Welcome back to our On Paper preview series, where we try to take as objective of a look at the Detroit Lions and their weekly opponent as possible. Obviously, that’s a lot harder to do at the beginning of the year with so little data out there, so for the first three games of the season, we’re both relying on a lot of 2019 data and taking into account the offseason moves made by both teams.
This week, the Lions take on a Green Bay Packers team that is hoping to prove a lot of doubters wrong, and that starts with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. They’re off to a strong start after dismantling the Minnesota Vikings defense in Week 1, but how much can we trust a sample size of one?
Let’s take a closer look and make some predictions for Sunday’s game.
Lions pass offense (22nd in DVOA in 2020) vs. Packers pass defense (23rd)
There’s really not much to take from this chart. The whole last half of 2019 was skewed by the lack of Matthew Stafford, and his Week 1 performance against the Bears is tough to put into context. In terms of his 77.2 passer rating, that will probably prove to be under average, as the Bears allowed a passer rating of 85.2 last year. However, aside from two bad decisions (a critical sack and a late-game interception), it was a decent game for the Lions quarterback.
However, for the second straight game, it looks like he’ll be without his No. 1 target in Kenny Golladay, who is still nursing a hamstring injury. Last week, Stafford leaned heavily on rookie Quintez Cephus (10 targets) in relief for Golladay with some mixed results.
The Lions seemed most hurt by his absence in the red zone. Matthew Stafford went 1-for-6 in the red zone (not including a spike) for four yards and a score.
The good news is that the Lions’ offensive line held up well. Despite going up against a solid Bears defensive front, the Lions landed in the top half of the league in pass block win rate, despite missing their starting right tackle, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who will likely miss this game, as well.
The Packers pass defense was quite solid last year, thanks to a dangerous pass rush and a young, but improving secondary. They ranked just outside the top 10 in most statistical categories thanks to big disruption numbers—41 sacks (15th) and 17 interceptions (t-3rd).
I’m pretty much throwing out last week’s statistics completely. They don’t look great for the Packers defense, but consider this:
Kirk Cousins (quarters 1-3): 7-of-11, 95 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 53.2 passer rating
Kirk Cousins (fourth quarter): 12-of-14, 164 yards, 2 TDs, 155.1 passer rating
Nearly all of the Vikings’ passing success happened in the fourth quarter, after the Packers had already built a 29-10 lead.
On film, the Packers looked similar to last year. A solid, young secondary, a pass rush that’s still formidable, and an above average defense overall.
Matchup to watch: Preston Smith vs. Tyrell Crosby. The Lions backup tackle held his own against Khalil Mack last week, but Mack still had a significant impact on the game, despite his underwhelming box score. Crosby won’t have a week off with Preston Smith, who had 12.0 sacks last year.
Advantage: Lions +0.5. I still believe this Lions passing offense is/will be lethal, even without Golladay. Stafford had a solid game in Lambeau last year, and he showed last week that after he got the rust off, he could dominate against a good Bears defense. That being said, don’t sleep on this Packers defense. They’ll give Stafford trouble, and it could force him into another big mistake or two.
Lions run offense (12th) vs. Packers run defense (30th)
After finishing the 2019 season fairly strong, the Lions running game appears to be alive and well to start 2020. The efficiency of Adrian Peterson certainly seems to have bolstered the unit, but don’t minimize the solid performance of the Lions’ offensive line, who didn’t let a guy like Akiem Hicks completely blow up their rushing attack.
The jury is still very much out on this unit, but you absolutely love to see stats like this after Week 1:
RB Adrian Peterson showed that he still has plenty left in the tank, leading the #Lions in Rushes (14) and showing a lot of burst on runs— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) September 14, 2020
Most Rushes of 10+ Yards in Week 1 (entering MNF):
1. DET Adrian Peterson, 5
2. KC Clyde Edwards-Helaire, 4#OnePride pic.twitter.com/4I15dvk2Je
The Packers run defense is not good. Last year, they held just four opponents below 90 yards, and that’s even more incredible when you consider that they were often playing with leads.
Green Bay’s defense looked no different in 2020, as Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison combined for 100 yards on 18 carries in Week 1. Their overall stats are a little buffed by Kirk Cousins’ 34 scramble yards, but the point remains: the defense is vulnerable up the middle.
This may be especially true this week, as Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark has yet to practice this week as he heals from a groin injury.
Matchup to watch: Jonah Jackson vs. Dean Lowry. The Lions’ third-round pick had an okay debut against the Bears. However, this week, he should have an easier job with the Packers’ 2016 fourth-round pick. This is the perfect opportunity for Jackson to show why the Lions drafted him.
Advantage: Lions +2. Detroit has the clear advantage here, and you just know they are going to try and take full advantage of it. This team wants to run the ball effectively, and with their defense playing like it is, they’re going to want to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field for as long as possible. Of course, the Packers have to know all of this, so we may see an altered gameplan from them. Still, the personnel favors Detroit here, and Adrian Peterson could be in for a big game.
Packers pass offense (9th) vs. Lions pass defense (13th)
There was something wrong with Aaron Rodgers last year. Traditionally, Rodgers has had some of the most green charts we’ve ever seen in On Paper history, but it just wasn’t happening last year. His 95.4 passer rating was the third-lowest of his career and his 7.0 yards per attempt was significantly below his career average (7.7).
And while it’s way too early to declare Rodgers “fixed,” whatever happened this offseason seems to have helped. Whether it’s simply the second year in Matt LaFleur’s offense, a kick in the pants by drafting Jordan Love or just Rodgers’ competitive nature to prove doubters wrong, the Packers pass offense was in the highest of gears last week. Our own Justin Simon surveyed the damage earlier this week:
Here are Aaron Rodgers’ stats from last week:
Yards: 364 (2nd)
Yards per attempt: 8.3 (6th-t)
Touchdowns: 4 (1st-t)
Quarterback rating: 127.5 (4th)
20+ yard passes: 5 (1st-t)
40+ yard passes: 2 (1st-t)
The Packers offense was hard to define. Early in the game, Rodgers was getting the ball out quick for some short, but efficient plays. But he also took some deep shots that caught the Vikings off guard.
Davante Adams proved he’s in the “Best WR in the league” conversation, while the rest of the receiving crew proved to be underrated, even with a couple of untimely drops.
The Lions changed their personnel. They brought in a new defensive coordinator who has a history working in the secondary. But this pass defense didn’t look all that different from the one that we saw sink the 2019 team.
Granted, the Lions dealt with a ton of backend injuries that just so happened to line up with Mitchell Trubisky’s dominant fourth quarter, but it’s still never a good look when you’re the only team allowing a subpar quarterback to light you up.
Matchup to watch: Whoever is on Davante Adams. It’s looking more and more likely that Jeff Okudah will make his first NFL start. Do the Lions risk it by putting him on Adams or do they put second-year Amani Oruwariye on him? Or, since the Packers move Adams all around, do the Lions just keep their corners set on each side. My guess is the latter, but whoever draws Adams on each play will be getting the attention of Rodgers.
Advantage: Packers +3. I’m not quite ready to crown the Packers offense—the Vikings secondary is very suspect. But the Lions secondary is just as suspect, if not more. Maybe Jeff Okudah comes in and dominates, but I’m not exactly counting on it, especially with no pass rush to speak of... again.
Packers run offense (6th) vs. Lions run defense (22nd)
The one thing that kept the Packers offense afloat last year was their incredibly efficient running game. The duo of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams was successful all year, and now they add second-round pick AJ Dillon to the mix. Though Dillon only had two carries last week, head coach Matt LaFleur said he intends on getting him more involved soon.
The Packers run offense relies on a lot of speed, misdirection and pre-snap motion, which means the Lions will have to have a lot of speed to counter their attack. However, their roster values size and power over speed. So....
Uh oh... again.
The Lions had a strong finish to 2019, but the early returns of 2020 are not great. The Bears were dominating the ground game all Sunday, averaging the third-highest yards per carry of Week 1.
While the defensive front bears a lot of the blame, the linebackers and secondary were consistently giving up extra yards due to poor tackling. PFF credited the entire defense with seven missed tackles against the Bears—and that’s probably being generous.
Matchup to watch: The right side of the Packers offensive line. The one potential equalizer in this matchup is the injuries the Packers are dealing with on the offensive line. They lost right guard Lane Taylor for the season. Right tackle Billy Turner missed last week and has been limited in practice. I don’t know if Detroit has the personnel to take advantage of this, but if there’s any hope, that’s where to harness it.
Advantage: Packers +2. The Packers like to run the ball a lot, and while the Lions love to focus on defending the run, they haven’t done a particularly good job of it as of late. Tackling is a big issue, but it’s one that you can imagine will improve as the team finally gets some live reps that were missed in the preseason. Still, I don’t see a ton of hope for the Lions here given their weak front seven.
Last week’s prediction:
On Paper proved why it’s mostly useless early in the season, as my 23-17 prediction didn’t hold up. Of course, if Detroit’s defense had shown up for even half of the fourth quarter, that actually looks like a really good prediction. But, alas, I overestimated Detroit’s improvements in pass defense and got burned.
In the comment section, UndaDawg started the season off hot, nailing the 27-23 score exactly for our first “FLAWLESS VICTORY” of the season. Here is your prize, UndaDawg.
This week’s prediction:
The Packers finish with a +2.5 advantage, which is fairly significant. I gave all four offensive units the advantage in each matchup, which suggests a potentially high-scoring game, but I’m actually leaning in the opposite direction.
Both teams like to run the ball and take occasional deep shots. For the Lions, that will be the primary goal: play keepaway. As a result, we could see some long, drawn-out possessions, simply leading to fewer scoring opportunities.
So I’m going to pick a score on the lower end, and I think that will cause the Lions to be in this game deep into the fourth quarter. Of course, we all know what happens when we get there... Packers 24, Lions 20.