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Detroit Lions vs. Las Vegas Raiders preview, prediction: On Paper

Our Week 8 preview and prediction between the Detroit Lions and Las Vegas Raiders. Our “On Paper” statistical breakdown identifies the biggest mismatches.

NFL: OCT 08 Panthers at Lions Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions and Las Vegas Raiders head into Monday night looking to put last week’s embarrassments behind them. For the Lions, it was a 38-6 loss at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. While losing to a good Ravens team on the road is nothing to be ashamed of, losing in the fashion that Detroit did is plain unacceptable.

The Raiders are coming off a blowout loss themselves but to a much less formidable opponent. The Chicago Bears, led by undrafted rookie quarterback Taylor Bagent in his first career start, took down the Raiders by 18 points. Granted, the Raiders were missing their starting quarterback too, but it’s still a particularly embarrassing mark on the season.

So which team will bounce back this week in front of a national audience? Let’s take a closer look in our On Paper preview and prediction.

Lions pass offense (7th in DVOA) vs. Raiders pass defense (21st)

Despite last week’s poor offensive performance, the Lions still have a relatively clean chart above. It was a step back for sure, but looking at the Ravens’ ridiculous season statistics, Detroit’s performance actually fell in the average range.

In other words, you shouldn’t lose too much confidence—if any—in the Lions’ ability to be successful and efficient in the passing game. And while their overall rankings are certainly lower this week than they were last week, this still very much looks like a top-10, if not top-five passing offense in the league. They rank:

  • 8th in dropback EPA
  • 9th in dropback success rate
  • 11th in yards per attempt
  • 9th in passer rating
  • 5th in QBR
  • 4th in PFF grade

Pass protection remains very solid, too, despite last week’s blitz success from Baltimore. As a team, Detroit ranks second in PFF pass blocking grades and 11th in ESPN’s pass block win rate. Penei Sewell leads the way with an 84.2 pass blocking grade, good for fourth among all offensive tackles. That’ll be key as he goes up against the Raiders’ best player (Maxx Crosby) for most of the day.

The Raiders aren’t giving up a ton of yardage through the air, but most quarterbacks have been somewhat efficient days against Vegas. Four of seven quarterbacks have finished passer ratings above 95—all outgaining their season averages against the Raiders. That said, they were extremely stout against the Chargers, Packers, and Patriots, allowing just a single passing touchdown and tallying five interceptions over that three-game span.

Overall, the basic statistics paint this as a pretty average pass defense, but the advanced statistics are a little less forgiving. While they rank eighth in yards per attempt allowed, and 21st in passer rating, they are 26th in dropback EPA allowed, 18th in success rate, and 21st in DVOA.

Despite having Crosby, the Raiders have the third-lowest pressure percentage, rank 18th in PFF’s pass rushing grade, and 25th in ESPN’s pass rush win rate. Per PFF, Crosby accounts for 43 of the team’s 107 pressures (40.2%). To put that in perspective, Aidan Hutchinson accounts for 42 of the Lions’ 159 pressures (26.4%).

Player to watch: Crosby vs. Sewell. What else is it going to be? Sure there are some interesting matchups in the secondary, and questions about who will cover Amon-Ra St. Brown, but this is truly the marquee matchup of the entire game. You have the pressure leader in Crosby—averaging 6.1 pressures a game—going up against Penei Sewell, who has allowed a league-low three pressures all season.

Advantage: Lions +1.5. I didn’t mention the rest of the Lions’ offensive line (more on that in a bit), but that could give Detroit some pass protection issues this week if the Raiders move around. Regardless, I expect the Lions to get back to the ground game this week, meaning this matchup will have a lesser hold on the overall outcome. That said, I have confidence if Detroit needs to pick up a first down through the air, they should be able to do it against a mediocre-at-best Raiders defense.

Lions run offense (8th) vs. Raiders run defense (28th)

The Lions have had to move away from the run game in the past two weeks, both due to game situation and the injury to David Montgomery.

This week presents another challenge to Detroit’s running game: offensive line shifts. Through two practices this week, the Lions have been missing center Frank Ragnow, who is dealing with a calf injury. It’s unclear if he’ll be out this week or not, but that would be a massive blow to the Lions offense, as he is the third-highest-graded center in the league with the fifth-highest run blocking grade.

While Graham Glasgow is perfectly capable of sliding over and playing center, the problem then becomes the two other guard spots. With Jonah Jackson not practicing with an ankle injury and Halapoulivaati Vaitai also dealing with a new back injury, the Lions could be starting the likes of Kayode Awosika (3 career starts, 61.5 PFF grade) and rookie Colby Sorsdal (0 career starts).

That is less than ideal and if that’s the case, I’m not sure how much we can draw on the following statistics to predict Monday’s results. Regardless, let’s take a look because Detroit’s running game has been quite solid all year.

They rank ninth in EPA, 11th in success rate, sixth in adjusted line yards, 16th in yards per carry, and fifth in rushing touchdowns.

Jahmyr Gibbs is expected to be the lead back on Monday, but there’s not a ton of data on him yet. Sure, he is overall 247 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per carry look good, but much of that has come in the second half of games, where the contest has no longer been competitive. Thus far, Gibbs actually has -11 rushing yards over expected per NextGenStats, meaning he’s been just around average in running the ball so far.

Want to know why the Raiders are giving up so few passing yards? Well, because just about every opponent has been able to run the ball on them. They’ve given up over 100 yards five times this year and over 150 three times. All but one opponent has been able to rush for at least 4.2 yards per carry.

All the advanced statistics point to this being a pretty horrible rushing defense. They rank 30th in adjusted line yards, 31st in rush EPA allowed, and 31st in success rate. They’re ceding an average of 4.4 yards per carry (22nd) and rank 21st in power success, allowing conversions 70 percent of the time.

Player to watch: John Jenkins. The Raiders don’t have a ton of great interior defenders, but veteran John Jenkins is having a decent year. Going up against what could be a bunch of Lions backup linemen, Jenkins is the guy to worry about most in the run game. His 13 run stops match Crosby's and is tied for eighth most in the NFL among defensive tackles.

Advantage: Lions +1. On a typical week, this advantage would be much higher, but it’s hard to have a lot of confidence in the Lions rushing attack without Montgomery and potentially without the team’s top three guards. Still, if the Green Bay Packers were able to rush that well without Aaron Jones against the Raiders and the Steelers (one of the worst rushing attacks in football eclipsed 100 yards, Detroit should be able to get it going.

Raiders pass offense (28th) vs. Lions pass defense (9th)

* Aidan O’Connell start
** O’Connell + Brian Hoyer

The Raiders haven’t been able to pass the ball efficiently all season. They’ve been noticeably worse without Jimmy Garoppolo in the lineup, but even with him suited up, they’ve only managed a game with a passer rating above 90 once, and it was against one of the worst pass defenses in the league.

It’s completely flabbergasting how they’re this bad. They have an average quarterback, a top-five receiver in Davante Adams, and a strong pass-protecting offensive line. The Raiders rank fourth in PFF pass blocking, fifth in ESPN’s pass block win rate, and have the lowest pressure percentage in the league.

For whatever reason, though, it’s just not all coming together. Poor quarterback play is certainly part of the blame. In his five starts, Garoppolo ranks 15th in yards per attempt (7.3), 21st in passer rating (82.6), and dead last in total interceptions (eight).

And that last part is where the true problem lies: turnovers. The Raiders have turned the ball over a league-leading 15 times. They’ve also been terrible in the red zone, ranking 30th in points per red zone trip.

The Lions pass defense has been mostly good this year, but there are a few very concerning games and a clear pattern emerging. The Lions were absolutely blown out of the water by both Geno Smith and Lamar Jackson—two mobile, veteran quarterbacks. Their best performances have all come against young, indecisive quarterbacks. That’s not to take anything away from Detroit’s pass defense, but they certainly have a type that can hurt them.

Thankfully, Garoppolo isn’t that type. He does all of his work in-structure and has never finished a season with more than 62 rushing yards. Breathe easy, Lions fans.

That said, I wouldn’t expect this to be a game where the Lions generate a ton of pressure. Detroit only has 15 sacks on the season, and 12 of those came in two games. So it will be on the Lions’ secondary to excel at coverage, and that has been a mixed bag as of late.

With Jerry Jacobs and Brian Branch back in the lineup, it should help, but the Lions still rank just 16th in PFF’s coverage grade.

Overall, though, the numbers look above average. Detroit ranks 14th in dropback EPA allowed, 14th in success rate, 17th in yards per attempt, 15th in passer rating, and eighth in passes defended. There is some clear regression to the mean happening here, but I think it’s fair to call this Lions pass defense at least average maybe a little better.

Player to watch: Davante Adams. The Raiders No. 1 receiver has been vocal about not getting the ball enough, and it clearly got through. Last week, he was targeted 12 times—though he only turned that into 57 yards and seven catches. Surprisingly, he only has one game of 100+ yards this season, but it was a dominant one in which he caught 13 passes for 172 yards and two scores. It’s a reminder that he can single-handedly take over a game when everything is working.

Advantage: Lions +1. I think a little of the shine on Detroit’s pass defense has worn off, and I am a bit concerned about how they will generate pressure against a good offensive line. And I just can’t shake the fact that this is a talented offensive roster for the Raiders, and at some point they have to figure this out, right? Then again, this is what happens when you pluck a “genius” from the Bill Belichick tree.

Raiders run offense (32nd) vs. Lions run defense (8th)

This is one of the worst charts in On Paper history. Give it an extra look. Not only have the Raiders rushed for under 3.5 yards per carry in all but two contests and held under 70 rushing yards in four of seven games, but they have done so against some of the worst run defenses in the league. The Broncos are 31st in run defense DVOA. The Packers are 26th. The Chargers are 23rd and the Steelers are 19th.

It’s a god awful group, and again, the results are puzzling. We’re talking about Josh Jacobs, who led the NFL in rushing yards last year, now averaging just 49.6 rushing yards a game and an embarrassing 2.9 yards per carry.

Clearly, there is some fault to the offensive line here. The Raiders are averaging just 1.8 yards before contact (31st), rank 30th in adjusted line yards, and 24th in run block win rate.

Meanwhile, the Lions run defense remains quite strong despite a tough performance last week. They’ve held all but two opponents below 4.0 yards per carry and three of seven below 3.0 yards per carry.

They rank 13th in adjusted line yards, fourth in PFF’s run defense grade, 10th in yards per carry allowed (3.7), 10th in rushing EPA allowed, and eighth in success rate.

Player to watch: Alim McNeill. McNeill has the highest run defense grade (80.5) on the team among their front seven and ranks sixth among all interior defenders.

Advantage: Lions +3.5. I don’t know if the Raiders will try to stay committed to the run game, but every statistic in the book suggests they should stay the hell away from this matchup. It’s about as lopsided as it gets. The only reason this isn’t a +4 or +5 is because of last week’s regression from Detroit and the fact that I think the Raiders may just try to throw it 50 times this week.

Last week’s prediction


On Paper is 4-3 on the year and 6-1 against the spread.

Everything was a mess, no one’s prediction was close. I was wrong about everything, and so this week’s On Paper came with just a tad less confidence all around.

No one in the comment section was close, so for the second time in On Paper history, I am nullifying the award this week. The last time was almost exactly two years ago after the Lions took a similarly embarrassing 44-6 drubbing on the chin from the Eagles. That week, we buried the Eagles tape and the On Paper award. So we’ll do so again this week.

This week’s prediction

The Lions come out with a +7 advantage. a relatively high mark. They also hold the advantage in every matchup, but not by a ton in each phase of the game. There are roads to a Raiders victory, but they’ll have to both have some uncharacteristic performances on each side of the ball, and they’ll have to catch the Lions at their worst (ie: last week).

Detroit seems to play their best under Dan Campbell when the doubters are loudest. They’ll also have the benefit and an extremely loud Ford Field. So while I’m not quite as confident in this game as I thought I’d be, too much would have to go wrong for the Lions to let this one slip. Lions 27, Raiders 17.

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