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Detroit Lions vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers preview, prediction: On Paper

Our Week 6 preview, prediction and statistical breakdown of Detroit Lions vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions are on a three-game winning streak and hoping to continue their dominance over just about everyone they’ve faced. However, the Lions did stumble against one NFC foe this year, and they’re hoping not to make it two. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of the league’s early surprises with a 3-1 record. But is that fool’s gold, or will the Bucs end up being the team that comes out of the NFC South?

Let’s see how the two teams match up in our Week 6 On Paper preview and prediction.

Lions pass offense (4th) vs. Buccaneers pass defense (2nd)

The Detroit Lions have gone through a myriad of injuries to their offensive line and skill position players, and they haven’t skipped a beat all season.

Jared Goff—the No. 1 quarterback by PFF grade—is in the midst of arguably his best season yet. He ranks first in adjusted completion percentage, fourth in yards per attempt (8.0), sixth in passer rating, and fourth in adjusted net yards per attempt (7.6).

He’s helped by one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Detroit ranks fifth in PFF pass blocking grade, while surrendering just seven sacks on the year—third fewest among teams who have played five games. While the team’s pressure percentage allowed is 11th-highest in the league, Goff has done a phenomenal job managing that pressure by limiting sacks and turnovers. He ranks 11th in PFF grade while under pressure (62.6) compared to 30th last year (41.2)

Goff is also helped by an extremely underrated receiving corps. The Lions have the third-highest PFF receiving grade in the NFL with Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, and Kalif Raymond all among PFF’s top 20 receivers.

That said, there are some critical injuries to this group that could negatively impact this aspect of the game. It seems likely the Lions will be missing left guard Jonah Jackson and running back Jahmyr Gibbs, while tight end Sam LaPorta’s availability is also very much in question. LaPorta, in particular, has been invaluable as both a third-down release valve and a blocker in both the run and pass game.

The Bucs pass defense has been extremely impressive through the first month of the season. Not only did they hold every quarterback not named Kirk Cousins well below their season passer rating average, but they also rank 10th in yards per attempt allowed (6.5), fifth in passer rating (75.1), eighth in dropback expected points added, and fifth in dropback success rate.

The key to their success is not totally clear. Their pass rush isn’t extraordinary, but it gets the job done. Tampa ranks 23rd in pass rush win rate, 11th in PFF pass rushing grade, and 18th in pressure percentage—yet they’ve produced an average of three sacks per game.

Their coverage is certainly impressive, and now fully healthy, they should be hitting their potential. The Bucs have six interceptions already, the most of any team with just four games played. Their secondary is led by Antoine Winfield Jr., their do-everything safety. He’s a capable blitzer, coverage safety, and fearless tackler in the run game. He has already forced two fumbles on the year, so Detroit would be wise to have an extra focus on ball security this week.

Player to watch: Vita Vea vs. ??? Frank Ragnow has faced off against Vea once in their careers and was able to have a clean scoresheet. But that was all the way back in 2019 and Vea is an outstanding player now. Either way, the matchup that is truly concerning is whoever the Lions trot out at left guard in replacement of Jackson. Would the Lions dare put rookie Colby Sorsdal over there? Move around a couple parts to have a Graham Glasgow/Halapoulivaati Vaitai combo? Or do they trust Kayode Awosika to hold down the fort?

Advantage: Lions +1. The Lions have weathered every injury storm out there, and while the Bucs are likely the most formidable defense they’ve faced thus far, I would argue this is the most formidable passing attack the Bucs have faced. A lot of Tampa’s success has been based on creating turnovers, and outside of the Seahawks game, the Lions have taken care of the ball well dating all the way back to the midway point of last season.

Lions run offense (5th) vs. Buccaneers run defense (21st)

The Lions’ rushing attack appears to be finally hitting its stride after a mediocre start to the season. David Montgomery is playing like one of the best backs in the league and is entering Week 6 with back-to-back 100-yard performances on the ground.

The advanced statistics are starting to rise, as well. Detroit currently ranks seventh in EPA, ninth in rushing success rate, 11th in rushing PFF grade, fourth in run blocking PFF grade, and fifth in adjusted line yards.

By just about every statistical measure, this is a top-10 rushing attack—bordering on a top-five unit. What’s most impressive is their marriage between good offensive line play and good yards after contact. Detroit is currently eighth in yards before contact per attempt (2.8), and their backs have produced the second-most broken tackles, per Pro Football Reference.

After a good start to the season, the Bucs run defense has taken a bit of a step back over the past two weeks. Obviously, getting run over by the Eagles is something most teams succumb to, but they got it worse than most teams. And while the Saints didn’t rack up a ton of yards, they likely would have had the game been more competitive in the second half.

Overall, the Bucs rank 18th in yards per carry allowed (4.1), but the advanced statistics show a much more concerning situation for Tampa. They rank dead last in PFF’s run defense grade, dead last in ESPN’s run stop win rate, 27th in adjusted line yards, and 28th in run success rate allowed.

What that tells me is they are not giving up a ton of chunk plays on the ground, but you can continually grind out 4-8 yards plays against them—which just so happens to be what the Lions love to do.

Player to watch: LaVonte David. The Bucs linebacker leads the team with three tackles for loss, and while his run defense grade of 57.7 ranks him 62nd among linebackers, the savvy 11-year vet is a smart and dangerous player still.

Advantage: Lions +2.5. This seems like another optimal David Montgomery game, which could mean a huge workload for him this Sunday. I wouldn’t expect a 200-yard game out of the Lions rushing attack this week, but a solid 150 at 4.0+ yards per carry seems very doable against this run defense.

Buccaneers pass offense (18th) vs. Lions pass defense (8th)

Baker Mayfield has undoubtedly had a strong start to his Buccaneers career. Tampa has built an offense around bootlegs and play action that plays to Mayfield’s strengths, and he’s rewarded them with current career highs in completion percentage (69.6), passer rating (101.5), and QBR (70.1), and the third-best completion percentage above expected in the league (+5.8%).

Overall, the Bucs rank sixth in EPA per dropback, 14th in success rate, 14th in PFF passing grade, and Mayfield is seventh in adjusted net yards per attempt.

So why are they only 18th in DVOA? Well, look at the strength of opponent. The Bears (31st), Vikings (21st), and Eagles (19th) all rank in the bottom half of the league in pass defense DVOA. That said, the Bucs were quite efficient against the Saints, who currently have the seventh-best pass defense DVOA. So there’s at least one mark of legitimacy of this passing offense thus far.

Of course, you can’t talk about the Bucs pass offense without talking about arguably the best duo of receivers in the league. Mike Evans—who is battling a hamstring injury—and Chris Godwin are two big-play threats any time they’re targeted. That said, there is a huge drop-off after those two. Godwin and Evans account for 592 of the team’s 882 receiving yards (67%). The next leading wideout (Deven Thompkins) has eight catches for 61 yards. However, keep an eye out for sixth-round rookie Trey Palmer, who has caught a pass in each of the team’s four games and has found the end zone twice.

The Lions haven’t faced a ton of outstanding passing attacks this year, but they’ve been surprisingly stout in every game but one this year. The unfortunate news is that the one offense that beat them was the Seattle Seahawks—where the Buccaneers’ new offensive coordinator (Dave Canales) came from.

Still, the Lions will be one of the tougher challenges for the Bucs passing attack. Detroit ranks 10th in dropback EPA, seventh in yards per attempt allowed (6.4), ninth in pass breakups, and 10th in passer rating.

Where Detroit may truly tip the scales in their direction is their pass rush. While they curiously rank 31st in ESPN’s pass rush win rate, they’ve created more pressures than all but two teams, they have the seventh-highest pressure rate, and that’s while having the second-lowest blitz rate in the league.

Player to watch: Aidan Hutchinson vs. Luke Goedeke. The Bucs’ second-year right tackle is having a strong start to the season, but just take this line from our own Erik Schlitt’s Honolulu Blueprint:

In his last game against the Panthers, he squared off with Taylor Moton, who has never surrendered more than five pressures in any one game... Until last week, when he gave up eight to Hutchinson.

Advantage: Draw. Maybe I’m underestimating the Lions pass defense, but I think this Bucs passing offense is more legit than their DVOA ranking suggests. Detroit was a poor matchup against the Seahawks’ scheme and that’s what the Bucs are bringing. They don’t quite have the personnel that Seattle has, but with Evans and Godwin, they have more than enough to give Detroit some trouble if they’re not playing disciplined football.

Buccaneers run offense (28th) vs. Lions run defense (4th)

Week 4’s game against the Saints was a step in the right direction for Tampa Bay, but overall, this has been one of the worst rushing attacks in football thus far. The Bucs are averaging just 3.0 yards per carry (32nd), and rank 26th in rush EPA and 31st in success rate.

Their biggest problem is their interior offensive line right now. The Bucs rank 32nd in run block win rate, 25th in PFF run blocking grade, 31st in adjusted line yards, and all three of their interior offensive linemen currently sport run blocking grades below 65. Rookie right guard Cody Mauch has struggled the most, holding a 36.3 run blocking grade—dead last among starting NFL guards.

Meanwhile, the Lions run defense continues to be one of the best in the NFL. Though they weren’t at their best last week, it’s worth mentioning that nearly a third of Carolina’s production came on gadgety runs from receiver Laviska Shenault.

Overall, Detroit ranks third in yards per carry allowed (3.3), 10th in adjusted line yards, eighth in run defense EPA, and fifth in success rate.

Individually, the Lions are getting excellent play out of linebackers Derrick Barnes (73.2 run defense grade) and Alex Anzalone (67.7), while defensive tackle Alim McNeill is in the midst of a breakout year. His 86.0 PFF run defense grade is second among all interior defenders.

Player to watch: McNeill vs. Bucs’ terrible guards. This could be a game-wrecking day for McNeill, as it’s about as lopsided as a one-on-one matchup gets.

Advantage: Lions +3. Literally, the only reason to fear this matchup for Detroit is if Baker Mayfield gets loose. To be fair, he has run the ball 23 times this year, but he’s only turned that into 61 yards. He’s a mobile quarterback capable of picking up a third down or two with his feet, but he’s not someone who will take a lot of designed runs.

Last week’s prediction

On Paper is now 3-2 in straight-up predictions and 5-0 against the spread. No adjustments needed this week, as I gave the Lions a +9 advantage over the Panthers, and they looked like it on Sunday. The only real perceived “miss” was the +3 advantage for the Lions run defense, which could suggest some regression for that unit, but not likely this week against a bad Bucs rushing attack.

A lot of good predictions in the comment section last week, a few of which were screwed by Carolina’s late garbage-time touchdown. Both kevster (48-24) and Hendo44 (45-27) were just six points away from the actual 42-24 score, but Hendo44 nailed the margin of victory, so they get the win this week.

Here’s your prize, Hendo44:

The Lions have suffered a strangely high amount of midweek injuries during practice. Sam LaPorta, Jahmyr Gibbs, James Mitchell, and Josh Paschal all popped up on the injury report in the middle of the week this season, suggesting the Lions may be going a little too hard at practice. So some bubble-wrapped blocking sheds should help.

This week’s prediction:

The Lions come out with a +6.5 advantage over the Buccaneers, and while that is obviously a pretty big number, it feels like this matchup could be closer than the overall stats suggest. Both passing games could truly go in either direction, and that could very well tip the scales in either direction.

But the Lions want to get into a physical ground-and-pounds game, and that’s where they hold an obvious advantage over Tampa. The Buccaneers are committed to the run game, too, so I wouldn’t expect a shootout through the air on Sunday. Therefore, I’m still taking the Lions with a fairly comfortable win. Lions 27, Buccaneers 20.

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