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Detroit Lions vs. Oakland Raiders preview, prediction: On Paper

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A statistical breakdown and preview of the Lions’ Week 9 matchup.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Detroit Lions Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions are teams that hold a lot of similarities. Both are clinging to playoff chances sitting around .500 after the first two months of the season. Both teams have quarterbacks that could be in the MVP discussion, if only their teams were a little more competitive. And both have struggling defenses that have turned many of their games into shootouts.

This week could be the turning point of either team. A Week 9 win either gives the Lions a winning streak going into a big game against the Chicago Bears or breaks the Raiders’ losing streak and potentially brings them within a game of first place in the struggling AFC West.

So who has the advantage this week? Let’s look at the game On Paper.

Lions pass offense (5th in DVOA) vs. Raiders pass defense (29th)

You wouldn’t exactly know it from the chart, but Matthew Stafford is having a career year. At first, he was helped by facing some shoddy pass defenses early in the year, but he’s now faced a handful of good defenses and has vanquished them all.

In terms of career numbers, Stafford’s 2019 is on pace to set records in touchdown percentage (6.4), yards per attempt (8.4), passer rating (105.3) and interception percentage (1.6*)

*Technically his INT% was lower in 2010, but he only played three games that year

As far as the Lions offense relates to the rest of the league, Detroit ranks fifth in passer rating (105.3), fifth in yards per attempt (8.4) and 15th in completion percentage (64.4). Stafford has thrown 16 touchdowns (t-fourth) and just four interceptions (t-seventh fewest).

The name of the game for the Lions pass offense is big plays. They’ve completed 33 passing plays of 20+ yards (t-fifth) and six of 40+ yards (t-seventh). That’s going to come in handy this week...

The Raiders pass defense is atrocious, and there are a couple of reasons for it. First, they’ve faced a ton of great passing offenses in the Chiefs, Vikings, Packers and Texans. However, they’ve looked equally poor against not-so-great passing offenses, including a Broncos team and a Chase Daniel-led Bears offense.

Another big issues has been their lack of pass rush. Oakland has just 13 sacks on the year (t-25th). Their pass rush win rate ranks them 29th in the entire NFL.

However, injuries and poor play in the defensive backfield have been just as big of a problem. Big free agent signing Lamarcus Joyner has been awful as the team’s nickelback and they just traded away another starter in Gareon Conley.

Put it all together, and this is what you have: A Raiders defense that ranks 29th in passer rating allowed (115.5), 29th in yards per attempt (8.6) and t-24th in completion percentage (67.8).

And remember those big plays? Well, the Raiders give up a ton of them. 35 plays of 20+ yards (t-29th) and nine of 40+ yards (t-last).

Player to watch: Kenny Golladay. The Raiders have no true No. 1 lockdown cornerback, and teams’ number one receivers have been just dominating the Raiders over the past few games:

  • DeAndre Hopkins: 11 catches, 109 yards
  • Marquez Valdes-Scantling: 2 catches, 133 yards, 1 TD
  • Allen Robinson II: 7 catches, 97 yards, 2 TDs

Time for Golladay to eat again.

Advantage: Lions +4. This is just about as big of a mismatch as you’ll see in the NFL. Stafford is rolling and the Raiders can’t seem to stop the bleeding defensively. The only thing that gives even a little pause in this matchup is Detroit’s ability to protect Stafford, which has been inconsistent but better this year. Fortunately, the Raiders don’t have much of a pass rush this year. So unless something drastically changes about these teams this week, expect big numbers from Stafford.

Lions run offense (29th) vs. Raiders run defense (9th)

The Lions rushing attack has been officially declared dead. There will be no Halloween rising of the dead or magical running back to come out of the trade deadline to resurrect this unit. They’re bad against good run defenses. They’re bad against bad defenses, and with Kerryon Johnson out until the season is essentially over, there seems to be little hope of this changing.

As if the chart above wasn’t red enough to get the point across, Detroit currently ranks t-26th in yards per attempt (3.6) and 30th in percent of rushes that earn first downs (16.5).

Meanwhile, the only thing the Raiders seem to do well defensively is stop the run. They’ve only allowed over 100 yards twice this year, and in one of those games (Texans), they were still able to hold the opposing offense below their rushing averages. In just about half their games, they’ve held the opponent below 3.0 yards per carry and under 70 rushing yards.

As a team, they’re allowing just 3.7 yards per rush (t-fifth) and only 18.5 percent of rushes against this defense are earning first downs (sixth).

Player to watch: Johnathan Hankins. The Michigan native is easily the Raiders’ best defensive player this year. Here’s an idea of what he can do:

Advantage: Raiders +2.5. I have no idea how you can look at this matchup and expect the Lions to do anything on the ground. They’ll have to get creative and run some misdirection plays, because they will simply get dominated if they try to run the ball straight at them. The good news here—and the reason the advantage is only 2.5—is that the Lions offense seems to get along fairly well without a running game.

Raiders pass offense (6th) vs. Lions pass defense (22nd)

Derek Carr, much like Stafford, is on the verge of a career year. Yes, even compared to the year in which he finished third in MVP voting. He currently has career highs in completion percentage (72.1), yards per attempt (7.7), and passer rating (103.6).

Perhaps the most striking thing about his season is that he’s doing it without a true No. 1 wide receiver. Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow and Trevor Davis aren’t exactly a murderer’s row of receivers.

Of course, that ignores Carr’s favorite target, tight end Darren Waller, but we’ll get to him in a minute.

Overall, the Raiders rank sixth in passer rating (105.1), 11th in yards per attempt (7.8) and t-first in completion percentage (72.1). They don’t exactly challenge defenses deep—they have just 20 plays of 20+ yards (25th) and four of 40+ (t-16th)—but they take what they can get and do it extremely efficiently. They also don’t give up many sacks behind an impressive offensive line. They’ve allowed just eight sacks all season (second best).

What looked to be an extremely promising pass defense has flailed the last two weeks. Against the Giants, they were missing Darius Slay, but it’s not like New York has a star-studded cast of receivers. Against the Vikings, they were simply play-actioned to death and had no answer for the Vikings receivers.

Overall, the numbers are still at least a little promising. Detroit is 21st in passer rating allowed (95.4), 16th in yards per attempt (7.5) and t-fourth in completion percentage (59.9).

The Lions have been particularly hurt by the deep ball. They’ve allowed 31 pass plays of 20+ yards (t-seventh most) and six of 40+ yards (t-eighth most). And like the Raiders, they can’t seem to get much pressure on opposing quarterbacks (13 sacks, t-25th).

Player to watch: Darren Waller. Waller has been one of the best tight ends in the country, and it’s not exactly clear how the Lions plan to stop him. Using 6-foot-2 Tracy Walker would have been a solid strategy, but the second-year safety hasn’t practiced yet this week, and that likely means he’s out.

Advantage: Raiders +2. The Raiders have the clear advantage here, but there is some hope for Detroit. The return of Da’Shawn Hand last week seemed to help Detroit find some pass rush again. Additionally, where the Lions are traditionally beat (deep), the Raiders don’t really have a big threat. Still, the Lions linebackers have been horrible in coverage all year, and that’s where the Raiders can kill them.

Raiders run offense (9th) vs. Lions run defense (19th)

Rookie running back Josh Jacobs has this Raiders offense extremely balanced and looking mean like the days of old. His powerful running style and ability to break tackles makes him a threat any time he touches the ball.

As a team, the Raiders are averaging 4.8 yards per carry (t-eighth) and are earning first downs on 25.5 percent of rushes (ninth). They aren’t afraid to break out a huge run, either. They have six rushes of 20+ yards (t-seventh) and three of 40+ yards (t-third).

No matter how you slice it, this is a top-10 rushing attack.

There may be hope for this unit yet. The Lions run defense finally had a performance nostalgic of last year’s finish, holding the Giants and Saquon Barkley to well under their season averages on the ground. Was it the return of Da’Shawn Hand? Was it Damon Harrison Sr. finally returning to form? Was it the linebackers? Hahahaha, no, it wasn’t them.

It’s a step in the right direction, sure, but at this point it would be wise to treat it as an outlier. If the Lions can string together solid performances this week and next, I’ll start to consider Detroit’s run defense “fixed,” but for now, this is merely one data point among many.

Player to watch: Harrison and Hand vs. Whoever the Raiders center is. The Raiders will almost certainly be without their star center Rodney Hudson, and his backup Andre James has missed both practices this week, too. Though there’s optimism they’ll both return to practice sooner rather than later, it’s possible neither plays and it’s certain neither will be 100 percent. This could be a matchup Detroit could exploit.

Advantage: Raiders +1.5. The injury situation in Oakland plus Detroit’s resurgence last week gives me a little pause here, but the overwhelming amount of evidence seems to point in the Raiders’ direction in this matchup. The Lions haven’t exactly been the most sound tackling team, and that’s not great news against Josh Jacobs. Though Jacobs is working through an injury of his own, he should still be capable of a big game this week.

Last week’s prediction:

On Paper finally moved above .500 last week with a fantastic prediction. I predicted 30-27, the final score was 31-26. Of course, there were certain things I missed, though. I did not expect the Lions’ pass defense to struggle as much as they did against Daniel Jones. The Lions slowing Saquon Barkley in the running game was a pleasant surprise, too.

In the comment section, no one bested by 31-26 prediction, so I WIN! And when I win, I congratulate myself by not wasting 50 minutes thinking of a photoshop idea and five minutes creating it. YAY, ME!

This week’s prediction

Overall, Oakland comes out with a fairly big +2 advantage. Perhaps more importantly, they hold the advantage in three of four matchups. Really, the only thing this team does poorly is defend the pass.

Now, it’s true that that works directly in the Lions’ favor. Matthew Stafford has carried Detroit to several wins this year pretty much all on his own (see: last week), and he’s certainly capable of doing it again against the Raiders. But here’s what gives me the most pause: The Raiders offense is extremely well-balanced. The last time Detroit faced an offense that was humming along like that was the Vikings... and we all remember what happened in that game.

This should be a closer game than that one—simply because of how bad this Raiders defense is—but I can’t in good faith pick the Lions against an underrated Raiders team. Raiders 31, Lions 30.