It’s Week 14, and I’m guessing most Detroit Lions fans didn’t expect to be here. The Lions and Cardinals are facing off in what will likely be one of the most least-watched games of the week. It appears FOX knew this ahead of time and is making the game available to the fewest amount of people possible:
But whether people are watching or reading is irrelevant to me. I have a duty to preview these games the only way I know how. Here’s On Paper: Lions vs. Cardinals.
Lions pass offense (25th) vs. Cardinals pass defense (9th)
I fear that by the end of the year, there will be a clear BTT and ATT line in the chart: Before Tate Trade and After Tate Trade.
Tate was traded after the Seahawks game and the Lions have not outgained an opponent’s passer rating allowed average since. This is one of the worst stretches of Matthew Stafford’s career, and it came off the heels of his career-long, five-game streak of 100 passer rating weeks.
Overall, this pass offense is just a disaster right now. They rank just 24th in yards per attempt (7.0), 23rd in passer rating (88.2) and 19th in completion percentage (65.9). They’ve allowed the 10th-most sacks, and Stafford is tied for the fifth-most interceptions in the NFL.
The Cardinals pass defense has been streaky. After a rough start against Washington, Arizona looked like their defense of old, holding five straight opponents below their passer rating average. However, as the team struggled to find a cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson, everything seemed to collapse. They aren’t giving up a lot of yardage (we’ll see why in a minute), but quarterbacks have been pretty darn efficient against this defense as of late—outside of Aaron Rodgers’ bad day last week.
The Cardinals rank 22nd in passer rating allowed (96.8), 10th in yards per attempt (7.2) and 27th in completion percentage (68.2). Due to a strong safety crew, the Cardinals don’t give up a lot of big plays. They’ve allowed just 30 plays of 20+ yards (second fewest) and only five of 40+ yards (fifth fewest). And while they don’t tally many interceptions (six, 26th), they do get to the quarterback often. Their 38 total sacks are the third most in the NFL.
Player to watch: Chandler Jones. The Cardinals edge rusher leads the team with 12.0 sacks and also has a the fourth most pass breakups on the team (4). Last year’s All Pro is making another case for some postseason honors.
Advantage: Cardinals +1.5. Arizona’s defense isn’t great, but they still have some playmakers that could give the Lions trouble. Detroit’s pass offense has shown no sign of life over the past three or four weeks, and while part of that has to do with a pretty strong set of defenses faced in November, the Lions haven’t done much of anything to help themselves. A lot of the Lions’ breakdowns have been over poor pass protection, and the Cardinals can, unfortunately, bring the heat.
Lions run offense (20th) vs. Cardinals run defense (21st)
The Lions’ rushing attack has been wildly inconsistent all year, and while it seems a lot better than last year, the overall results are still quite underwhelming. They’ve only outgained opponent’s YPC allowed averages in four of 12 games this year, and they’ve only eclipsed 100 yards as a team in four contest.
Losing Kerryon Johnson to injury in the Panthers game certainly hasn’t helped, yet the Lions’ running game hasn’t exactly suffered in his absence. LeGarrette Blount has played well over the past two weeks, as the Lions reached that century mark in back-to-back games for the first time this year.
Detroit’s overall stats are just mediocre: t-18th in yards per carry (4.3) and 17th in percentage of rushes that earn a first down (23.4).
They’ll almost certainly be without Johnson again this week, but the step down to Blount hasn’t been as severe as expected.
It’s clear from this chart what many teams’ gameplan has been against this Cardinals defense: RUN THE BALL. Every single opponent has rushed for at least 90 yards against Arizona, and nine of 12 opponent have hit at least 4.0 yards per carry. That being said, the Cardinals have still held about half of their opponents below their YPC average (five of 12).
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Cardinals have faced the most rushing attempts in the league. Part of that is likely because their opponents are playing with leads most of the game, but it’s also clear Arizona is a bit vulnerable here. They’re allowing 4.5 yards per carry on the season (t-16th) and 26.0 percent of rushes against them are earning first downs (t-23rd). While they haven’t given up a 40-yard rush yet, they’re oddly allowing the third-most 20-yard rushes in the league (15). In other words, running backs can get to the second level of this defense consistently, but the defensive backs are doing a good job keeping bad plays from turning into disaster plays.
Player to watch: Rodney Gunter. You may not have heard of the Cardinals defensive tackle, but he’s been one of the better run stuffers on the team. He leads all Cardinals defensive linemen with eight tackles for loss and his above-average PFF grade of 72.4 ranks 46th among interior defenders.
Advantage: Lions +1. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how good the Lions’ rushing offense has looked without Kerryon Johnson. Blount doesn’t provide the same explosive threat, but he has proven to be surprisingly shifty when getting the bulk of the carries.
I don’t expect a huge game from the Lions rushing attack, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them hit the 100-yard mark for the third straight game.
Cardinals pass offense (31st) vs. Lions pass defense (30th)
This, my friends, is as close to a perfectly awful chart you can get. If it weren’t for those pesky 49ers—who ruin everything—the Cardinals would have had the first all red chart this season—and the first all-red chart this late in the season in quite some time. Things got mildly better when Josh Rosen took over in Week 4, but it’s clear things are not even close to good right now. They haven’t even had a single game with a passer rating over 90.
Here’s how ugly it is statistically. The Cardinals are:
- Dead last in yards per attempt (5.9)
- 30th in passer rating (66.9)
- 30th in completion percentage (56.1)
- 30th in touchdown passes (12)
- Fourth in interceptions (15)
- Dead last in plays of 20+ yards (27) and 28th in 40+ yard pass plays (3)
And what’s worse for Arizona is that they just lost their No. 1 receiving threat in rookie Christian Kirk, who was placed on IR this week. And their entire starting offensive line is gone to injury, meaning they’ll be starting three rookies on the line this week. Rosen hasn’t been good this year, but I can’t think of a worse situation to put a rookie quarterback in.
Speaking of bad, the Lions haven’t been able to do much of anything against the pass this year. Last week was a pleasant reprieve from the awfulness, but it’s unclear how much of that was aided by a random off-day from Jared Goff.
Regardless of the reason for Detroit’s solid defensive performance last week, it’s clear that is not the norm from this team. The Lions are allowing the second-highest passer rating (110.8), the third-highest yards per attempt (8.4) and the seventh-highest completion percentage (68.2). They have just five interceptions on the year (t-30th), but 34 sacks (t-10th).
Player to watch: Korey Cunningham. With left tackle D.J. Humphries officially on IR, Cunningham—a seventh-round rookie—is the man in charge for protecting Rosen’s blind side. Ezekiel Ansah (provided he plays) could be in for a big day against the rookie, who has a pass blocking grade of just 57.5 in three starts.
Advantage: Lions +1. While Detroit’s Week 1 performance against rookie quarterback Sam Darnold gives me pause here, the Lions’ defense has been better as of late. And while the Jets passing offense turned out to be pretty bad this year, it’s not as bad as the Cardinals. I can’t imagine a worse passing offense than this right now (wait until next week, Jeremy), and if the Lions can’t take advantage of that, then they are the worst pass defense this team has fielded since 2008.
Cardinals run offense (30th) vs. Lions run defense (23rd)
Poor David Johnson.
If this year has taught us anything, it’s that good players still need good environments to thrive. With a depleted offensive line and an uninspiring offense, Johnson’s return from his devastating injury last year has been a huge disappointment.
Johnson has 761 yards rushing, but is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry, far below the average from his rookie season (4.6).
Overall, Arizona ranks last in yards per carry (3.8), 24th in percentage of rushes earning first downs (21.5), and they only have five rushes of 20+ yards on the season (t-29th).
Johnson is still an extremely talented back, but his time is being wasted right now in Arizona.
Detroit’s much-improved run defense suffered a minor setback last week against Todd Gurley and the Rams. Though it was an odd day for Detroit’s defense. They were dominant in the first and third quarters, but the Rams wore them down in the second quarter of each half:
Mildly interesting but probably meaningless.— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) December 6, 2018
Todd Gurley vs. #Lions
1st & 3rd quarter: 10 carries, 26 yards (2.6 YPC)
2nd & 4th quarter: 13 carries, 106 yards (8.2 YPC)
Anyways, the Lions run defense is still pretty darn impressive, and as long as they stop the other team from hitting a home run on the ground (they’ve allowed the second-most 40+ yard runs), it’s fair to consider this one of the best run defense over the past month.
Taking the whole year into consideration, however, they still rank just t-21st in YPC allowed (4.7), but are 12th in percentage of first-down rushes (23.0).
Player to watch: Damon Harrison Sr. The acquisition of “Snacks” will go down as one of Bob Quinn’s most savvy moves in his entire career. It’s completely transformed the Lions’ run defense and that should continue this week. Against rookie center Ben Mason and a couple of backup guards, Harrison should EAT this week.
Advantage: Lions +2.5. Johnson’s talent is enough for me to have a little pause here, but everything else points to domination from the Lions in this matchup. Detroit’s one vulnerability is their propensity for allowing an explosion play—typically due to poor linebacker play. However, because the Cardinals themselves don’t seem like a particular threat for big plays, I can say with strong confidence that the Lions should win this particular matchup.
Last week’s prediction:
On Paper has finally moved to .500 after correctly predicting another Lions loss last week. My score prediction of 38-17 was pretty close to the 30-16 final. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong about the Rams’ passing offense performance in that game. The way Detroit defended Jared Goff may go down as one of the most improbable performances in On Paper history.
In the comment section, DLions4Eva came closest to the actual score with their 27-17 prediction. Kudos for foreseeing the Rams being held to such a low score. Here is your prize.
Taylor Decker described his regrettable throw into the stands as a “duck.” But a closer look at the tape suggests he wasn’t exaggerating, he was being quite literal. Check it out:
This week’s prediction;
The Lions come out with a pretty significant +4 advantage. There is no excuse this week. The Lions are a better team than the Cardinals... and they should be. They’re not a team in complete rebuild like the Cardinals, and despite losing five of their past six, they’re arguably playing a lot better than they did in the first month of the season—at least defensively.
This is going to be an ugly, low-scoring game that is going to be endlessly frustrating for both fanbases, but Detroit should get their first win in Arizona since 1993. Lions 23, Cardinals 16.