The Detroit Lions are hosting the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 8 in a “Monday Night Football” showdown at Ford Field. The Lions opened the week as big favorites and you can check out the updated odds, as well as player prop odds for this game courtesy of the folks over at DraftKings Sportsbook.
“This is a dangerous team. They’ve got weapons. This (Raiders’ WR Davante Adams) 17, (WR Jakobi Meyers) 16, that tight end (Michael Mayer), obviously (RB Josh) Jacobs, (EDGE Maxx) Crosby as a game-wrecker. So, we’ve got our hands full. We’ve got to bounce back, but we will. We’ll be ready to go.”
If the Lions want to get back to their winning ways, they’ll need to follow the keys to victory laid out in this week’s Honolulu Blueprint.
Raiders’ base schemes
Josh McDaniels’ offense:
The Raiders offensive coordinator is Mick Lombardi but like many coordinator positions in today’s NFL, he takes a back seat to the head coach. Lombardi got his NFL start in 2013 as an assistant to Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco. Jim Tomsula kept Lombardi on staff after Harbaugh departed for Michigan, but it wasn’t long before Lombardi headed to the Jets, and then the Patriots, where he connected with McDaniels in 2019. As an assistant quarterbacks coach, then wide receivers coach in New England, Lombardi and McDaniels relationship grew and the pair exited to Las Vegas together when McDaniels took the Raiders job.
While Lombardi is involved in the construction of the offensive game plans, it’s still McDaniel's offense that we see on game day.
McDaniels has long been heralded as an offensive genius who is strapped with a densely complicated playbook that focuses on taking advantage of defenses with matchup-based reads that come from continual assessments. Whether it’s pre-snap movement, play-action, or dummy play calls, McDaniels wants his quarterback to diagnose and make multiple proper reads on every play.
While his overall concept strives for a balanced attack, he tends to default to the pass, and in 2022 they were one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the league with a 58-42% pass-run differential. With their lack of success on the ground in 2023, this trend has carried over.
Raiders front-heavy defense:
Patrick Graham got his start in the NFL in 2009 with the Patriots, working as a coaching assistant, defensive assistant, linebackers coach, and defensive line coach over seven seasons. He held a defensive line coaching job with the Giants for two seasons, a linebacker coaching job with the Packers for one season, and then landed in Miami as a defensive coordinator in 2019. Surprisingly, despite not being released from his contract in 2020, he left Miami and took a defensive coordinator job with the Giants—under former Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge—a position he later called his “dream job.” When Judge was fired in 2021, Graham pivoted to McDaniels and accepted a defensive coordinator job with the Raiders.
The Raiders front leans on a nine-man heavy rotation up front, where eight defensive linemen not named Maxx Crosby rotate through four and five-man looks—Crosby plays virtually every snap. Their base defense is a 4-2-5, but depending on their strategy for the game, they will use 5-2-4 looks as well.
For example, against the Patriots in Week 6, the Raiders leaned on a 4-2-5 roughly 90% of the time, anticipating more of a passing attack. But against the Bears’ run-oriented offense in Week 7, they used a 4-2-5 around 65% of the time, deploying a 5-2-4 man front the majority of the remaining time.
With the Lions leaning more on the pass of late, following the injury to starting running back David Montgomery, this 4-2-5 look may be the most common look Detroit sees on Monday night:
Key 1: Win the must-see battle: Penei Sewell vs. Maxx Crosby
“This is the most disruptive defensive player we’ve played all year to this point, so we’ve got to be ready,” Campbell said of Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby.
Crosby is indeed one of the best defensive players in the NFL and the fact that he never leaves the field is remarkable. He’s as close to a comparison as there is to Lions’ Aidan Hutchinson, and it’s no surprise they are the top two players in generated pressures this season.
The big difference between the two is that while Hutchinson is getting support from the rest of his teammates, the Raiders don’t have a ton beyond Crosby.
Check out this excerpt from Jeremy Reisman in this week’s On Paper preview:
“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%).”
So how is he able to accomplish so much when teams know their primary focus should be on him?
“He’s very active,” Campbell said of Crosby. “He’s slithery, he can bend, he’s explosive, quick first step, he’s very crafty, man. He’s a master of his craft, man. His hands, his bend, and then his motor. I mean he just doesn’t quit. And so, he’s disruptive in the run game and the pass game is not only what you see off the edge or his ability to pressure the quarterback, but it’s getting the football out too. It’s one thing to get a sack on a guy but he’s getting the ball out if he gets around the horn.”
Capable of not just impacting but wrecking offenses in all facets of the game, he is someone the Lions will surely be keeping tabs on.
“We need to know where he’s at,” offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said of Crosby. “Majority (of the time) on the right (side), but they move him around enough too that we’ve got to be really sound with what we’re doing. I know Penei (Sewell)’s really looking forward to the challenge, though.”
Ah, Penei Sewell, the ultimate answer to the question: How can the Lions slow Crosby down?
Through seven games, and playing both at right and left tackle this season, Sewell has only allowed three pressures (only one from the right tackle position), zero quarterback hits, and zero sacks.
The most pass blocking snaps without allowing a QB hit this season— PFF (@PFF) October 26, 2023
Penei Sewell - 274 pic.twitter.com/JrQzlky11O
It’s a giant task for Sewell to slow down Crosby—one of his biggest to date—but if he can, it’s going be a long night for the Raiders.
For those who love trench battles, this one is going to be worth the price of admission.
Key 2: Take advantage of the Raiders defense with outside zone
The Raiders run defense is ranked 28th in DVOA, they are giving up 129 rushing yards per game, which is 24th in the league, and 4.4 yards per carry, 22nd in the NFL. As we saw in Reisman’s On Paper preview, the Bills, Steelers, Chargers, Packers, and Bears all gashed them on the ground, and the Raiders have not had a positive result since Week 1 against the Broncos.
Based on the three games I reviewed for this matchup (Bears, Patriots, and Packers) they were particularly susceptible to outside zone runs.
Fortunately for the Lions, their offensive line is capable of running gap and outside zone concepts at an equally impressive rate, and starting running back Jahmyr Gibbs excels in outside zone. While he has only started two games for the Lions this season, he is acclimating to the NFL very fast and could be the Lions primary weapon in attacking the Raiders offense.
“I saw an improving player, took a step up, and that’s all you can ask for is growth,” Campbell said of Gibbs. “So, we anticipate he takes another step up and we’ll keep doing things that we feel like he does well and where he can continue to grow, but we’re pleased with where he’s at.”
Key 3: Keep the reigning rushing champion bottled up
On the flip side of the ball, Josh Jacobs—last year’s rushing leader— has struggled to produce on the ground, and the Raiders rushing offense as a whole has been one of the least successful units in the NFL.
Last season, Jacobs averaged an impressive 4.9 yards per rush, amassing 1653 rushing yards on the year. This season, he is averaging 2.9 yards per rush and only has 347 rushing yards through seven games. But Jacobs is not alone, as the Raiders' total offense is averaging just 3.0 yards per rush and 68.6 team rushing yards per game, both dead last in the NFL.
Some of Jacobs lack of success could be attributed to him holding out for a new contract and starting the season not quite up to speed, but the problems run deeper than that, as Matt Holder from SilverandBlackPride.com, explained to our Ryan Mathews for our 5 questions preview article.
“Jacobs was admittedly a little rusty in the first two games of the year after missing all of the spring practices and training camp with the contract dispute,” Holder wrote. “However, the bigger problem has been the offensive line. The Raiders’ line is good in pass protection, but they aren’t people movers in the ground game and don’t create many rushing lanes. Jacobs has had a bunch of negative runs where defenders are in his face almost simultaneously as he gets the ball. A good example of that has to do with the yards after contact (2.03) average you referenced above. He’s averaging 2.9 yards per carry, so that means he’s getting hit less than a yard past the line of scrimmage consistently. No running back can succeed with that amount of pressure.”
While seven games is a fair amount of data to arrive at a conclusion about the Raiders run game, Campbell is not buying the fact that the numbers fully represent Las Vegas, and more specifically Jacobs’ potential.
“I can’t tell you the number of plays where it’s a shoestring, or it’s one tackle—I mean they are close,” Campbell said of Josh Jacobs’ struggles this season. “I still see a dangerous football player. Not only in the run game, the pass game. That’s where you feel like there’s a bit of a ticking time bomb over there. From my perspective, we’ve got to guard against (and) be ready for (that), because he can go the distance at any point here. He’s still got plenty of juice.”
You can bet that was the message drilled into the defensive line this week.
Key 4: Anticipate and attack the Raiders passing game
Because the Raiders rushing attack has been stunted, McDaniels has leaned on the passing game and they are not short on options to throw to.
Jacobs is a weapon out of the backfield that defenses need to account for in the passing game. Michael Mayer has flashed but been inconsistent, like most rookie tight ends not named Sam LaPorta. Rookie slot receiver Tre Tucker is a speed option/gadget player who has bumped Hunter Renfrow out of the starting lineup. But their top options are their outside receiver combo of Davante Adams and Jakobi Meyers.
Earlier this week, Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn discussed why Adams is so challenging to defend:
“He is very patient and he’s going to force you to make a move. Because he has this knack with most of the quarterbacks that he’s played with to understand exactly how he plays. [...] Probably not the 40-yard fastest guy, but man, the quick twists within the movements of his routes off the line, you don’t see a lot of guys with that and he’s one of a kind.”
Glenn also heaped some lofty praise on Meyers:
“They have another receiver in Meyers who I think is very underrated. He kind of reminds me of (Amon-Ra) St. Brown because they use him a lot as far as going to dig these guys out and block and then his body control and his ability to catch in traffic.”
So why has the Raiders passing attack been so underwhelming? Simply put, it’s predictable.
The Raiders tend to find most of their success in the short to intermediate zones and prefer to attack the middle of the field. The problem with this approach is that teams are anticipating it, and in a lot of cases, the Raiders quarterbacks hang their receivers out to dry:
Patriots interception off a huge hit on Davante Adams.— Sunday Night Football on NBC (@SNFonNBC) October 15, 2023
(Via: NFL, CBS)pic.twitter.com/BEIvEVz9yb
While the Lions will need coverage help from their linebackers and safeties in this game, the two players tasked with slowing down Adams and Meyers will be Cam Sutton and Jerry Jacobs.
“Both of those guys, they’ve had an unbelievable week,” Campbell said of the Lions outside corners. “These last two days have been outstanding, they’ve been outstanding. I was so fired up on Thursday. And then yesterday, I just thought it was great, man. Our third-down work and watching those guys out there competing. Watching the backend, it was, man it was awesome. We’ve had a good week of practice, we really have.”
Key 5: Win in the critical categories
Another key component of the Raiders' lack of success is the team's efficiency in several important areas. While the offense is struggling with execution, the defense has been average to slightly below average in creating opportunities and getting stops at key times.
Here’s a look at some of the critical categories that teams need to have success in order to consistently win games, and how the Raiders have performed:
- Points scored per game: 16.0 (30th in the NFL)
- Turnovers per game: 2.1 (31st) — Interceptions on 4.98% of throws (32nd)
- Turnovers created per game: 0.7 (30th)
- Turnover differential: -1.4 (32nd)
- 3rd down success: 35% (25th)
- Opponent 3rd down success: 45.6% (26th)
- Touchdown success in red zone: 41.7% (25th)
- Opponent TD success in red zone: 73.9% (29th)
For the Lions, it’s a matter of not getting complacent. Last week, the Lions fell into their old bad habit of trying to do too much instead of focusing on their individual assignments. This week, that issue needs to be resolved.
“We (had) one guy mess it up and he’s not doing what he’s supposed to be doing and then because of that, the next time, the guy who does know what he’s supposed to be doing is going to do his job too,” Campbell explained why the Lions struggled against the Ravens. “And because of that, then we get beat here and it’s a snowball effect. And by the time we get in the second half, we’ve got guys who are trying to be heroes. And the only way to get back in it is just, ‘do your job.’”
Do your job, get back to basics, and don’t give the Raiders anything easy. If the Lions can stay disciplined, they hold a distinct advantage in each of the critical categories noted above.