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Detroit Lions vs. Tennessee Titans preview: On Paper

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Our statistical preview continues to Week 2.

Detroit Lions v Tennessee Titans Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions face off against the Tennessee Titans after picking up an upset road victory to start the year. Expectations this week are much different, as the Lions are favored by as high as seven points against the Titans. However, as you’ll see from below, I don’t think this game deserves that high of a line.

Lions pass offense (15th in DVOA in 2015) vs. Titans pass defense (24th)

After an amazing comeback against the Colts, I’m out of superlatives for Matthew Stafford. Call him a leader, call him matured; if you want to, you can even use the E-word, but one thing is for certain: Matthew Stafford has been killing it under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

Now, it’s worth noting the Lions have played some pretty poor defenses over that stretch, but as the chart above can attest to, the Lions even outperformed those bad defensive averages on a weekly basis.

This is exactly the kind of chart you’d expect from a 3-13 team. The Titans found themselves behind in so many games that the opposing offenses took the foot off the pedal in the passing game, hence low yardage totals. But looking at the passer rating column, you see that whenever offenses wanted to throw the ball, they absolutely could. Down the stretch of 2015, eight of their last nine opponents were able to hit a passer rating of 100 or more.

Defensively, this team doesn’t look much different than the 2015 version. They did add two draft picks in Kevin Dodd and Austin Johnson, who will bolster an already solid defensive line. However, the secondary remains a liability, despite the addition of safety Rashad Johnson.

Last year the Titans ranked in the bottom five in yards per attempt allowed (7.9), passer rating allowed (101.3) and passing touchdowns allowed (34). Unless the defensive line can generate consistent pressure, they could be in for another long season this year.

Player to watch: Jurrell Casey. I mentioned Casey a little earlier in the week, but he holds the key for the Titans if they have any chance of winning this matchup. If he can force pressure up the middle, Stafford will struggle. If he doesn’t, Stafford is going to pick apart the Titans defense.

Advantage: Lions +2.5. Watching the Titans-Vikings game, the Tennessee defense looked a lot better than they look on paper. Still, the Lions’ quick-passing attack is much better than a Shaun Hill-led Vikings offense. As long as Stafford isn’t on his back, he should get his.

Lions run offense (27th) vs. Titans run defense (24th)

It was pretty amazing to see what the Lions’ offense looks like with a running game. Granted, they were facing a bad Colts defense, but Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick both had career days in Week 1.

However, I still have concerns about this unit. Many of the big running plays last Sunday were not the result of good blocking, but Riddick and Abdullah making guys miss. Against a better defense, that won’t fly.

It’s hard to know yet if the Titans’ run defense is good, but early signs point to “yes.” Tennessee completely stopped Adrian Peterson last week, and they also did a pretty decent job in 2015, despite the low Football Outsiders ranking. They held 11 opponents at or below their yards per carry average. Again, the only reason for high yardage numbers is the fact that opponents were playing with the lead so often. The Titans faced the sixth-most rushing attempts of all teams last year.

Player to watch: Laken Tomlinson. Undeniably the weak link in the Lions offense, Tomlinson struggled again in the season opener. The Lions may catch a break as it looks like Derrick Morgan may not play this week, but if Tomlinson is lined up against a guy like Casey, the Lions running game could be in trouble.

Advantage: Titans +1.5. This could be a huge key to the matchup. The Titans don’t have much of a chance to stop the Lions pass if they can’t stop the run first. However, if Tennessee can slow the Lions rushing attack, they can force the Lions into a few three-and-longs. Last week, the Lions showed they weren’t particularly comfortable in third-and-long situations, opting to throw short routes in the hopes of getting a lot of YAC. I’m not a believer in the Lions’ running game yet, but if they put up another 100 yards this week, I’ll reconsider.

Titans pass offense (30th) vs. Lions pass defense (19th)

*Games without Marcus Mariota

While this chart looks pretty bad at first, when you take out the games without Mariota, it actually begins to look pretty average. In the remaining 12 games, the Titans managed to meet or exceed defense’s passer rating averages in eight games. Mariota wasn’t outstanding, nor was he immune to bad rookie mistakes, but he also showed flashes as to why the Titans picked him as their quarterback of the future.

In his 2016 debut Mariota still hung to the good and the bad. At times, he looked decisive and confident throwing the ball. Other times, his accuracy was off and he threw two very bad interceptions (though one was negated because of a roughing the passer penalty).

The Titans have a burgeoning receiving corps with tight end Delanie Walker leading the way and rookie Tajae Sharpe looking good in his debut. Still, with Kendall Wright on the mend, this unit is missing a key piece.

The Lions pass defense was easily the biggest worry from Week 1. Just like last year, the Lions defense looked especially porous in the second half, with Andrew Luck absolutely torching every defender in sight. Things weren’t very good in the first half of 2015 for the Lions pass defense and they appear off to a similar start in 2016. Detroit currently ranks in the bottom 10 in passer rating allowed (119.5), yards per attempt allowed (8.2) and passing touchdowns allowed (4).

Player to watch: Delanie Walker. Walker is coming off a career year and had a solid opening game against the Vikings. The Lions were owned by tight ends in Indianapolis and things could be worse this week if DeAndre Levy (who hasn’t practiced as of Thursday) can’t go.

Advantage: Titans +1. This could honestly be a lot worse for Detroit, but I don’t want to overreact to one week. The Lions defense got better as the season went on last year, and the Titans didn’t have much of a passing attack in 2015. Either way, I think Mariota has an above average day.

Titans run offense (29th) vs. Lions run defense (14th)

The Titans had a bad rushing game last year and they knew it. This year, they have an entirely new backfield after trading for DeMarco Murray and adding Derrick Henry in the draft. The early returns are... Not so good. However, as they were up against that Viking defense, it’s still too early to tell.

The Lions run defense was all over the place last year, having a stretch of four straight games holding teams under 3.0 a carry, then immediately giving up 203 rushing yards to Todd Gurley and the Rams.

The run defense got off to an okay start in 2016. Although Indianapolis only managed 82 yards on the ground, they averaged 4.3 a carry, which is higher than the league average.

Player to watch: Haloti Ngata. Ngata was one of the few defensive linemen that had a pretty good day against the Colts. He’ll often be lined up opposite Titan’s left guard Quinton Spain, who is arguably Tennessee’s worst offensive lineman, though he only has seven starts in his career.

Advantage: Lions +0.5. There are a lot of unknowns in this matchup, so the needle isn’t going to swing a lot either way, but the Lions were pretty good at defending the run last year, and we have at least a little reason to believe they’ll be at least average again this year. The Titans, on the other hand, should be improved from last year, but we haven’t seen any proof of that yet.

Last week’s prediction:

Last week, On Paper predicted a 27-20 win for the Lions. I tried to buck the trend of predicting a shootout and it burned me. Still, like the rest of the POD staff, I saw the upset coming.

In the comment section, we had a lot of close predictions, but none were closer than POD veteran seabeeruss, who missed the exact score by just one point with his 38-35 prediction.

Here is your prize, seabeeruss:

Your prize is a karaoke machine. The Detroit Lions announced they will be doing live karaoke before Lions games, but they’re stupidly calling it ROAR-AOKE. So you get a hot-off-the-presses, more aptly named Don Carey-oke machine. Use it yourself, or save it for that “special” someone.

This week’s prediction:

The Lions come out with a minor +0.5 advantage. This game has me worried. The Lions under Jim Caldwell haven’t traditionally matched up well against solid defensive teams. The Titans aren’t among the NFL’s defensive elite, but defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau has them looking better and better.

I think the Lions offense could really struggle, especially if the Titans make them one-dimensional. When the Titans offense takes the field, I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen. I think they’ll move the ball pretty well, but mostly through the air. I see a lot of field goals in this game, and neither team pulling away. Lions 23, Titans 20.