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Detroit Lions vs. Washington Football Team preview, prediction: On Paper

A statistical breakdown of the Lions’ Week 10 matchup.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

This wasn’t where this team was supposed to be. Out of the bye week, many looked ahead on the Detroit Lions schedule and believed the team may actually be able to go on a bit of a streak. And while Detroit got off to a promising 2-0 start out of the bye, the last two weeks have been a heavy dose of reality. Not only are the Lions incapable of beating mediocre teams, they’re incapable of even competing with them.

The Washington Football Team is not a mediocre team. They are unequivocally a bad team. But they do some things well, and that’s enough to make them a threat this week against the Detroit Lions. Let’s take a closer look at this matchup, On Paper.

Lions pass offense (19th) vs. Football Team pass defense (1st)

Matthew Stafford’s replacement-level play continues. He’s only surpassed a 100 passer rating twice this year, despite facing four different defenses that are allowing an average passer rating over 100. Stafford certainly hasn’t been helped by conservative game plans, a record-high amount of drops, and the lack of Kenny Golladay for half the season, but Stafford still carries the bulk of the blame for early-game inaccuracy and late-game catastrophic mistakes.

That isn’t to say the Lions’ pass offense has been terrible, it’s just been well below expectations. Detroit currently ranks 23rd in passer rating (91.7), 12th in yards per attempt (7.6) and 27th in completion percentage.

The biggest positive from this unit is pass protection, which remains above average. While they’ve allowed 21 sacks (t-12th most), their team pass block grade is seventh highest per PFF.

This is a bit odd. We don’t usually see such a high discrepancy between DVOA ranking and the charts. Football Outsiders has this as the best pass defense in the league, but I’m not so sure of it based on these charts. Sure, they’ve had some fantastic performances against the Cowboys and Eagles, but those happen to be some of the worst passing offenses right now, especially when you consider they played against Andy Dalton and Ben DiNucci in that Dallas game. Football Outsiders does a good job adjusting for opponent, but I’m thinking they may need to crank it up a little in this case.

And look at the rest of the pass offenses they’ve face. Only one is averaging a passer rating over 95 for the season. To put that into perspective, there are currently 16 teams with a passer rating of 96 or above right now.

All that being said, this is still very clearly a good pass defense, at the very least. They rank seventh in passer rating allowed (87.0), 16th in yards per attempt (7.2) and 12th in completion percentage allowed (64.1).

Where they truly shine is pass rush. They’re currently fourth in the NFL in sacks (27), eighth in PFF’s pass rush grade, and 15th in ESPN’s pass rush win rate.

Player to watch: Montez Sweat. Sweat leads the Football Team with 5.0 sacks and 29 pressures. While I think Taylor Decker, who hasn’t allowed a sack this season, can handle him, Washington moves Sweat to both sides of the line, so when he’s lined up opposite whoever the Lions have at right tackle this week, look for trouble.

Advantage: Washington +1.5. While I do think Washington’s pass defense is a bit overrated, they are still clearly the better unit in this matchup. They’ve got a hellish pass rush and an opportunistic secondary. With Golladay likely out again this week, it’s hard to imagine the Lions suddenly improving against tough competition.

Lions run offense (15th) vs. Football Team run defense (17th)

The Lions did a good job running the ball last week, and they’ve really done an okay job at it all season. They’ve struggled against some of the best run defenses in the league, but against average or bad run defenses, they’ve managed to find some success this year.

Put it all together and the stats spit out an average team: 21st in yards per carry (4.1) and first downs on 23.3 percent of carries (23rd).

Interestingly enough, Washington’s run defense looks better than their pass defense. Though they’re giving up a lot of yards, that’s to be expected for a team that is typically playing from behind. The question is whether team’s overall efficiency numbers (see: YPC) drop down late in games simply because teams are just predictably running out the clock. Let’s do a little digging, shall we?

Washington’s first half run defense: 112 carries, 523 yards, 4.67 YPC
Washington’s second half run defense: 128 carries, 506 yards, 3.95 YPC

So... yeah, that’s exactly what’s going on. This team is not very good at defending the run in neutral situations, but when they know it’s coming, they’re fine.

Still, this isn’t a poor run defense. They’re allowing 4.3 yards per carry for the season (13th) and ceding first downs on just 21.7 percent of carries (seventh). For simplicity’s sake, let’s just call them average.

Player to watch: D’Andre Swift. Okay, a bit of an obvious choice, but he again showed last week why he should be getting the majority of the carries in this backfield. I still think the Lions trot Adrian Peterson out there first on Sunday, but expect Swift to get a lot of touches against Washington.

Advantage: Even. Unlike other current events, this race is too close to call. Washington’s defensive front isn’t quite as good at run defending as they are rushing the passer, and their linebackers are not notable enough to talk about. But Detroit has been terribly inconsistent at running the ball this year.

One thing I’m sure about is that the Lions are going to try to run like hell in this game. In our preview podcast, I predicted at least 35 rushing attempts, and that may be an underestimate. It’s a way to keep the pass rush at bay and overcome the loss of Golladay. If they can find even a little success on the ground, they probably win this game.

Football Team pass offense (32nd) vs. Lions pass defense (18th)

This passing offense is just terrible. There’s no way around it. Sure, Washington has rotated through three different quarterbacks: Kyle Allen in Games 5, 6, 7 and 8; Alex Smith in Games 5 and 8; Dwayne Haskins Jr. in Games 1-4. But none of them have looked particularly good at any point in the season.

This week, it’s Alex Smith making his first start of the season. Inspirational story aside, Smith has been pretty bad this year. In his first appearance, he went just 9-for-17 for 37 yards and suffered six sacks. While last week was better (24-of-32 for 325 yards), he also threw three interceptions, including two critical picks in the final three minutes of a three-point game.

The issues don’t end at quarterback, though. They’ve struggled protecting the passer, and besides Terry McLaurin, they just don’t have anyone that should scare you in the receiving game. Their No. 2 and 3 receivers are former Lions Logan Thomas and running back J.D. McKissic.

This chart is starting to match what we’re actually seeing on the field. While Detroit has stiffened up lately against the run (last week notwithstanding), their pass defense has looked absolutely atrocious. Every good quarterback has done just fine against Detroit’s defense and even a couple of bad ones have, too.

Detroit has serious issues in coverage (30th in PFF grade), their pass rush is lacking yet again (28th in pass rush win rate) and the resulting basic statistics pretty much tell the story. The Lions rank 25th in passer rating allowed (101.7), 23rd in yards per attempt (7.7), and 13th in completion percentage (64.7).

Player to watch: J.D. Mckissic. Over the past two weeks, the Lions have been absolutely torched by running backs in the passing game:

Colts RBs vs. Lions: 6 catches, 87 yards, 2 TDs
Vikings RBs vs. Lions: 3 catches, 68 yards, 1 TD

Meanwhile, McKissic is coming off a game in which he pulled in 14 targets. Expect to see Smith looking his way early and often.

Advantage: Lions +0.5. If the Lions can’t stop Washington’s passing offense, they’ve fallen to a new low. Unfortunately, I don’t have much confidence they can prevent that from happening because EVIDENCE EVERYWHERE.

Football Team run offense (18th) vs. Lions run defense (25th)

Washington’s overall rushing yardage doesn’t look all that impressive, but that’s likely do to falling behind on the scoreboard nearly every week. In reality, they only have 189 rushing attempts, which is third-fewest in the NFL. When it comes to efficiency, however, they’re at least nearing average.

Overall, their yards per carry is at just 3.9 (27th), but they’ve been a little better as of late, and seem to have found some success with third-round rookie Antonio Gibson (4.3 YPC).

Well, the optimism from this unit really got sucked last week when Dalvin Cook ran all over them in Minnesota. Does that mean we completely throw out the progress that had clearly been made out of the bye week? I don’t think so, but there’s definitely some reason for concern. The loss of Trey Flowers undoubtedly played a huge factor in Detroit’s struggles last week, but they’ve also just been bad against teams in their division. The Packers essentially did the same thing to them in Week 2, and the Bears had no issues, either.

The consistent theme for this Lions team is their inconsistency. This run defense is a prime example. Overall, they rank 27th in yards per carry (4.8) and 19th in percentage of rushes earning a first down (26.7).

Player to watch: Jamie Collins Sr. As goes Jamie Collins, so goes the Lions run defense. Don’t believe me? Check this out:

vs. Bears, Packers, Vikings: 97 rushes, 683 yards, 7.04 YPC — average Collins PFF grade: 45.9
All other 5 games combined: 150 rushes, 502 yards, 3.35 YPC — average Collins PFF grade: 68.9

Advantage: Lions +0.5. I may just be doing the Lions a favor here to get the overall advantage a little closer to even, but if there’s any facet of this team I still have a little hope for, it’s the run defense. I truly believe the progress we’ve seen out of the bye is real. They just happened to run into the best running attack in the NFL last week (by DVOA). Washington is decidedly not that, so I think they’ve got a shot at rebounding this week.

Last week’s prediction:

On Paper had it’s most accurate prediction of the season, picking the Vikings to win 31-20. In reality, they won 34-20. My biggest miscue in the breakdown was believing the Lions may be able to hold the Vikings running game in check, only giving Minnesota a +1 advantage in the preview. Still, hard to complain about the overall prediction.

In the comment section we had another FLAWLESS VICTORY. BarryStillRules nailed the prediction exactly right. With such a perfect prediction, I had to take some extra time with your prize:

It was just under three years ago when Lions head coach Jim Caldwell developed a troubling trend. He had a tendency to send just nine or 10 players out on the field. So way back in December of 2017, I found Caldwell’s abacus and gave it to our On Paper champion that week.

This week, I tracked down “Sickness Gone” and wrestled the abacus from his hands just to give it to you, BarryStillRules. Please share with Matt Patricia.

This week’s prediction:

I expected to pick the Lions this week, but Washington comes out with the slight +0.5 advantage. When it really comes down to it, it’s as simple as this: The Lions aren’t doing anything particularly well right now, while Washington is doing exactly one thing well (defending the pass). That’s it. That’s your ballgame. Lions 13, Washington 17.