When the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers face off this Sunday at Ford Field, it will be the first time Aaron Rodgers has taken a snap against Detroit in 644 glorious days. The Lions have taken advantage of Rodgers absence, sweeping the Packers last season and jumping them in the standings in 2017.
But this week, Rodgers is back, and the Packers quarterback has just dominated the Lions throughout his career. He’s 13-3 against the Lions and has a passer rating of 109.4. However, with a depleted receiving corps and a new defensive scheme for Detroit, will he be able to continue this trend? Let’s preview Week 5’s game between the Lions and Packers... On Paper.
Lions pass offense (20th in DVOA) vs. Packers pass defense (10th)
After a horrendous start to the season, it looks like Matthew Stafford is finally back. He has put up back-to-back-to-back 100 passer rating games, even if he’s looked a little shaky doing it. His performance last week in Dallas, however, was nearly flawless, putting up stats that contend with a top-five performance for his entire career.
Still, that first game looms large and it was bad enough to pull many of the Lions’ raw statistics down to an average level. Detroit ranks 23rd in passer rating (88.2), 20th in yards per attempt (7.1) and 14th in completion percentage.
However, the one thing they remain solid at statistically is pass protection. They’ve only allowed six sacks (t-third) and they rank second in quarterback hits allowed.
Overall, this unit is better than their DVOA and raw statistics bear out. The charts show that Stafford and the Lions can be lethal, but they obviously still have some kinks to work out, especially when they cross over into the red zone.
It’s been a tale of two different Packers pass defenses this year. In Weeks 1 and 4, they’ve been extremely stout, allowing well below 5.0 yards per attempt, zero touchdowns and two interceptions. In the other two weeks, they allowed over 9.0 yards per attempt, six touchdowns and two interceptions.
That makes this defense extremely hard to read. Their overall stats don’t help clear up the situation. They’re allowing a passer rating of 86.9 (11th), 7.1 yards per attempt (t-eighth) and a completion percentage of 63.2 (11th). It’s clear they’re better than in years past, but they’re far from invincible.
As we’ve talked about a few times this week, the real star of the defense is their young, impressively-athletic secondary. But don’t sleep on their ability to rush the pass. Their 13 sacks is behind only the Bears, Colts and Cowboys.
Key matchup: Golden Tate vs. Jaire Alexander. Tate is coming off one of the best games of his career, while rookie corner Alexander is already looking like he’s lived up to his first-round status. It’s a tough matchup for Alexander, who spends most of his time in the slot, and this could be Stafford’s preferred matchup with Green Bay sporting some solid outside corners.
Advantage: Lions +1. This has the potential to swing the entire game, as both teams look pretty good on paper here. The only reason I’m giving the slight edge to the Lions here is because of the overall amount of data. We’ve only seen two good performances out of the Packers pass defense this year, while we have a ton of evidence that this Detroit pass offense can be explosive at times. Considering Detroit appears to be trending in the right direction right now, give me the Lions pass offense in a minor victory on Sunday.
Lions run offense (15th) vs. Packers run defense (26th)
Last year, the Lions had two green cells in the YPC column all season. Assuming these averages hold, Detroit has already outgained that just four weeks into the 2018 season.
Kerryon Johnson is the truth, and the Lions finally appear to have some semblance of balance in their offense. They’re still throwing the ball a lot more than they run it, but you’d be hard pressed to find a team that doesn’t this year, especially considering how wildly successful NFL offenses are at throwing the ball in 2018.
Anyways, the Lions rank seventh in yards per carry (4.6) and are earning first downs on 22.1 percent of rushes (18th). They probably aren’t as good as their YPC suggests—they’d need to maintain that number over more rushing attempts. They have run the ball the sixth-fewest times in the NFL. However, this is clearly a huge difference from their horrible run offense last year.
Remember earlier in the week when I asked if the Packers had a defense? Well, that apparently doesn’t include a run defense. While they haven’t allowed a ton of rushing yards, they’ve been extremely inefficient against the carries they have faced.
They’re allowing 4.5 yards per carry (22nd) despite facing two of the worst rushing attacks in the league in Minnesota and Buffalo. They’re also allowing first downs on 21.9 percent of rushes (12th). This isn’t an awful run defense, but there’s clearly some vulnerability here.
Key matchup: Kenny Wiggins vs. the curse of Lions backup OL. It was only a matter of time before the Lions were hit with some offensive line injuries, and that has really hurt the Lions in the past. Wiggins already started a game this year in replacement for Lang, and things went moderately well for the Lions rushing attack. Johnson and Blount combined for 81 yards on 16 carries (5.06 YPC) against a good 49ers defensive front.
Advantage: Lions +1.5. I’m still not a firm believer in the Lions running game, especially with Wiggins in there, but there’s a clear potential here for the Lions to win the matchup. The Packers’ interior defensive line is quite scary, but if Detroit can get some push on the edges, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kerryon break a big run or two.
Packers pass offense (17th) vs. Lions pass defense (28th)
This is not the kind of chart we’re used to seeing out of Aaron Rodgers. The only man in NFL history who has an average passer rating over 100 for his career has only reached that mark once out of four games this season. Maybe it’s because of his depleted receiving corps, maybe it’s his knee injury, or maybe at 34 years old, the veteran quarterback is finally on the decline. Hey, we can hope.
But let’s not overreact here, this is still a pretty good Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay ranks 17th in passer rating (93.7), 19th in yards per attempt (7.2) and 23rd in completion percentage (62.8).
Wait.. what? Below average in all three efficiency stats? No wonder Rodgers is pissed off at the offense right now.
Obviously a lot of the problems have to do with the top three receivers currently dealing with injuries and Rodgers’ lack of mobility on his injured knee, but we know Rodgers is still capable of the physics-defying throws that will make your head spin.
Now to face a harsh reality. The Lions defense is really bad, and despite a promising secondary, they’ve only been able to stop one quarterback this season... who just so happens to be the greatest of all time.
Outside of that game, however, Detroit just hasn’t been able to stop teams from being crazy efficient. They’re allowing the sixth-highest passer rating (104.3), the ninth-most yards per attempt (7.9) and a completion percentage of 65.0 (16th). They’re high on sack numbers (13, fourth-most), but many of those have been of the coverage sack variety.
Key matchup: Ezekiel Ansah vs. the injury list. The Lions are going to need to keep Aaron Rodgers in the pocket this game, and they’re going to need some consistent pressure. While the Lions secondary isn’t bad, they look that way when they have to cover for over four or five seconds. Ansah is the only Lions player capable of creating constant pressure, but he’s incapable of being healthy. The Lions really need him back this week.
Advantage: Packers +1. The Lions have a chance in this matchup, especially with Green Bay’s all-rookie wide receiving corps right now. But with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and likely with a ton of time to throw, it’s only a matter of time before he starts finding some open receivers. I’m just not going to bet against Rodgers, even on one leg.
Packers run offense (9th) vs. Lions run defense (27th)
The Packers haven’t run the ball much this year. They’re only 24th in rushing attempt (91), yet they’re one of the most efficient running games in the league, averaging 4.5 yards per carry (t-eighth) and outgaining the defense’s YPC average in all four games this year.
Much like the Lions, the Packers are still trying to find out exactly how they want to utilize their backs. Jamal Williams has been getting the bulk of carries (47 of 91), but is averaging just 3.4 yards per rush. Aaron Jones, on the other hand, has a whopping 6.3 yards per carry but only 17 rushes on the year. Sound familiar?
Even with this odd distribution of carries, the Packers are earning first downs on 29.7 percent of rushes, which is third-best in the league, tied with the Cowboys.
The Lions run defense has been absolutely atrocious through four games, with just downright embarrassing performances against the Jets, 49ers and Cowboys. Granted, there was one positive performance in there against the Patriots, but the other games weren’t just bad, they were awful.
Detroit is now ceding 5.3 yards per carry (30th), first downs on 25.4 percent of carries (21st), and has allowed the most 20+ (5) and 40+ (3) yard carries.
There’s breakdowns happening everywhere: On a schematic level, on a fundamental level, on the defensive line, at linebacker depth. It’s just hard to see this defense turning things around overnight with how pervasive the problems appears to be.
Key matchup: Lions DTs vs. irrelevancy. Ricky Jean Francois and Sylvester Williams must be magicians, because their disappearing act over the first quarter of the season is seriously impressive. Granted, most of the time, they’re expected to just occupy space and double teams, but the two haven’t even managed to do that well, and it’s been the main source of frustration in the running game. A’Shawn Robinson and Da’Shawn Hand are outplaying both handily at this point.
Advantage: Packers +2. The only reason I’m not giving Green Bay a higher advantage here is simply because they don’t seem to run the ball that often despite being good at it. Obviously, if the Packers coaches have been paying any attention at all, they’ll change that game plan this week, but we’ve seen Green Bay make some odd choices before. Regardless, I’m still expecting numbers well above 100 yards rushing and at least 4.5 YPC.
Last week’s prediction:
As the sample sizes get bigger, these previews are theoretically supposed to get more accurate, and that’s exactly what happened last week. My 19-16 Cowboys prediction was pretty darn close to the 26-24 final score. However, I was bested by Smurph0404 with his impressive 27-23 prediction. This is now Smurph’s second win already in four weeks.
Quandre Diggs dropped a strange reference when talking with the media this week about his status for this week’s game given his hand injury:
“I’m going to ask Miss Cleo,” he said.
If you don’t know Miss Cleo, she was a call-in psychic who gained popularity because of her outrageous infomercials. Sadly, Miss Cleo passed away some years ago. But it’s okay, Quandre. You can ask the newest, hottest fortune teller out there: Smurph0404:
This week’s prediction:
The Packers have a tiny +0.5 advantage. I know many are puzzled that the 1-3 Lions are considered just a one-point underdog, or, in some cases, even a slight favorite. This is preview bears out why. The Packers just aren’t as good as they usually are with Aaron Rodgers, and there is definitely room for an upset here, especially with the Lions at home.
Unfortunately, I am bound by On Paper Law to not go against the numbers here, but let me just say that a Lions win here would not be surprising at all to me. Still, I have to go with the Packers: 27-26 Green Bay.