The Detroit Lions will close out their extremely disappointing 2019 season on Sunday with yet another finale against the Green Bay Packers. The Lions will be playing for a top-three pick in the NFL Draft, while the Packers will be playing for a top-two seed in the NFC playoffs.
Their situations are on the opposite ends of the spectrum, but are the teams truly that mismatched? Let’s take a look at the matchup in our 2019 On Paper season finale.
Lions pass offense (15th by DVOA) vs. Packers pass defense (11th)
For years, Lions fans have wondered how much of an impact Matthew Stafford makes. For the fans that wanted him gone, the others pleaded their case that this team would be much, much worse without him.
That all remained theoretical... until now.
Prior to Matthew Stafford’s injury, the Lions were 3-4-1 and had one of the best passing attacks in the league. Since his injury, the Lions are 0-7 and have failed to surpass the defense’s passer rating average in all but one game. Stafford only had a passer rating below 90 twice all season. Jeff Driskel and David Blough have bested 90 just once—combined.
There are certainly other factors involved. The Lions also lost Marvin Jones Jr. two weeks ago and they’ve been running the ball better, but quarterback play sank this unit to one of the worst. How bad? Take a look at the Lions’ stats since Week 10 (Stafford’s first missed game).
Passer rating: 71.5 (29th)
Completion percentage: 57.6 (28th)
INTs: 9 (27th)
Net yards/Attempt: 5.1 (31st)
Yeah, it’s bad.
Though they struggled in the middle of the season, the Packers pass defense started the season strong and appear to be finishing even stronger. They haven’t played great passing offenses over the past month, but they’ve absolutely dominated every one they faced—including last week’s fantastic performance against Kirk Cousins and the Vikings on their home turf.
Overall, the Packers rank seventh in passer rating allowed (82.6), t-21st in yards per attempt (7.5) and fourth in completion percentage (60.7). They tend to give up too many big plays (14 plays of 40+ yards, tied for third most), but otherwise, they do a nice job.
Of course, their biggest threat is their pass rush. Za’Darius Smith (13.5 sacks) and Preston Smith (12) have proven to be excellent free agent signings. The Packers rank 10th overall in pass rush win rate, and as a team they have 40 sacks (13th).
Player to watch: Za’Darius Smith. David Blough is taking way too many sacks (13 in four games). While the offensive line is playing pretty well right now (and could be fully healthy this week), the Smiths will take advantage of Blough holding the ball too long.
Advantage: Packers +3. Yeah, I don’t see any scenario in which the Lions win this matchup. They’d have to connect on a ton of trick plays.
Lions run offense (27th) vs. Packers run defense (22nd)
The Lions’ run game resurgence has been halted as of late. Perhaps teams are more focused on stopping Detroit’s running game knowing that Blough can’t beat them through the air. Perhaps the midseason resurgence was just a mirage.
The return of Kerryon Johnson helped a bit last week, as both he and Bo Scarbrough averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry. But the Broncos didn’t have a great run defense to begin with, and it’s hard to get too excited about a 96-yard performance.
Detroit ranks t-22nd in yards per carry (3.9) and earns first downs on just 19.1 percent of carries (t-29th).
The Packers run defense hasn’t been very good all year, but they’ve been better as of late. It’s hard to gauge last week’s performance against the Vikings because Dalvin Cook did not play for the Vikings. This is still a pretty bad run defense overall, despite talent like Kenny Clark clogging up the middle of the front.
Player to watch: Kerryon Johnson. The Lions took Johnson along slowly last week, but with one game left in the season, they may be more inclined to make him the true starter this week. He was decent at Denver, but we’ve yet to see him break out the big play we know he’s capable of.
Advantage: Draw. If there’s a big weakness to this Packers team, it’s their run defense. The Lions are a team that could manage to run efficiently, but not one that could dominate the game on the ground; they’ve only rushed for over 150 yards twice all season.
Packers pass offense (11th) vs. Lions pass defense (29th)
This isn’t your typical Aaron Rodgers On Paper chart. It’s usually something more like this. Rodgers isn’t playing his best football right now, and the Packers have a newfound focus on their running game. Just look at his numbers this year compared to his average.
2005-18 averages: 64.8 completion%, 7.8 Y/A, 260.3 yards per game, 103.1 passer rating
2019 averages: 63.4 completion%, 7.2 Y/A, 245.3 yards per game, 97.9 passer rating
He hasn’t had help from a limited receiving corps, but he is starting to develop chemistry with some players.
Yep, still very very very bad.
Player to watch: Allen Lazard. While Darius Slay vs. Davante Adams will provide the most entertainment, Lazard could be a sneaky threat for the Packers. The second-year player is starting to develop chemistry with Rodgers, and he had his breakout game against the Lions last time the two teams met (five catches, 65 yards, 1 TD)
Advantage: Packers +2. For the first time in On Paper history, the advantage here has more to do with Detroit than it does the Packers. Aaron Rodgers has been mortal this year, but the Lions have been excruciatingly bad in defending the pass this year. The Lions have gameplanned well against Rodgers lately, but the team hasn’t been this bad defensively since 2008.
Packers run offense (3rd) vs. Lions run defense (19th)
Whereas Kerryon Johnson hasn’t built upon a promising rookie season, Aaron Jones absolutely has. Jones is on the precipice of surpassing 1,000 yards this week, and he’s gaining an impressive 4.7 yards per carry after averaging 5.5 last year. That may seem like a huge downgrade, but that 2018 level of efficiency was going to be impossible to maintain in his second year. As of now, he still ranks 13th in yards per carry.
While the charts don’t suggest that this unit ought to rank third overall, they certainly are trending in that direction with huge games in the second half of the season. Since Week 10, the Packers rank fifth in yards per carry (4.5) and sixth in rushing yards per game (136.2).
Overall, though, they only rank 14th in yards per carry (4.4) and t-19th in percentage of rushes earning first downs (22.0).
The Lions run defense has been phenomenal as of late, but last week, they took a big step back. Part of it likely has to do with Detroit’s decimated linebacking corps. In the past month, they’ve sent Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones and Jahlani Tavai to injured reserve. This week, they may be missing another potential starter in Steve Longa, who is dealing with a quad injury.
Overall, though, Detroit’s run defense has been good. Damon Harrison Sr. is playing like he used to, and Detroit’s tackling has been fairly good.
Player to watch: Lions LB corps. If Longa can’t go, here’s who will likely be starting for Detroit this week. Devon Kennard, Jalen Reeves-Maybin (2 career starts) and Jason Cabinda (3 career starts). Detroit does not currently have any reserves, but they’re likely to promote undrafted rookie Anthony Pittman to the 53-man roster this week. Yikes.
Advantage: Packers +2. Aaron Jones is a beast, and with the Lions missing half their starters on defense, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jones break out for a couple of long runs.
Last week’s prediction:
I nearly nailed my Lions-Broncos prediction at 24-17. The final score was 27-17. However, I was way off on my prediction of the Lions run defense, which had an uncharacteristically horrible game.
In the comment section, I was bested by two who nailed the score exactly: AlaskaLion and Pride of Detroit staffer Levi Blue. It is POD tradition to give staffers priority on the photoshop prize, and this week Levi wanted—and I quote— “Macho man elbow drop” and when I asked who he should be elbow dropping, “the first person that comes to mind is Tekashi 69.”
After googling who that was, I was more than happy to oblige:
Before I get into this week’s prediction, let me address something hanging over this website heading into 2020. As some of you may have heard, SB Nation is laying off hundreds of employees because new California labor laws put caps on the number of published contributions a freelance journalist can submit per year.
That, unfortunately, has affected two of our employees: Levi Blue and Chris Perfett. We’ll talk more about Chris later, but for now, let me speak about Levi.
You may not recognize his name, but Levi Blue has been our moderator for the past year. It’s a thankless job, but it has lightened my workload considerably. He’s diligently looking over comments to make sure things don’t get out of control, and given how the season went, things certainly got out of control at times.
It’s extremely unfair that Levi was one of those affected by the California labor laws, because his job doesn’t include submitting any pieces of content towards the exception’s limit of 35. However, SB Nation’s decision unfortunately includes him. I truly appreciate the work he’s put in over the past year, and I hope he sticks around as a member of the community. He will always be welcome.
This week’s prediction:
The Packers come out with a +7 advantage, confirming that, yes, this is as lopsided of a matchup as the record suggest. Unless the Lions come out with a ton of trick plays and a gameplan we haven’t seen all year, this will get ugly. Packers 35, Lions 13.