The Detroit Lions and Washington may not be playing for much on Sunday. At 3-6-1 and 1-9 respectively, playoff hopes are all but a hopeless dream at this point.
So it feels a little weird doing my normal 2,000-word preview on a game many will be ignoring this Sunday, especially when the NFL schedule has so much more to offer this week.
To placate those that are still interested in this column, it will obviously still continue through the end of the season, but for my own sanity, it will be a little more brief than normal.
Anyways, prelude now out of the way, here’s my Detroit vs. Washington preview.
Lions pass offense (6th in DVOA) vs. Washington pass defense (26th)
Though the offense is obviously less explosive and dynamic with Jeff Driskel at quarterback, last week’s game against the Dallas Cowboys was a huge step in the right direction for the backup quarterback. He led the Lions on four touchdown drives, including a 2-for-2 outing in the red zone.
While some of that has to do with the improved running game last week, Driskel, with a full week of preparation, looked comfortable in Darrell Bevell’s offense. Still, there’s a pretty drastic difference between him and Matthew Stafford:
Stafford (8 games): 64.3 completion %, 8.6 Y/A, 106.0 passer rating
Driskel (2 games): 58.3 completion %, 6.6 Y/A, 86.5 passer rating
But if you throw out the Chicago game, which was a hastily thrown together game plan for Driskel, his numbers last week are pretty close to Stafford’s averages.
57.7 completion %, 8.0 Y/A, 109.3 passer rating.
One potential big factor this week, however, is starting center Frank Ragnow likely out this week.
Washington’s pass defense has been one of their biggest disappointments this year. With guys like Josh Norman and Landon Collins running the back end, their statistical output is remarkably bad.
Washington ranks 26th in passer rating allowed (102.8), t-24th in yards per attempt (7.9) and dead last in completion percentage allowed (71.4). To give you a sense of how bad that is, those marks are all worse than the Lions pass defense right now.
That being said, their disruption numbers are solid. They have nine interceptions on the year (t-seventh) but only 23 sacks (t-24th).
Player to watch: Matt Ioannidis. Washington’s defensive tackle has quietly been one of the most dominant interior pass rushers in the league. Last year, he had 7.5 sacks, and he already has 4.5 sacks this season. Up against a patchwork Lions offensive line, and that could be a mismatch this week.
Advantage: Lions +1. If Stafford was in, this would be a pretty huge mismatch, but with a hindered offensive line and a backup quarterback who is far from perfect, it mitigates the damage for Washington here. It’s hard to have a ton of confidence in Driskel right now, but he’s shown enough to keep his head above water and make some plays.
Lions run offense (28th) vs. Washington run defense (21st)
The Lions running game has made a bit of a resurgence in the past three weeks. They’re still far from good on the ground, but they’re creeping their way towards average, which is a pretty significant step for them.
Jeff Driskel certainly brings a new dimension, as he’s had 88 yards in his first two starts. Bo Scarbrough had a very promising NFL debut last week, rushing for 55 yards on 14 carries and one of the Lions’ four rushing touchdowns on the season.
It’s an incredibly small sample size, but over the past two weeks, the Lions have the ninth-most rushing yards (219), the 16th best yards per carry (3.98) and tied for the seventh-most rushing TDs (two). Baby steps.
Washington has been better as of late, but not by a ton. They’ve given up at least 100 rushing yards in eight of 10 games, including all of the last four. That being said, they’ve only given up over 4.0 yards per carry in four games.
Overall, Washington is allowed just 4.1 yards per carry (t-11th), but giving up t-17th in percentage of rushes earning first downs (23.2).
Player to watch: Ryan Kerrigan. The four-time Pro Bowler is still playing at a high level and leads the team with 7.5 tackles for loss.
Advantage: Draw. With the Lions’ new dynamic rushing attack with Driskel, it may take teams a couple of weeks to adjust. It makes Detroit unpredictable, and with them going up against a pretty average run defense, I can see this matchup going either way.
Washington pass offense (31st) vs. Lions pass defense (24th)
After a hot start from Case Keenum, it’s slowly been a disaster for Washington’s passing offense. While they’ve had to endure some games against the best passing defenses this league has to offer (Patriots, 49ers, Bills), they’ve also looked downright awful against teams like the Jets and Giants. So while they have more green boxes than you’d think, it’s not like they deserve a ton of credit for their 50 net yard passing performance against the 49ers, just because Keenum didn’t throw an interception in his 12 passing attempts.
The truth is, this team hasn’t had over 200 net passing yards since Week 3. That’s downright baffling in today’s NFL era.
In four game appearances (two starts), rookie Dwayne Haskins has completed 58.2 percent (if qualified, that would rank last—34th) of his passes for 6.3 yards per attempt (t-32nd), two touchdowns and five interceptions for a passer rating of 58.9 (last). He’s also been sacked 10 times in the last two games, so some blame falls on the offensive line.
Ever since the Lions got Illegal Hands to the Face’d to death in Green Bay, the secondary has fallen apart. No quarterback too Mitchell Trubisky has failed against this pass defense, and it’s been downright embarrassing.
- 125.5 passer rating allowed (32nd)
- 1,485 passing yards allowed (31st)
- 16 passing touchdowns allowed (32nd)
- 0 interceptions (32nd)
- 8.5 yards per attempt allowed (32nd)
So, it’s pretty bad.
Player to watch: Austin Bryant. The Lions’ fourth-round pick will make his rookie debut on Sunday, and he’ll likely get a good chunk of playing time with Trey Flowers not expected to play this week. Detroit may be relying heavily on the former Clemson Tiger to provide an anemic pass rush that will be missing their most efficient rusher in Flowers.
Advantage: Push. This is the least compelling matchup we’ll see all year. If you’re a fan of natural disasters, car crashes or those gross time-lapse videos of insects devouring a rabbit corpse, maybe you’ll enjoy this. Otherwise, look away. One of these units will likely leave Sunday with a false sense of confidence, but your guess is as good as mine as to which one it is.
Washington run offense (31st) vs. Lions run defense (18th)
It would be one thing if Washington didn’t have a ton of rushing yards this year. That’d be expected since they’ve been playing from behind in most games. However, their efficiency numbers are just as bad. They’ve managed over 4.0 yards per carry in just four of 10 games, and have averaged under 3.5 YPC in five.
Still, they’re trending in the right direction and this week, they may get running back Chris Thompson back, who hasn’t played since early October. Adrian Peterson, however, may sit, as he’s missed the first two practices of the week.
Washington ranks t-19th in YPC (4.2) but is only gaining first downs on 17.0 percent of rushes (31st). They have just four rushes of 20+ yards (t-22nd) and one of 40+ yards (t-12th).
The Lions run defense may finally have their mojo back. Outside of a dominance performance by the Raiders offensive line, Detroit has held three of their last four opponents below 3.5 YPC and under 90 rushing yards—all at or below their season averages.
Overall, the stats are still just mediocre. They’re ceding 4.5 yards per carry (t-21st), but only allowing 21.7 percent of rushes to earn first downs (12th).
Player to watch: Jarrad Davis. After an ugly start to the season, Davis has been downright dominant in stopping the run over the past two weeks:
LB Jarrad Davis has had the best 2-game stretch of his career in Weeks 10-11 of 2019— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) November 18, 2019
Davis has earned an 89.7 overall, led by a strong presence in run defense. His 94.4 run defense grade is the best in the NFL in that span #OnePride
Advantage: Lions +1. I don’t have a ton of confidence here. Both teams are trending in the right direction, and it’s hard to get a read on Washington considering the injury situations. Still, if there’s one thing this Lions defense has done well lately, it’s stopping the run, and Washington is just not very good at it, even with a talented backfield.
Last week’s prediction:
Last week, I underestimated Driskel and the Lions offense, expecting them to sputter. Credit to Darrell Bevell for creating a game plan that allowed Detroit to keep pace with Dallas for much of the game and put up four touchdowns. However, I pretty much nailed everything else, and my 31-17 prediction doesn’t look too bad.
Staff9MVP came out on top in the comment section with his impressive 35-24 prediction, just three points off the actual score. For him, I just wanted his dreams to come true. So here, Staff9MVP, take a trip into this alternate reality in which your username is fact:
This week’s prediction:
The Lions have a +2 advantage, but you can see just how unconfident I am in really each matchup. It’s weakness vs. weakness in nearly every single aspect of this game. That being said, the Lions are just a better overall team, even if they’re both underperforming and incredibly beat up at important positions.
It’ll be way too close for comfort, but the Lions should still win. 27-21 Lions.