The Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens will face off on Sunday for just the fifth time in NFL history. Baltimore has won three of the past four matchups, including an absolutely devastating last-second field goal win over Detroit in 2013.
Both teams enter Week 13 6-5, clinging to hopes of a postseason run. Baltimore currently holds the six seed in the AFC, but have plenty of teams nipping at their heels. The Lions, on the other hand, are on the outside looking in. But with a favorable schedule ahead, Detroit is looking to finish on a winning streak and sneak their way in.
But first they have to take care of business on the road in Baltimore. Here’s how they match up.
Even when Matthew Stafford is off his game, he’s on his game. Last week was one of Stafford’s worst games of the season and the Lions’ pass offense managed to put up a performance well above the Vikings’ defensive averages—thanks largely to a dominant performances from Marvin Jones Jr.
Regardless of who is to praise, the Lions’ pass offense has been absolutely on fire since coming out of the bye. Here’s a look at Stafford’s stats in the past five games:
65.3 completion percentage, 9.3 yards per attempt, 9 TDs, 2 INTs, 108.0 passer rating
Stafford suffered an ankle injury last week, but according to Detroit’s injury reports, he has not been limited by the ailment all week, so there doesn’t appear to be much reason for concern there.
However, two of the Lions’ starting offensive linemen, T.J. Lang and Travis Swanson, have missed the first two practices this week. This front five has struggled, when healthy, to protect Stafford. If neither lineman can go this week, pass protection may be a big issue this week.
The Ravens’ pass defense is just as impressive as the Lions’ pass offense, if not more. Only three offenses managed to outgain their passer rating average, while a shocking five of 11 opponents were held below a 60 passer rating.
But there is a caveat. This chart, along with their DVOA ranking, comes with a big asterisk. The Ravens have fortuitously faced a handful of backup quarterbacks. Instead of Derek Carr, they faced EJ Manuel. They avoided Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson and got Brett Hundley and Tom Savage instead.
Still, some of these statistics are undeniably impressive, regardless of the quarterback they have faced. Baltimore ranks first in passer rating allowed (65.9), fifth in yards per attempt (6.5), t-second in completion percentage (57.2), and their 18 interceptions lead the league.
Their pass rush isn’t too shabby either. They have 30 sacks on the year (t-ninth), led by veteran Terrell Suggs with 9.5.
Player to watch: Jimmy Smith. The Ravens’ No. 1 corner has three interceptions and nine pass breakups this year already and he’s Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked corner in the league. His matchup against Marvin Jones is a perfect example of strength vs. strength.
Advantage: Even. Despite the seemingly lopsided DVOA rankings, this matchup looks a lot more even to me. The Lions are trending in the right direction, while the Ravens’ stats are at least a little bloated by a swarm of poor quarterbacks. The biggest concern in this matchup is pass protection, but the Lions may be able to counter that with quick, short passes. Look for the Lions to get Golden Tate involved early and often.
Lions run offense (29th) vs. Ravens run defense (10th)
Now that we’ve gotten the strengths of each team out of the way, let’s get into the ugly side of things. The Lions’ run game is awful. We talk about it every
week season decade and it never gets any better.
Detroit ranks 30th in yards per carry (3.4) and 31st in rushes earning first downs (16.1%). They six rushes of 20+ yards are respectable (t-18th), but that’s literally the only positive spin you could make with this running attack.
And it’s bound to be even worse this week. Ameer Abdullah, Lang and Swanson have yet to practice this week and look unlikely to play this week. Thank you to all the people who have said over the past week “the Lions’ running game can’t get any worse.” We get to actually test that theory this week, because...
... the Lions are catching the Ravens at the exact wrong time. After a very shaky start to the season, the Ravens run defense has been outstanding over the past four games, and against some respectable rushing attacks, no less. While we can’t completely forget about the mediocre-to-bad play from the Ravens earlier in the season, they seemed to have recently turned a corner.
As a result, their raw statistics are pretty impressive. They’re only allowing 4.0 YPC (t-12th) and first down on just 19.6 percent of carries (14th). They’re an above-average unit playing at a top-tier level right now.
Player to watch: C.J. Mosley. The inside linebacker leads the team both in tackles (95) and tackles for loss (9). He also has two forced fumbles and two interceptions. He can do just about everything, and stopping the run is definitely part of his arsenal.
Advantage: Ravens +2. The Lions don’t like to run the ball all that much. Their 256 rushing attempts are the fourth-fewest in NFL. So this matchup may not end up meaning all that much. That being said, there’s little hope Detroit puts up rushing numbers that are anywhere near respectable this week.
Ravens pass offense (29th) vs. Lions pass defense (14th)
Woof. You thought the Browns and Bears had bad pass offense. This may be the worst the Lions have faced all year. Joe Flacco and the Ravens pass offense have looked poor all year and they’ve shown no signs of improvement lately. In total, they’ve managed to outgain their opponent’s passer rating allowed average just once all year... in a game they lost.
Individually, Flacco is averaging a career worst 5.3 yards per attempt, a career-low touchdown percentage (2.6%) and the second worst interception percentage of his career (3.1%).
As a team, the Ravens are quite possibly the worst in the league. They’re last in yards per attempt (5.3), 29th in passer rating (76.0), but oddly eighth in completion percentage (65.0). In other words, they love to check down and aren’t a downfield threat. their 15 passing plays of 20+ yards are a league low (for comparison’s sake, the Lions have 42 of those plays).
The Lions pass defense has not been so hot as of late. It hasn’t been awful, either, but after such a promising start to the season, they’ve certainly come down to reality a bit. Why such a change? This may have something to do with it:
Why are the Lions suddenly not picking the ball off anymore? That answer is not so clear. Have quarterbacks figured them out? Has a struggling run defense opened up more space in the passing game?
Regardless of the answer, this is still a decent pass defense. The Lions rank 23rd in yards per attempt allowed, but 14th in passer rating (86.3) and 19th in completion percentage (63.4).
Their pass rush has been anemic all year, but they may get a shot in the arm with newly added Dwight Freeney this week.
Player to watch: Benjamin Watson. A familiar problem is creeping up for this Lions defense: their inability to cover tight ends. Detroit has resorted to taking rookie Jarrad Davis off the field on some obvious passing downs and Tahir Whitehead has occasionally struggled, too. In his past three games, Watson has a total of 11 catches for 106 yards.
Advantage: Lions +2. The Lions aren’t playing as well as they did earlier in the season, but this Ravens pass offense is deplorable. If Detroit can’t rebound this week, you can go ahead and bury them for the rest of the year.
Ravens run offense (14th) vs. Lions run defense (23rd)
The Ravens’ running game has been up and down all year, though they found a little more consistent success earlier in the season. That being said, second-year back Alex Collins has been a revelation for Baltimore. Among qualifying running backs, Collins ranks fifth in the NFL with 4.9 yards per carry. But he’s been struggling a bit as of late:
#Ravens RB Alex Collins:— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) November 29, 2017
First 5 games in 2017: 52 carries, 335 yards (6.4 YPC)
Last 5 games: 77 carries, 295 yards (3.8 YPC)
Overall, this Ravens running game is certainly above average. They’re 16th in yards per carry (4.0), but earn first downs on 21.7 percent of rushes (12th).
This Lions run defense is absolutely confusing. They’re just coming off their worst stretch of the season against the Browns and Bears, and last week’s game was the most confusing of all. Against the Vikings, the Lions allowed just 61 rushing yards on 36 carries. However, in four additional carries—all coming on a single drive—Minnesota ran for 75 yards.
Despite the recent inconsistencies, the Lions still rank among the middle in defending the run. They’re allowing 4.2 YPC (21st) but first downs on 25.9 percent of carries (30th).
Unfortunately for Detroit, they’ve lost two of the best run defenders during the season this year. Against the Panthers, Haloti Ngata was lost for the season, while safety Tavon Wilson saw his season come to an end last week after injuring his shoulder against the Vikings.
Player to watch: Jarrad Davis. So goes Davis, as does the Lions run defense. Last week, Davis rebounded in a big way after stringing together a couple of poor performances. As a result, the Vikings couldn’t run the ball for the large majority of the game. If he can play smart, disciplined ball, the Lions will win this matchup.
Advantage: Ravens +1. I’d love to have faith in the Lions run defense after a promising showing last week, but they’ve just been way too inconsistent since the Ngata injury and these linebackers just can’t be trusted yet. Collins is a tough back to bring down and the Lions have struggled to tackle at times. That’s a bad combination.
Last week’s prediction:
Sadly, I was on the money with my prediction last week, as I thought the Vikings would walk away from Thanksgiving victorious. My score prediction wasn’t all that close (27-13 vs. 30-23), but On Paper is now up to 7-4 after a slow start.
In the comment section, we didn’t have too many close predictions, but nrs001’s 27-24 prediction came close enough to net them the victory. Here is your prize, nrs001:
Lions fans haven’t had a whole lot to be excited about in the past month or two, so when Detroit signed Dwight Freeney, fans rightfully got excited. I mean, how can you not be excited with all of these stats? He’s the greatest player in Lions history!
This week’s prediction:
I regrettably come out with a +1 Ravens advantage. Subjectively, I don’t agree with my findings. I think Matthew Stafford can get this offense moving against just about any defense in the league right now, the Ravens included. I am also feeling a little bit optimistic about Detroit’s defense returning to form.
But the entire point of this article is to remain as objective as possible. And when you think about it, the Lions are hurting where they just can’t afford to be hurt right now. Protecting Stafford could be a lot harder without Lang and Swanson in the lineup. While Detroit’s key on defense will be, once again, stopping the run. But with Tavon Wilson out for the year, Miles Killebrew is going to have to step up in a big way.
Throw in a Ravens special teams unit that won’t Connor Barth their way into a loss, and you’ve got a bleak look for Week 13. Ravens 23, Lions 20.