It seems every week, the Detroit Lions face a new kind of challenge. Last week, it was dealing with being a favorite against a 10-win team. The week before, it was about rebounding from a tough loss and beating a team they should beat. On Thanksgiving, it was a litmus test to see if their recent success matches up against the NFL’s elite.
This week, it’s all about the Lions offense. It’s one of the hottest units in the NFL and its players are healthier than it has been all season.
But the New York Jets boast one of the best defenses in the league, especially against the pass. Can Jared Goff keep his hot streak going, or will the inconsistencies that have plagued his career pop up in the midst of Detroit’s playoff run?
Let’s take a closer look in our Week 15 Lions vs. Jets preview: On Paper.
Lions pass offense (9th in DVOA) vs. Jets pass defense (6th)
Jared Goff is in the midst of an impressive run, and it has the Lions offense humming again. In the past five games, Detroit is averaging 32.2 points per game, and here’s what Goff’s stats look like over that time:
117-of-169 (69.2%), 1,311 yards (7.8 Y/A), 8 TDs, 0 INTs, 107.9 passer rating
While the Lions have destroyed the averages of opposing defenses over that period, it is important to point out that a lot of Goff’s success has come against the worst pass defenses in this league. Here’s where his recent opponents rank in pass defense DVOA right now:
- Packers: 8th
- Bears: 31st
- Bills: 7th
- Jaguars: 30th
- Vikings: 27th
If you look at the chart, Goff has struggled against some of the best pass defenses in the league (see also: Cowboys and Patriots).
The difference, though, is the Lions are at full health in these last three games. That Bills data point feels important because unlike the Dallas and New England games, Detroit’s receiving corps was nearly fully healthy—and Goff fared pretty well on Thanksgiving despite the Lions being down both of their starting guards in that game.
That said, it’s just one data point. Goff vs. an elite defense is still a relative unknown headed into this week.
Speaking of elite defenses, this Jets teams is scary good. For the entire season, they’ve allowed just a single opponent to eclipse 250 net passing yards, and they haven’t allowed 200 net passing yards since before Halloween. Putting aside the first three games of the season, while the Jets defense was still getting its bearings, just one quarterback has eclipsed a 90 passer rating against New York this season. That is, quite simply, absurd.
If that doesn’t drive the point home enough, here are some other terrifying stats:
- Passer rating allowed: 78.1 (2nd)
- Completion percentage allowed: 62.3 (9th)
- Yards per attempt allowed: 6.3 (3rd)
- Interceptions: 12 (t-7th)
- Sacks: 39 (t-5th)
- Pressure percentage: 23.7% (8th)
- PFF grade: 84.8 (1st)
They get pressure without blitzing (lowest blitz rate in NFL), and they cover tremendously. They do just about everything well when defending the pass.
But as we discussed during our preview podcast, the one spot they may be vulnerable is at linebacker and safety. Detroit could attack the middle of the field to moderate success with tight ends, running backs and slot receivers. Which leads us to...
Player to watch: Amon-Ra St. Brown vs. Michael Carter. The Jets have a couple of elite outside cornerbacks in Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed, but those two do not typically leave their sides. That will leave Jets nickel corner Carter opposite St. Brown for much of the game. Carter is having a good season in his own right—allowing just a 78.5 passer rating when targeted, per PFF—but it may be the best matchup the Lions have.
Advantage: Draw. This is truly strength vs. strength, and there is not enough evidence to believe this matchup will tip one way or the other. I do not expect the Lions to put up 300 yards and multiple scores through the air like they have in the past two weeks, but the key for Detroit is to simply avoid the negative plays. Turnover-happy Goff cannot return for this game, despite the Jets’ ability to pressure the quarterback.
Obviously, the health of Quinnen Williams is also extremely important, as the defensive tackle leads the team (and is fifth among all NFL interior defenders) with 45 pressures.
Lions run offense (10th) vs. Jets run defense (9th)
Detroit’s rushing attack has been bad for almost two full months now. Even last week’s “good” performance is propped up by a 41-yard fake punt. Just look at the split between the first half of the season and the last stretch of games:
First 6 games: 164 rushes, 874 yards, 5.33 YPC
Last 7 games: 207 rushes, 784 yards, 3.79 YPC
Strangely, though, the Lions have been much better at situational rushing. Back before the Dolphins game, the Lions ranked 29th in short-yardage efficiency. Since then, the Lions have climbed to 22nd.
There are still some promising stats for the Lions rushing attack. They rank eighth in adjusted line yards, ninth in yards before contact, and seventh in run block rate, so this is a fully capable unit that has been underperforming as of late.
The Jets run defense is far from as elite as their pass defense, but it’s also pretty dang good. While they’ve allowed over 100 rushing yards nine of 13 games, they’re holding teams below 4.5 yards per carry in all but three games. In essence, teams have had okay games against them—especially as of late—but don’t expect a dominant game on the ground. Just one team has managed more than 140 rushing yards against this defense, and that came all the way back in Week 2.
Overall, the Jets are allowing just 4.1 yards per carry (fifth), seventh in adjusted line yards, but they do struggle in power situations, allowing a conversion rate of 72 percent (22nd).
Player to watch: Jonah Jackson. The Lions Pro Bowl left guard will likely go up against Williams should the Jets defensive tackle play in this game. While Jackson has had an up-and-down season due in part to injury, he remains one of the team’s best interior run blockers. In fact, his 76.4 run blocking grade ranks sixth among all NFL guards.
Advantage: Jets +0.5. The Lions say they really want to establish the run again, noting their own struggles in a few pressers this week. I’m not sure this is the week to get it going, though. The Jets aren’t a completely suffocating defense—and Detroit has a good opportunity to succeed in short-yardage situations, but don’t expect a breakout game on the ground.
Jets pass offense (23rd) vs. Lions pass defense (21st)
*asterisk denotes games Mike White started
Mike White has clearly given the Jets pass offense a bit of a spark. While he can be sometimes erratic, the Jets passing offense has ranked 14th in pass defense DVOA over the past three weeks in which he has started. However, after balling out against one of the worst pass defenses in the league in the Bears, he’s fallen a bit back to reality, completing just 57.4 percent of his passes for zero touchdowns and two interceptions in the past two weeks.
White has a decent receiving corps is star rookie Garrett Wilson (63 catches, 868 yards), Corey Davis (26 catches, 460 yards) and tight end Tyler Conklin (45 catches, 418 yards), but Davis is currently in concussion protocol and has not practiced yet this week.
As for their offensive line, it’s a mixed bag. They’ve dealt with a lot of injuries—including two of their best players (Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker) on injured reserve. While they’ve only been sacked 31 times on the year (16th), they rank 21st in PFF grade, and 15th in pass block win rate.
They’re most vulnerable at right tackle, where an injured George Fant is currently holding down the fort. Fant has allowed 17 pressures and three sacks in just five total game appearances and holds the team’s lowest pass blocking grade (43.4) of any regular starter on the offensive line.
Last week aside, the Lions pass defense has turned a huge corner. In the past six weeks, the Lions pass defense DVOA ranks seventh in the NFL. Here’s what opposing quarterbacks have been averaging on a per-week basis over that same span:
- 60.7 completion percentage (fourth)
- 7.1 Y/A
- 84.0 passer rating (seventh)
- 7 interceptions (second)
- 15 sacks (ninth)
Of course, we can’t completely ignore last week, either. Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson absolutely tore up this secondary, which remains a below-average unit. But, ideally, with a healthy Jeff Okudah this week and the potential return of Will Harris at nickel, they should match up better against a much less fearsome duo in White and Wilson.
Player to watch: Wilson. I’m still not super confident in the Lions secondary, and Wilson has been on a tear lately. In the last six games, he has 35 catches, 554 yards, and two touchdowns.
Advantage: Lions +1. Detroit is trending in the right direction right now, and with a revitalized pass rush going against a suspect Jets offensive line, the Lions should be able to make White uncomfortable and force him into mistakes. Although, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on the status of rookie Aidan Hutchinson, who is dealing with an illness. If he can’t go—or even if he’s limited—that could erase a big advantage for the Lions opposite the Jets right tackle.
Jets run offense (12th) vs. Lions run defense (22nd)
For a good section in the middle of the season, the Jets had everything figured out running the ball. Unfortunately, injuries to rookie running back Breece Hall and offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker have put a halt to that progress. Still, the Jets may have something in undrafted rookie back Zonovan Knight, who has rushed for 230 yards and 5.0 per carry in his three game appearances.
Since Hall’s injury, the Jets rank 16th in run offense DVOA, but that ranking jumps to eighth since Knight took over.
We’re dealing with small sample sizes here, but I think it’s fair to call this Jets running game average right now.
This Lions run defense is tough to nail down. On the surface—and by DVOA ranking—it looks pretty bad. But it’s worth noting that their worst performances have come against the threat of a mobile quarterback. Josh Allen was the leading rusher for the Bills. Justin Fields had over half the yardage for the Bears. Even Trevor Lawrence pitched in 32 yards for the Jaguars.
When the Lions have had to go up against a more traditional run game, they’ve completely shut down the opponent. Saquon Barkley: 15 carries for 22 yards. Dalvin Cook: 15 carries, 23 yards, Aaron Jones/AJ Dillon: 20 carries, 59 yards.
Excluding kneel downs, Mike White has four carries for 11 yards in three games, so Detroit could be in good shape here.
Player to watch: Malcolm Rodriguez. Tackling will be of the utmost importance in this matchup, and Rodriguez is one of the more sound tacklers they have. His 8.5 missed tackle rate per PFF ranks 19th among all NFL linebackers.
Advantage: Lions +1. Recently, the Lions have done tremendously well against traditional running attacks, so as long as Mike White doesn’t all of a sudden go crazy, I like the Lions chances here. Still, there’s not a ton of data to go off of, so I’ll keep the advantage relatively small.
Last week’s prediction
While my final score prediction was somewhat close, there are some notes to make from last week’s On Paper. I overestimated the Lions pass defense, and underrated the Lions run defense. Those adjustments have been made.
We had a lot of predictions very close to the final score, including this one from msivits, who almost nailed every single one of their predictions:
Hello POD coming from Las Vegas!!!!! WPT poker is in the air and I’m living my good life!!!!
- JaMo gets his first TD with a 40 plus TD
- Chark goes over 100 yards And one long TD
- St.Brown under 100 yards but has 6 catches
- Swift gets a long TD
- Houston and Hutch with a sack
But the closest score prediction came from Ricky Wildcat, who was just a single point off with their 34-24 prediction. Let’s hope the rest of their prediction is just as accurate:
No need for all the analysis (said with tongue firmly in cheek) as this is a 2 possession Lion victory. 34-24. And while I’m drinking here Friday afternoon, Vikings have a major cave in and fail to win another regular season game, while the Lions win out. Now there are lots of shirts and hats for Viking fans to donate.
Steve52 also shared the exact same prediction. So here is your collective prize:
There you see Dan Campbell modeling our latest product at Pride of Detroit. No, those aren’t horse blinders, those are Wave Blinders©. Make sure your head coach is paying attention during the game’s most pivotal moments with Wave Blinders©!
This week’s prediction
The Lions come out with a +1.5 advantage. It’s clearly going to be a defensive battle this week with the Jets having one of the best defenses all season, and the Lions’ defense really coming on over the past six weeks. This one really feels like which team will make the fewer mistakes on offense, and that should be a strong advantage in Detroit’s favor.
In four of the past five games, the Lions have had exactly zero turnovers. Meanwhile, the Jets have turned the ball over four times in just the past two weeks. Lions 17, Jets 13 .