On Paper is back and it’s as bad as ever. Last week, we took a pretty big L, but couldn’t be happier about it.
It’s hard to be objective when there’s little-to-no data at your disposal. Unfortunately, that makes this column very presumptuous—and potentially inaccurate—for the first month of the season.
The Detroit Lions and New York Giants looked a lot different from their 2016 selves in Week 1—the Lions especially. Detroit’s defense, which ranked dead-last in DVOA last season, ranks sixth after their win over the Cardinals. The Giants, on the other hand, rank 25th and 28th in offensive and defensive DVOA after losing to the Cowboys.
But here at On Paper, we’re still committed to using 2016 data and not overreacting to Week 1. We will still be consulting charts with 2016 statistics, but will try to give credence to the first week of the season, too. If I were to put a percentage on how important each set of data was, I’d say I’m giving last year’s stats 75 percent influence and Week 1 of 2017 25 percent. Next week will be the last week we rely on 2016 data at all.
With that in mind, let’s hit them charts.
Lions pass offense (13th in 2016 DVOA) vs. Giants pass defense (4th)
Matthew Stafford looked like his old, healthy self in Week 1. Per usual, he started the game a little slow, but really came about in the fourth quarter, completing seven of eight passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
While we don’t exactly know who the Cardinals are yet, it’s pretty safe to assume they won’t be allowing an average passer rating of 113.1 this year. The Lions pass offense remains above average. The big question is just how high is this unit’s ceiling? Top 10? Top five? The offensive line will hold them up a little, but Stafford had enough time to do damage last Sunday and was only sacked once.
The Giants had one of the best pass defenses last season, and to be honest, not much has changed this year. They sport a world class set of defensive backs in Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Landon Collins. Their pass rush is potentially even more menacing, although they struggled against one of the best offensive lines last week:
Cowboys O-line shut down Giants' pass rush: 41 passing plays, 2 pressures, 0 sacks. @PFF 's highest Week 1 pass blocking efficiency (96.3)— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) September 11, 2017
Don’t let last week fool you, this group is wildly impressive. Dak Prescott may have put up a 90.5 passer rating, but that is well below his career average of 103.8. He also just completed 61.5 percent of his passes last week against the Giants, almost a full six points under his career average (67.3).
The last time the two teams faced off, the Giants held Stafford in check. But that was Stafford’s first game after injuring his finger against the Bears, and he was without two major weapons in the passing game: Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. The Giants were without Jason Pierre-Paul in that game, as well.
Player to watch: Eli Apple vs. Kenny Golladay. Apple and Golladay were on opposite ends of the spectrum last week. The Giants cornerback was picked on by the Cowboys to the tune of 10 catches, 123 yards and a touchdown. Golladay, on the other hand, pulled in four catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns. With Jenkins tied up with Marvin Jones Jr., Golladay could eat again on Monday.
Advantage: Even. This could be the most important matchup of the game, and I have no idea how it will go. The Giants could very well put a lot of pressure on Stafford and cause the Lions to stall, but Detroit fared a lot better than expectations last week against a good Cardinals defense.
Lions run offense (25th) vs. Giants run defense (2nd)
The Lions run offense is still very bad. In his triumphant return to the lineup, Ameer Abdullah rushed for just 2.0 yards per carry against the Cardinals. The longest run of the game came from Matthew Stafford. The second longest came from punter Kasey Redfern. Detroit has problems, man.
And the Giants continue to have a pretty stout defense. Though they gave up 129 yards and 4.2 a carry in Week 1, the Cowboys were averaging 149.8 yards per game last year and 4.8 a carry. There’s a very good chance those Giants run defense boxes are green before the season is over.
Last year, the Giants allowed just 3.6 YPC (second) and 88.6 rushing yards per game (t-third). They also only ceded 4.0 yards per carry twice for the entire season. They gave up 4.2 last week against the Cowboys, but that’s forgivable when you’re facing Ezekiel Elliott.
Player to watch: Landon Collins. Collins remains one of the most underrated safeties in the league. I don’t think there’s a safety out there that defends the run better than he does. According to PFF, Collins had four run stops in the season opener alone.
Advantage: Giants +2. This is a pretty lopsided matchup in favor of the Giants. But as we’ve seen plenty of times before, the Lions offense can get by without much from their running game. So while the Giants will almost certainly win this matchup, I’m not so sure it’ll have much of an impact on the final outcome.
Giants pass offense (21st) vs. Lions pass defense (32nd)
The Giants pass offense was pretty bad last year, and, again, they didn’t make many changes to their lineup this offseason. Their most notable additions—receiver Brandon Marshall and rookie tight end Evan Engram—had almost no impact in the season opener (54 total receiving yards).
Obviously the game-changer here is Odell Beckham Jr.’s availability. At this point, his status seems about 50/50, but he is certainly trending towards playing. If he can go, not only does that make the Giants’ No. 1 receiver that much better, but Marshall could be a lot more productive against the Lions’ No. 2 corner, either DJ Hayden or Nevin Lawson, both of whom struggled last week.
Still, pass protection is the Giant’s biggest concern. Both tackles, Erick Flowers and Bobby Hart, struggled against the Cowboys. That has been a pattern, not a exception. Eli Manning just can’t succeed behind those guys as they’re playing right now.
I don’t know what to think. I really don’t. This was one of the worst pass defenses in the history of the NFL in 2016, and they just forced a team to a 53.1 passer rating. That’s 10 points lower than any effort from last season. Is this the real life or is this just fantasy?
Is the Lions’ secondary really that much better or has Carson Palmer finally succumbed to Father Time? Can Detroit really generate a consistent pass rush or was the Cardinals offensive line really that bad, especially once DJ Humphries left the game?
These are questions I don’t have answers to, but one thing is clear: Last week’s performance was something the Lions defense failed to match all of last year. That has to mean something.
Player to watch: Ezekiel Ansah vs. Erick Flowers. Ansah had a quiet day on the stat sheet, as the Lions continue to ease him in with a limited snap count, but flashes of 2015 Ansah were there if you looked closely. I think he picks up his first sack of the year on Monday.
Advantage: Lions +3 (no Beckham), Lions +1 (with Beckham). Yes, I think Beckham makes that much of a difference.
Call me a homer, but if the Lions completely shut down the Cardinals’ passing game, I have no reason to believe they won’t do the same to a worse passing offense this week. Beckham could mitigate the damage, but a healthy Darius Slay should be able to limit the superstar receiver, especially if he’s still a bit wobbly from the injury.
Giants run offense (26th) vs. Lions run defense (19th)
Last year, Rashad Jennings led the Giants with 593 rushing yards, but averaged just 3.3 yards per carry. As a team, they averaged 3.5 yards per carry, which was even worse than the Lions last season.
This year, they handed the reins to Paul Perkins, who averaged a respectable 4.1 yards per carry as a fifth-round rookie last year. Last week, however, Perkins was held to just 16 yards on seven carries. His longest run was three yards. Ouch.
This Giants run offense could contend for the worst in the league if they continue this trend, and at this point, there’s no reason to believe they’ll turn things around. They were bad last year, and they’ll be bad again this year.
The Lions run defense was all over the place last year. But the one thing they never did in 2016 was hold an opponent below 50 yards rushing or 3.0 yards per carry in a single game. They managed to do both in the season opener against the Cardinals.
That has to be a good sign for a team that looked like a whole different defense out there on Sunday.
Player to watch: Jarrad Davis. While Davis continued his preseason struggles in coverage, he was a monster tackler against the Cardinals. His nine solo tackles was five more than anyone else on the team. If you’re going to run the ball against the Lions, you’re going to have to go through him from on now.
Advantage: Lions +2. I’m not sure how much it’s going to matter in this matchup, but the Lions have a clear advantage here. Even if Detroit turns out to only have an average run defense this year, they’ll be significantly better than this impotent Giants running game. If they rush for over 80 yards on Monday, either they’ve handed the ball off 30 times or something has gone horribly wrong for the Lions.
Last week’s prediction:
I already said how wrong I was last week, so let’s move on to the fun part. For such an odd score (35-23), I didn’t expect to see too many accurate predictions, but “oldlionsfan” showed off his wisdom and nailed the score with his 34-24 prediction.
Here is your prize:
I hate to embarrass you, but I dug up your old high school yearbook. Seeing as you admit to being a 66-year-old in your profile, I wanted to see if I recognized any of my parents’ friends, and, instead, I stumbled upon two familiar faces.
This week’s prediction:
The Lions come out with either a +1 or +3 advantage, depending on Odell Beckham’s availability. That may seem like a ridiculous edge to give one guy, but the truth is Beckham makes everyone else on the Giants offense better when he’s on the field.
But even if Beckham plays, expect this to be another defensive battle. The Giants frustrated the Lions offense last December, and they could very well do the same this year at the Meadowlands. The Giants offense would get a spark with Beckham, but they still have a highly questionable offensive line, and this isn’t the 2016 Lions defense anymore.
This game could really play out a lot like Week 1, but I think the Giants defense will prove to be a little better and should keep this one close the entire way. Lions 20, Giants 16.