The Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars don’t truly have a ton to play for this weekend. The Lions’ playoff odds are around 11 percent, while the Jaguars’ chance at the postseason is at an even-slimmer 5.4 percent
But that hasn’t stopped the fanbases from both 4-7 teams from keeping good vibes after a successful November. For the Lions, the entire team got hot, posting a 3-1 record during the month and nearly going perfect after just barely blowing a late fourth-quarter lead vs. the Bills.
The Jaguars are equally jacked due to a phenomenal month from quarterback Trevor Lawrence, culminating in a beautiful game-winning drive over the Baltimore Ravens last week.
So which team will have the advantage this Sunday? Let’s take a look in our On Paper Week 13 preview.
Lions pass offense (14th) vs. Jaguars pass defense (30th)
There has certainly been more good than bad with the Lions’ passing attack, but their week-to-week inconsistencies have been prevalent and frustrating. There are plenty of things to blame for the inconsistencies: injuries to the offensive line and receiver group, Jared Goff’s unreliable nature, and recent struggles in the run game.
The good news for Detroit is that most of the injury issues have been resolved this week. It looks like only right guard will be missing its starter, while FINALLY both DJ Chark and Josh Reynolds are both completely off the injury report.
So with the Lions offense finally near full strength again, will we see them return to the potent offense we saw in the first month of the season? It’s probably too much to assume that, but here’s a look at their season-long numbers: 11th in yards per attempt (7.4), ninth in passer rating (93.5), 15th in dropback EPA.
Simply put, if Goff can avoid turnovers, this is arguably a top-10 passing attack... though that is a big “if.”
It turns out this is a pretty fantastic matchup for the Lions. Aside from Lamar Jackson last week, Jaguars opposing QBs have exceeded their passer rating averages in six of their last seven games, and just about every one of them exceeded their yardage averages, too.
The Jaguars boast a decent pass rush, ranking 10th in pressure percentage and seventh in pass rush win rate. Yet they have only managed to force 17 sacks on the season, ranking them t-30th. Detroit’s offensive line will have their hands full, but they should also be up for the challenge.
Part of the reason Jacksonville struggles to get home is that its coverage is so poor. Their team PFF coverage grade of 49.1 ranks 30th in the league. They also rank 21st in yards per attempt allowed (7.3). However, they strangely rank second in pass breakups and 13th in passer rating allowed (89.9).
Player to watch: Tyson Campbell. While the Jaguars secondary is not good, second-year cornerback Tyson Campbell is a borderline shutdown cornerback.
Among players who have been targeted 40 or more times, Campbell is 3rd in EPA allowed per target, behind James Bradberry and Sauce Gardner.— JP Acosta (@acosta32_jp) December 2, 2022
He is legit #good
The Lions would be wise to avoid him.
Advantage: Lions +3. I don’t fear the Jagaurs pass rush too much, and I think with Detroit’s receiver group finally healthy, they’re in a good position to beat coverage, too. I think it could be another big day for Amon-Ra St. Brown, but I still do fear the Goff turnover. He’s been lucky to avoid some as of late, and for all of their faults, the Jaguars have forced the seventh-most turnovers in the NFL.
Lions run offense (9th) vs. Jaguars run defense (13th)
There’s no denying that the Detroit Lions’ run game has been worse as of late, but the stats above do not tell the entire story. Remember how I would constantly lament Detroit’s horrible short-yardage rushing attack, and how it would hold the team back on third downs and in the red zone? Well, that problem seems to have been fixed in recent weeks.
Back in our Cowboys preview, the Lions ranked 28th in power situations, converting just 53 percent of the time. That percentage is now up to 58 percent. It’s a small, but significant bump, and it impacts Detroit’s situational football game, where the team now ranks 14th in third down conversion percentage (40.6%) and tied for second in red zone touchdown percentage (71.4%).
They are simply missing the big plays in the ground game. They haven’t had a rush of 30 or more yards since the Seahawks game in Week 4.
The Jaguars run defense is pretty darn good, but they are trending in a troubling direction. Four of their past five opponents have surpassed 100 rushing yards, whereas the previous six opponents only did it twice.
Still, the overall stats remain very good for this run defense. They’re ninth in yards per carry allowed (4.2), 12th in rush EPA allowed, but just 21st in run stop win rate.
It’s worth noting, though, that they’re pretty good in short-yardage situations, as well. They’re allowing a conversion rate of just 65 percent, which ranks 11th best in the NFL.
Player to watch: Frank Ragnow vs. Davon Hamilton. Hamilton is the Jaguars’ best interior defender, drawing a 72.2 PFF grade and 69.0 run defense grade. Ragnow has been quietly having an elite season at center, earning an 80.4 run blocking grade thus far.
Advantage: Draw. Both teams are trending in the wrong direction, but both are overall strong. Hard to have any confidence in either direction, especially with D’Andre Swift’s condition a mystery.
Jaguars pass offense (11th) vs. Lions pass defense (19th)
This entire season has been a big improvement from Trevor Lawrence’s rookie year, but it’s been these last three weeks when he has really popped off. Check out these stats from Lawrence in the past three games:
83-for-108 (76.9%) for 815 yards, 7.55 Y/A, 6 TDs, 0 INTs, 116.1 passer rating, 90.3 PFF grade
In the month of November, only Joe Burrow had a higher PFF grade.
Lawrence is aided by a solid receiving corps of Marvin Jones Jr., Zay Jones, and Christian Kirk. As of late, Zay Jones has been the playmaker, hauling in 19 passes for 213 yards in the past two weeks.
Jacksonville’s offensive line is okay in terms of pass blocking (sixth in PFF grade, but 29th in pass block win rate), however, Lawrence has been masterful at avoiding sacks, as the Jags have allowed just 21 sacks all season (sixth fewest).
The Lions’ defensive turnaround in November is nothing short of remarkable. After the Dolphins game, Detroit’s pass defense was dead last in DVOA. In November alone, the Lions pass DVOA is EIGHTH.
I'll do you one better. Here is the Lions' DVOA rankings for just the month of November.— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) December 2, 2022
Pass O: 15th
Run O: 13th
Pass D: 8th (!!!)
Run D: 19th https://t.co/yrQmiusfsC
Admittedly, part of that is due to the high amount of turnovers. The Lions have forced an interception in four straight games (total of seven), but their efficiency goes beyond that. Here’s, again, a comparison before and after November:
First 7 games (per game stats): 69.3% completion rate, 7.5 Y/A, 246.9 yards, 1.7 TDs, 0.3 INTs, 1.6 sacks
Last 4 games: 57.7% completions, 7.0 Y/A, 263.0 yards, 1.5 TDs, 1.75 INTs, 2.25 sacks
Detroit’s pass defense has basically improved in every statistical measure over the past month.
That said, their pass rush remains inconsistent (32nd in pass rush win rate, 29th in PFF grade, 13th in pressure percentage).
Player to watch: Jeff Okudah. Okudah will be back after missing a game in concussion protocol. The Lions third-year corner is finally coming into his own. In fact, since Week 7, Okudah possesses a 73.9 PFF coverage grade, good for 11th best among CBs with at least 70 coverage snaps.
Advantage: Jaguars +1.5. The Jaguars have enough weapons to give Detroit trouble here, but Lawrence is also prone to mistakes—which the Lions have capitalized on as of late. He’s cleaned things up as of late, but Lawrence still has 15 turnover-worthy plays, good for 8th-most in the NFL.
Jaguars run offense (22nd) vs. Lions run defense (26th)
This is another case where the charts don’t quite match the DVOA ranking, but the explanation is pretty simple here. Travis Etienne is capable of making some big plays—driving the team’s overall yards per carry (4.9, seventh best) up pretty high.
However, when it comes to short-yardage situations, this rushing attack is downright horrible. They convert on just 51 percent of power situations, ranking 31st in the NFL, and they’re also “stuffed” —meaning rushes in any situation gaining zero or less yards — 25 percent of the time, 32nd in the NFL.
So this isn’t a rushing attack that will dominate you in the trenches. In fact, they’re particularly vulnerable up the middle, where center Luke Fortner ranks 34th out of 39 centers in the NFL in PFF grade (53.5).
But Etienne, a mobile quarterback, and a strong outside running game compensate for a lot of that. Detroit will have to hold the edge well and Detroit’s defensive backs must be aggressive and sound in their tackling.
The Lions run defense has steadily gotten better as the season has gone on, but they’re still prone to getting gashed every now and then. But as pointed out in the DVOA tweet above, they’ve been playing closer to an average run defense in recent weeks.
Player to watch: Alim McNeill. If Detroit is smart, they’ll keep McNeill away from right guard Brandon Scherff, allowing him to pick up Fortner and struggling left guard Tyler Shatley. McNeill is another player hitting his stride, In the past four weeks, he’s garnered a 76.1 PFF grade, good for 10th among interior defenders with at least 100 snaps.
Advantage: Jaguars +1. The Lions have a pretty good chance of winning this matchup, especially if Etienne is limited by his foot injury. Still, they haven’t performed consistently enough for me to even give them a draw in this matchup.
Last week’s prediction
My 34-24 Bills prediction turned out to be a little too pessimistic about the Lions defense. Detroit managed to hold Josh Allen in check for most of that game, and surprisingly Stefon Diggs didn’t really hurt them until very late in the game.
In the comment section, Dtrain87 came closest to the final 28-25 score with their 28-24 prediction.
Here is your prize, Dtrain87. Because Jamaal Williams showed he’s a good leader by buying every offensive player a robe with his face on it, I felt I should do the same for our people.
This week’s prediction
The Lions come out with a slight +0.5 advantage, which accurately represents how uneasy I am about this game. Detroit’s passing offense will essentially have to carry the rest of the team this week. It helps that the offense will be near full strength, and Goff has carried a game or two this season, but that’ll still be a tall task against a confident Jaguars team.
Still, I’ve got to follow the numbers. Lions 34, Jaguars 30.