The Detroit Lions head to their most feared annual venue this Monday: Lambeau Field. Detroit has won on the haunted gridiron just once in the past 26 years.
But this year is different. The Green Bay Packers will be without Aaron Rodgers and the last time that happened, the Lions destroyed the Packers to the tune of 40-10 on Thanksgiving Day.
We don’t know much about an Brett Hundley-led Packers team, as the young quarterback has only started one game in his career. But we’ll try and unravel this enigma of a game the way we always do: On Paper.
Lions pass offense (21st in DVOA) vs. Packers pass defense (18th)
This chart is surprisingly green considering how stagnant the Lions offense has been this year. Last week, despite the serious red zone concerns, was a step in the right direction. Matthew Stafford and the Lions pass offense spent the majority of the game carving up one of the best passing defenses in the league. Now the Lions have outgained the defenses passer rating average in four of seven games.
The overall stats are still somewhat underwhelming, however. Detroit ranks 15th in passer rating (89.6), t-18th in yards per attempt (6.9) and 25th in completion percentage (60.4). Worst of all the Lions have allowed 25 sacks, this sixth-most of all teams. Despite the constant pressure Stafford has been under, he has only thrown four interceptions (fifth-fewest team interceptions in the league).
Despite having an extremely young secondary, the Packers pass defense has actually been somewhat stout all year. Only three of seven opponents have been able to outgain their passer rating average against Green Bay, while the Packers have held four opponents below an 85 passer rating.
But overall, this is still just an average defense. They rank 18th in passer rating allowed (90.2), t-22nd in yards per attempt (7.3) and 28th in completion percentage (66.5). They’ve only allowed nine passing touchdowns all year (sixth fewest) but have only tallied six interceptions (14th fewest).
Interestingly enough, despite a front seven full of playmakers, the Packers only have 12 sacks all year (t-29th).
Player to watch: Clay Matthews. After a few years of battling injuries, it finally appears Clay Matthews is back. Though he only has 2.5 sacks so far this year, he is beginning to look like the quick, dynamic edge rusher that has terrorized quarterbacks in the past. Considering the Lions will likely be without Taylor Decker, who returned to practice this week, and Greg Robinson, Matthews could very well add to this total this week.
Advantage: Even. I’m not sure if I’m ready to declare the Lions’ pass offense fixed after a good performance against the Steelers, but the Packers pass defense is just ordinary. I expect Stafford to finish around 270 yards passing with, yes, a touchdown or two. But I also expect him to get sacked a few times, ending drives early.
Lions run offense (30th) vs. Packers run defense (21st)
The Lions run offense is really, really bad. Not only have the Lions failed to have a 100-yard rusher since 2013, but as a team, Detroit has only rushed for 100 yards once all year. In five of seven games, the Lions have averaged 3.5 yards per carry or less and they’ve failed to significantly surpass the defense’s YPC average in all seven games.
As a team, the Lions are averaging just 3.5 YPC (28th) and are earning first downs on 15.8 percent of carries (31st). They also have just two rushing touchdowns all year (t-28th). No matter which way you look at it, the Lions run offense is one of the worst in the league.
While the Lions have 100 yards rushing in just one game this year, the Packers have allowed 100 yards rushing in all but one game. Additionally, four of seven opponents have been able to outgain their yards per carry average against the Packers defense.
Perhaps the most optimistic outlook for the Lions is that game against the Bengals. Cincinnati is one of the few teams that has a statistically worse running game, and they were able to run for 110 yards and 3.7 a carry against Green Bay.
Overall, the Packers are allowing 4.2 YPC (t-20th) and are ceding first downs on 22.6 percent of carries (23rd).
Player to watch: Kenny Clark. The Packers’ nose tackle is one of the league’s best interior defenders and will be matched up against the weakest part of the Lions defense: the middle. Travis Swanson and Graham Glasgow haven’t produced much push up front, and the 314-pound Clark won’t make it easy for them on Monday.
Advantage: Packers +0.5. I can’t imagine giving the Lions an advantage in this specific matchup all year, but if there’s a chance for Ameer Abdullah to have a breakout game, it may be this one. Still, I’m not expecting it.
Packers pass offense (19th) vs. Lions pass defense (8th)
Now the tough part. We can go ahead an completely ignore the first five rows of the chart above because the best quarterback in the league won’t be playing again until at least Week 15. Aaron Rodgers is on injured reserve—believe me, I triple checked—leaving the unknown commodity that is Brett Hundley behind center.
In the past two games, Hundley has led the Packers to two extremely unsuccessful offensive games. Green Bay has scored just 27 points in their past two games, and Hundley has a collective passer rating of just 40.5 in 2017. In just seven quarters of play, he already has more interceptions (4) than Rodgers had all year (3).
But Hundley has had a bye week to get it together and the Packers have had time to compensate for this disaster. It’s hard to imagine Hundley looking this bad going forward.
Still, the Lions secondary remains extremely opportunistic, pulling in at least an interception in five of seven games. Overall, their 10 interceptions rank third in the league.
Additionally, Detroit ranks 11th in passer rating allowed (84.3), but interestingly 29th in yards per attempt allowed (7.0) and 19th in completion percentage (63.6). Part of Detroit’s struggles come from their susceptibility to big plays. The Lions have allowed 24 plays of 20+ yard (t-ninth most) and six plays of 40+ yards (t-fifth most).
Then, of course, there’s the issue of pass rush. Detroit only has 13 sacks (fifth fewest).
Player to watch: Jordy Nelson. Nelson’s production has dropped off since Hundley took over, but so has everyone else’s. In the first four games of the season, Nelson pulled in 17 catches for 206 yards and five touchdowns.
Advantage: Lions +2. Hundley is averaging an interception every 14.8 passing attempts. The Lions defense is averaging an interception every 15.2 passing attempts. By my math, that means the Lions will pick off Hundley twice if he attempts 30 passes this game. Expect at least one interception on Monday.
Packers run offense (3rd) vs. Lion run defense (5th)
It’s a bit puzzling to see the Packers with such a high DVOA ranking considering how average they have been all year. In fact, in five of seven games they haven’t even reached 100 yards rushing. As a team, they only rank 19th in rushing yards per game (101.6).
However, there are some signs that this running game is really good, especially as of late. Green Bay has only been held below the defense’s YPC average twice this year, and in two games, they absolutely destroyed the defense, rushing for over 150 yards and over 6.0 yards per carry against both the Cowboys and Saints.
Rookie Aaron Jones has been a revelation for this offense. In the past three games, Jones has 297 yards and two touchdowns, averaging a whopping 6.1 yards per carry.
As a team, the Packers are averaging 4.5 YPC (fifth) and are earning first downs on 25.5 percent of carries (third). They’re a legit running threat and with Hundley’s struggles, you better believe they are going to focus heavily on their rushing attack over the next two months.
But they are going to have their hands full against this Lions defense. Aside from the Falcons game—in which the Lions were without their two best run defenders—and the Saints game (??), the Lions have been unbelievable dominant in stopping the run.
In fact, taking into account those two defensive breakdowns, the Lions still rank among the league’s best in run defense stats. They’re allowing just 3.6 YPC (t-fourth) and allowing first downs on just 18.9 percent of carries (t-seventh). They’ve only allowed two rushes of 20+ yards (t-third).
They took a hit in the Panthers game when Haloti Ngata was lost for the season, but Detroit has persisted since then and remain one of the best units in the league.
Player to watch: Jones. Did I already mention that Aaron Jones is averaging 6.1 yards per carry in his last three games. AARON JONES HAS AVERAGED 6.1 YPC IN HIS PAST THREE GAMES.
Advantage: Even. This is the most important matchup in this game. With a healthy offensive line for the first time all year and a struggling young quarterback, the Packers are going to try and hammer this Lions defense with this upward trending running game. The Lions can hit back with a set of run-stuffers.
I can’t with any confidence give either team an advantage here, but I’m excited to see who comes out on top, because I think whoever wins this matchup probably wins the game.
Last week’s prediction:
Now the fun part. Last week, On Paper finally hit on just about every prediction. Low-scoring game? Check. Bunch of field goals? Check. Lions lose a one-score game? Check.
And, yes, my 20-13 prediction was the closest of anyone in the comment section. I AM THE WINNER. BOW DOWN TO ME.
This week’s prediction:
The Lions come away with a +1.5 advantage, but, in all honesty, I have very little confidence that. Detroit’s entire advantage comes from their edge against the Packers’ pass offense, and it’s hard to know what the Lions will see in Brett Hundley’s second career start.
What I’m trying to say is that I literally have no idea how Monday night will go. The Lions do match up pretty well against the Packers. Their weaknesses (running, pass protection) match up well against Green Bay’s weaknesses. And Detroit has the potential to neutralize the Packers’ strong points.
I’m expecting another low-scoring game, and the ultimate decider in any close game should be the quarterback. Obviously, the Lions have the advantage there. Lions 23, Packers 20.