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Detroit Lions vs. Washington Commanders Week 2 preview, prediction: On Paper

We breakdown every matchup of Lions vs. Commanders and make a score prediction for Sunday.

Washington Football Team v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions look to rebound from a tough Week 1 loss this week by hosting a Washington Commanders team that eked out a late-game comeback against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1. Detroit is entering the weekend a little beat-up on their roster, while the Commanders are looking fairly healthy.

But coach Dan Campbell would never use that as an excuse, nor would any other NFL coach. Depth is key in the NFL, and the Lions’ will likely be tested on Sunday. Detroit’s roster is certainly better than it was at this point last year, but can they weather the early injury storm?

Let’s take a closer look at the matchups between the Lions and Commanders with our On Paper preview and prediction.

If you’re new to On Paper, check out the explainer in our Week 1 preview.

Lions pass offense (28th in DVOA in 2021) vs. Commanders pass defense (28th)

The Detroit Lions passing offense got off to a relatively disappointing start after a promising finish to last season. Jared Goff looked shaky in the first half, but we saw some of that more efficient aerial attack in the second half, when he completed 14-of-22 passes for 162 yards, two touchdowns, and a 116.1 passer rating. Was that Goff shaking off the rust and getting more help from his receivers? Was that the Eagles defense taking a little off the gas pedal? It’s probably a combination of both, but such is the duality of Goff.

Pass protection was a mixed bag for the Lions, and that could continue this week. Detroit continues to deal with some serious injuries on the offensive line, with the statuses of center Frank Ragnow (groin) and left guard Jonah Jackson (finger) up in the air. Even left tackle Taylor Decker is battling a calf injury, but he’s trending towards playing on Sunday.

The Eagles pass defense was not very good last year, and not a ton has changed on the defensive side of the ball here. Their cornerbacks are seasoned, but just okay. Their linebacking corps is ripe for exploitation. However, the big concern here is with their pass rush.

Against the Jaguars, Washington racked up 29 pressures (per PFF), 10 quarterback hits, and 3.0 sacks. They had the second-best pass rush win rate, and the 12th highest team pass rushing PFF grade.

Now is this because Washington’s pass rush is elite? Hard to say. Last season they were middle-of-the-pack in terms of pressure percentage and sacks. The Jaguars offensive line was widely considered one of the worst in the league going into this season, so that has to be factored in.

Still, the Commanders have a lot of provenly solid players, especially along the interior of that defense. Jonathan Allen is coming off a nine-sack season. Daron Payne turned in a 74.1 pass rush grade last year, good for 19th among interior defenders. And don’t sleep on Montez Sweat on the edge. Chase Young won’t play, but with the Lions’ interior offensive line in flux, keeping Goff clean should be a challenge on Sunday.

Player to watch: D’Andre Swift. The Lions seem likely to counter Washington’s pass rush with some short-yardage passing plays to get the ball out quick. Despite Swift missing the first two practices of the week, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson suggested he’ll be heavily involved in the game plan this week, and in a different way than he was used in Week 1.

“Maybe a little more versatile than what we saw, but he played his role really well Week 1,” Johnson said.

Advantage: Draw. I want to give the Lions the nod here, but the offensive line concerns are just a little too high right now. If Washington can get pressure up the middle, Goff will struggle—as we saw in the Week 1 scenarios, he was under the gun. Detroit will almost certainly get the ball out quick this week—and they have the personnel to make the most of a quick-yardage game—but if/when Washington crowds the line of scrimmage, can the Lions protect long enough to beat them deep? I have my doubts.

Lions run offense (26th) vs. Commanders run defense (7th)

Last year was an up-and-down season for the Lions rushing attack, but early signs this year are certainly positive. Detroit’s 181 rushing yards were more than they had in all but one game last season—same with their 6.5 yards per carry. Consistency is key with this unit, but considering the Eagles defense was considered to be a strong defensive front, it’s hard not to be encouraged by the early returns here.

Of course, again, the health of the offensive line looms large here. It’s entirely possible the Lions will have three non-starters in the lineup at left guard, center, and right guard. That’s going to have a drastic impact on the running game, and it makes any sort of prediction hard to muster without a more clear picture of the injury report.

But just to boost some morale, here are some exciting stats from Week 1:

The Commander had one of the better run defenses in the league last year, forcing nine of their 17 opponents below 100 rushing yards, and ten below 4.0 yards per carry.

However, this year’s data point is hard to ignore. Last week against the Jaguars, Travis Etienne and James Robinson enjoyed a very successful day, combining for 113 rushing yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries (7.5 YPC). In fact, the Commanders came in at 31st in rush defense DVOA last week. Again, we must consider the strength of the opponent, but the Jaguars rushing attack ranked 18th in rush offense DVOA last year, and their offensive line is still very much a work in progress.

Player to watch: Jonah Jackson. Jackson suffered a hand injury this week and missed Thursday’s practice. Jackson has been an underrated mauler in the run game, and it’s not even clear who would replace him if he can’t go. With reserve Tommy Kraemer on injured reserve, and the team’s second reserve, Logan Stenberg, already filling in at right guard, Detroit may have to rely on Drew Forbes or Kayode Awosika—both of whom were added in the last 10 days.

Advantage: Lions +1. If the Lions were fully healthy, this would be a bigger advantage. Even still, the Lions are not going to shy away from giving Swift the ball—and, yes, I’m not concerned about the Lions running back’s efficiency despite his ankle injury. Washington boasts a good interior defensive line, but they are better pass rushers than run defenders. I expect the Lions to still run successfully regardless of who’s in the lineup.

Commanders pass offense (22nd) vs. Lions pass defense (27th)

I’m not going to lie, this felt like a lot of wasted research. I’m not sure I put any weight into the Commanders’ pass offense performance from last year considering it was mostly Taylor Heinicke at quarterback, and they were missing key pieces like Logan Thomas and Curtis Samuel for most of the year.

The addition of Carson Wentz should open a lot of things up for Washington’s pass offense and we saw some of that in Week 1 against the Jaguars. While their passing game was still predicated on more short-yardage passes with their shifty receiving corps tallying up a ton of yards after the catch (Commanders ranked fourth in YAC in Week 1), that eventually opened up some deep shots for Wentz in the second half, where he averaged 12.9 yards per completion.

Washington has pass catchers at every level, but last week the focus was on their running backs. Antonio Gibson was a huge weapon, leading the way with seven catches for 72 yards. But Terry McLaurin remains their biggest downfield threat, and rookie Jahan Dotson promises to be a good complement to him this year.

As far as their offensive line goes, it was one of the better units last year, but they are starting two different guards this season. If Week 1 is any indication, this unit could have more questions in 2022. They ranked 25th in ESPN’s pass block win rate, and all three of Washington’s interior offensive linemen had a PFF pass blocking grade below 50.0. Their tackles, however, remain stout, as they combined to allow just a single pressure.

The jury is still very much out on the Lions’ pass defense. It was downright awful last year, but in Week 1, they didn’t really let Jalen Hurts beat him with his arm. Hurts did connect on one 54-yard bomb to AJ Brown (while backup Will Harris was in), but take away that play, and Hurts’ day was extremely pedestrian: 17-of-31 (54.8%) for 189 yards (6.1 Y/A) and zero touchdowns.

Problem is, cornerback Amani Oruwariye is dealing with a back injury that held him out of most of Thursday’s practice, and Detroit’s depth at outside cornerback isn’t great.

The equalizer in this matchup could be Detroit’s defensive line. While they struggled to generate pressure via their base defense (until they sent pressure), the Lions should have a better chance to take down Wentz—who can run a little bit (3 rushes, 14 yards last week—subtracting kneel downs)—but is far less mobile than Hurts.

Player to watch: Terry McLaurin. While the Commanders will do a lot of their work underneath and in the flats, eventually Wentz will take his shots downfield, and it will be on Detroit's young secondary to prevent those big plays over the top. McLaurin is a route technician and will take advantage of one false step from the defense. Not only will Jeff Okudah, Oruwariye, and/or Will Harris have to be judicious with their movement, but the safeties will have to utilize all of their athleticism to close the gap for this speedy group of receivers.

Advantage: Commanders +1. When it comes to Washington’s numerous weapons, they simply outnumber the amount of Lions defenders that can cover them. Oruwariye’s injury—whether he plays or not—exposes Detroit’s paper-thin depth at cornerback. Detroit will absolutely have to generate pressure with their front because Wentz is certainly mistake-prone.

Commanders run offense (19th) vs. Lions run defense (31st)

Washington had a pretty average rushing attack last year, and it didn’t exactly get off to a promising start in Week 1 against the Jaguars. Antonio Gibson, Curtis Samuel, and J.D. McKissic combined for 83 yards on 21 carries—just under 4.0 yards per carry (their overall YPC is dragged down by three kneel downs from Wentz). Their Week 1 performance ranked 20th in rush defense DVOA.

The problem, according to PFF, was the left side of Washington’s offensive line. Three offensive linemen (left guard Andrew Norwell, center Chase Roullier and left tackle Charles Leno Jr.) all earned run blocking grades of 55.3 and lower.

While it would be easy to dismiss the Lions’ poor run defense performance because of the elusiveness of Jalen Hurts, that unfortunately doesn’t excuse everything. Take away Hurts’ 17 rushes for 90 yards, and the Eagles still amassed 126 rushing yards on 22 carries (5.7 YPC). Of course, Hurts was still an effective decoy on some of these runs—something the Commanders won’t do with Wentz—but the point is the problem ran a little deeper than just QB scrambles.

And considering how poor the Lions were against the run last year, it’s hard to give them the benefit of the doubt, even if they’re getting better play from their linebacking crew, including sixth-round rookie phenom Malcolm Rodriguez. Truth is, the Lions interior defensive line is still very questionable, with Michael Brockers starting to look his age and young, inexperienced players like Isaiah Buggs and Benito Jones still finding their feet.

I want to believe that Detroit’s preseason performance against more traditional rushing attacks (30 yards on 18 carries vs. Colts; 57 yards on 20 carries vs. Steelers) is a sign of things to come, but unfortunately, I put very little stock into preseason statistics.

Player to watch: Logan Thomas. The former Lions tight end is one of the more balanced tight ends in the league, and he earned PFF’s best run blocking score (86.8) among all Week 1 tight ends. Washington’s other primary tight end, John Bates, wasn’t far behind (8th) with a 72.5 grade.

Advantage: Draw. I don’t think either group is particularly good here. Both units were pretty bad or average last year, and they provided little reason to change my opinion of them based on their Week 1 performance. Let’s just hope the preseason meant a little more than I believe it did.

Last week’s prediction:

For a Week 1 prediction, I feel pretty good about how On Paper did in Week 1. The only real miss was the Lions running game being as surprisingly good as they were against a solid Eagles defensive front, but I only gave the Eagles a +1 advantage there.

In the end, I predicted a lower-scoring game because I expected success on the ground to slow the tempo of the game down. While we did get a lot of running game success, both teams still managed to get a lot of possessions and score a lot of points. Even though I lost against the spread, I feel pretty good about my 27-20 Eagles prediction.

In the comment section, it was multi-time On Paper winner Devil Barrel who came closest to the final score with a 36-27 Eagles prediction. As is tradition for the On Paper preview, I award the winner with a photoshop of my choosing.

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This week’s prediction:

On Paper leaves us with an unsatisfactory draw between the two teams, which matches up with the DraftKings Sportsbook line of just Lions by 1.

I don’t really have an objective way to break ties in this thing. Perhaps the fairest way to do so would just be to give the home team the advantage, and considering how rowdy Ford Field was in the Week 1 opener, that seems appropriate. Still, all of the Lions injuries to key players have me feeling a bit queasy about this game. If the Lions fall to 0-2, people are going to start jumping off the bandwagon really quick, and with a tough-looking trip to Minnesota next on the docket, things could spiral quickly.

Maybe that’s enough to provide a little extra motivation for Detroit, so I’ll take them in a squeaker, Lions 26, Commanders 23.