been decided by one possession. During the Lions’ current three-game winning streak, their average margin of victory is just 2.3 points. I hope you have your heart medication ready, because we’re in for another barn burner this week.

The Houston Texans (4-3) are undefeated at home this year, but are winless on the road. Three of their last four wins were decided by one possession, while all three of their losses were by at least three scores. In other words, this is a hard team to nail down.

With both teams desperate for a win to stay in contention for a playoff spot, let’s try to make sense of these crazy teams. The Texans are 2.5 point favorites this week, but what do the charts say? Take a look:

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

Our preview begins with the headlining matchup. The Lions boast a top-10 pass offense while the Texans counter with an identically ranked defense. Matthew Stafford has led the Lions almost single-handedly to a winning record, leading to a week of MVP talk for the Detroit quarterback. In the past three weeks alone, Stafford has faced decent defenses and blown their passer rating allowed averages out of the water. Stafford has a passer rating of 127.4 over Detroit’s three-game winning streak.

Things many only get better for the Lions this week, as both Theo Riddick and Eric Ebron appear headed for a return to the lineup. Riddick and Ebron were the Lions’ second and third most targeted receiving options before both missed the last few games with injuries.

Overall, this pass offense ranks among the NFL’s best. Detroit ranks third in passer rating (105.7), seventh in yards per attempt (7.9), fourth in completion percentage (78.0) and fourth in percentage of plays earning first downs (38.2).

However, the Texans have been just as impressive defending the pass this year. Only one opponent managed to significantly outgain their own averages in both yardage and passer rating when playing the Texans. Additionally, just one opponent managed to finish the game with a passer rating above 90. No quarterback has thrown for over 260 yards against Houston.

The Texans rank eighth in passer rating allowed (81.4), t-eighth in yards per attempt (6.9) and third in completion percentage (58.2). They’ve only allowed five passing touchdowns (t-fourth) and their 16 sacks ranks t-11th.

Houston owns one of the best secondaries in the league, despite losing No. 1 cornerback Kevin Johnson for the year with a foot injury. A.J. Bouye, an undrafted free agent in 2013, is actually the highest rated cornerback in the league according to Pro Football Focus.

Player to watch: Theo Riddick. With the Texans’ impressive secondary, the Lions may have to rely on receiving options over the middle, where this defense is the most vulnerable. That makes Riddick’s return this week all the more important. Expect Stafford to target him early and often.

Advantage: Lions +1. This is the marquee matchup of the game. The Lions are rolling on offense and have showed no signs of slowing down. Over the past three weeks, they’ve dominated the first, 12th and 14th ranked pass defenses. With even more weapons at their disposal this week, I expect Detroit to succeed again through the air.

Lions run offense (28th) vs. Texans run defense (26th)

Look at that chart. If you were to ask someone who knew nothing about football when the Lions lost their starting running back, they’d be able to point it out correctly without any hesitation. Detroit has had no success running the ball since losing Ameer Abdullah and that hasn’t been helped out by the fact that Theo Riddick and Dwayne Washington have been sidelined over the past few weeks as well.

Detroit hasn’t rushed for over 100 yards since Week 2, and only last week did they finally rush for over 4.0 yards per carry—mostly because Stafford rushed for 32 yards while scrambling. Overall, the Lions are averaging just 3.9 yards per carry (24th) but are continuing to gain first downs at a high rate of 24.4 percent of rushes (t-ninth).

The Texans have struggled to defend the run, especially over the past two weeks. Against the Colts and Broncos, they have given up an average of 175 rushing yards at 5.2 YPC. They have only held two of seven opponents below their rushing yards and YPC average in 2016.

Overall, Houston is ceding 4.4 YPC (t-20th) while allowing 23.4 percent of rushes to earn first downs (16th). They have been particularly vulnerable to giving up the big play. They have allowed the second-most 20+ yard rushes in the league (seven) and the second-most rushing touchdowns (10).

Player to watch: Jadeveon Clowney. While Detroit continues to try and figure out who they want starting in the interior of their offensive line, the Texans have no question who leads their defensive line. Clowney, along with nose tackle Vince Wilfork have the capability of being extremely disruptive in the backfield. Clowney leads the team with five tackles for loss.

Advantage: Draw. The Lions rushing attack could see a resurgence this week with Riddick’s return, but I think it’s much more likely the Lions running game remains somewhat irrelevant to the success of the offense. The Texans defense doesn’t pose a huge threat, but the don’t expect the Lions to put up over 100 on the ground this week.

Texans pass offense (31st) vs. Lions pass defense (32nd)

Avert your eyes, children. You aren’t going to want to read this section of the preview. The following statistics are something no football analyst—adult nor child—should ever have to see.

To say Brock Osweiler has been a disappointment in Houston would suddenly change the definition of “disappointment” to a synonym of catastrophe. He is literally the lowest-ranked quarterback according to Football Outsiders. That’s not exactly ideal for a guy you just inked to a four-year, $72 million contract.

Looking at the overall numbers doesn’t paint any prettier of a picture of Osweiler. Houston ranks 30th in passer rating (71.9), last in yards per attempt (5.7) and 29th in completion percentage (58.2).

Yuck. The chart for the Lions pass defense is just as bad. The Lions still haven’t held an opposing quarterback below their passer rating average, and the Lions are yet to hold an opposing quarterback below a passer rating of 100. Overall, the Lions have held just one quarterback below their yardage average, too.

The raw statistics are equally ugly. Detroit ranks last in passer rating allowed (117.3) and 28th in yards per attempt (8.2). But nowhere is the failure of this pass defense more clear than when looking at the completion percentage allowed. Detroit is ceding a 74.2 percent completion rate. That’s nearly FIVE AND A HALF PERCENT more than any other team in the NFL.

To make matters worse, the Lions will likely be without their No. 1 cornerback Darius Slay, who has missed the first two days of practice this week with a hamstring injury.

Player to watch: DeAndre Hopkins. When the Lions are down their No. 1 cornerback, look to the opponent’s No. 1 receiver to make a huge impact. Hopkins has had a disappointing year, mostly due to poor quarterback play. But if there’s a week to rebound, it’s this week.

Advantage: Texans +1. The Lions have not been able to even slow down a single passing offense, and they have played some pretty horrible passing attacks so far in 2016. In Week 6, the Lions let Case Keenum and the Rams light up the box score. The Texans have an even worse passing attack, but with their talented duo of receivers and the injury to Darius Slay, this is lining up to be the perfect week for Houston to finally put together a decent game through the air.

Texans run offense (27th) vs. Lions run defense (25th)

This is one of those cases where the charts don’t really match the rankings. Though the Texans struggled over the first two weeks of the season running the ball, they have actually been quite efficient in their past five games. Vikings game aside, the Texans have met or surpassed yardage and YPC averages in every game since Week 3.

The Texans running game has been led by Lamar Miller—who has been limited in practice this week with a shoulder injury. Miller has averaged 83.0 yards per game at a respectable 4.3 YPC. However, Miller only has one rushing touchdown on the year, the only rushing touchdown for the entire team. If he can’t go on Sunday, the Texans will have to rely on Alfred Blue, who is actually averaging 5.4 YPC, but only has 30 rushes on the year.

Overall, the Texans are averaging 4.3 yards per carry (t-12th) and earning first downs on 21.9 percent of rushes (23rd). While the Texans running game probably isn’t one of the 10 best in the NFL, I don’t agree with Football Outsiders’ ranking of 25th. I think this is an average running game, at worst.

The Lions run defense has been a bit unpredictable as of late. They’ve held opponents somewhat near their yardage average all year, but they’ve given up high numbers at YPC in all but one game this year.

Part of the reason for the inconsistency is the Lions’ horrible pass defense and most opponents focusing on that. Still, Detroit hasn’t been exactly good at stopping the run, either. They’re allowing 4.6 YPC on the year (t-25th) and ceding first downs on 28.6 percent of rushes (t-last).

The Lions could get some help this week if Haloti Ngata returns. Ngata has been limited in practice with a shoulder injury, but when he has played he’s been an excellent run-stuffer.

Player to watch: Josh Bynes. This week, the Lions boldly traded away starting linebacker Kyle Van Noy to the Patriots. In his place, the Lions signed Josh Bynes, who was a starter for the team last year and had previously been placed on injured reserve. Bynes will likely be throw into the lineup immediately and we’ll see how the defense responds with him in the game.

Advantage: Texans +1. While the Lions haven’t truly been burned by a running game this year, they haven’t really been able to adequately stop anyone either. And while the Texans don’t have a great running game, it isn’t as bad as it appears. The availability of Lamar Miller and Haloti Ngata is key for both teams, but I still think the scales tip slightly in the favor of Houston.

Last week’s prediction:

On Paper took another embarrassing L last week. After predicting another shootout with the Lions on the losing end, Washington ended up score 17 less points than I predicted. My final prediction of 34-27 Washington could not have been more wrong. That leaves On Paper at just 3-4 overall and 2-3-2 against the spread. Given all of the close games the Lions have had, that’s not exactly surprising. Still, it hurts the pride a little bit.

In the comment section, Hankfan23 came the closest to the 20-17 final score with his 17-13 prediction. Here is your prize, Hankfan23:

Sadly, we don’t know much about Hankfan23. His score prediction was just his third ever comment at Pride Of Detroit, despite being a member for nearly two years. It’s hard to give a gift to someone you don’t know. Hell, I don’t even know which Hank you’re talking about in your profile name. So I gathered all of my favorite Hanks. Hopefully I picked out at least one you like.

This week’s prediction:

The Texans come out with a minor +1 advantage. This week is another odd matchup. Both teams only do one thing particularly well. For the Lions, it’s passing the ball; for the Texans, it’s defending the pass. That matchup will be a doozy and will likely decide the game. On the other end of the spectrum, the Texans are just as bad at throwing the ball as the Lions are at defending it.

In the end, this matchup is confusing and strange and too evenly matched to provide a prediction with any sort of confidence. I have no idea who will win this week, but I absolutely expect another one-possession game. Texans 23, Lions 21.