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Detroit Lions vs. Los Angeles Chargers preview, prediction: On Paper

A Lions vs. Chargers preview and prediction based on matchups and a deep statistical dive.

Detroit Lions v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Chargers face off in Week 10 in what should be an excellent test for both teams. LA has revived their season after a 2-4 start, but many Chargers fans are still wondering what to think of the team, considering their two-game winning streak consisted of convincing wins over the lowly Chicago Bears and New York Jets.

The Lions bounced back nicely from their humbling at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens, but how much can we read into a victory over the Las Vegas Raiders that spelled the end of the Josh McDaniels era in Vegas?

Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of each team with our Week 10 On Paper preview and prediction.

Lions pass offense (6th in DVOA) vs. Chargers pass defense (21st)

The Lions pass offense has mostly been great this season, but Jared Goff has been a little more turnover prone than he was in his excellent stretch at the end of 2022. His current interception percentage of 1.7% is actually the highest of his Lions career, barely edging out his 2021 saeson (1.6%). Though it’s worth pointing out it’s nowhere near as bad as it was during his time in LA, where he finished with an interception percentage above 2% in each of his last three seasons there.

Other than that, though, everything else is humming along quite well with the Lions pass offense. Goff’s completion percentage (68.3) and QBR (64.4) are the highest of his career, and his success rate (51.3) is second best of his career. Overall, Detroit ranks 11th in dropback EPA, 10th in dropback success rate, and Goff ranks third in PFF grade (88.3).

Much of the success has to do with Detroit’s pass protection. The Lions rank third in PFF’s pass blocking grade—led by right tackle Penei Sewell (82.0 pass blocking grade, fourth among OTs ) and left tackle Taylor Decker (80.7, seventh). That duo has only allowed two sacks and 18 pressures in 14 combined games.

The Chargers have faced some of the toughest pass offenses in the league, and they have been dominated by each and every one. They’ve obviously fared much better against some of the horrible passing offenses they’ve faced in recent weeks, but even a team like the Titans were able to find moderate success against them.

It’s hard to put much into raw numbers, when they’ve gone up against the Dolphins, Vikings, Cowboys, and Chiefs—all top-10 passing offenses. But in case you’re curious: the Chargers rank 30th in yards per attempt allowed (7.9), 24th in passer rating (96.6), 23rd in EPA allowed, and 25th in success rate.

Obviously, the strength of this unit is their pass rush. Khalil Mack (9.0 sacks) and Joey Bosa (6.5) lead the way, but Lions coaches have both warned of Morgan Fox (5.5) and rookie Tuli Tuipulotu (4.0). It’s a deep group, so Decker and Sewell will have to stay focused no matter who is on the field.

The Chargers rank second in sacks (31), but there are some advanced statistics that suggest their pass rush isn’t quite as dominant as it would seem. Their pressure percentage (20.3) ranks 22nd, their PFF pass rush grade is 15th, and their pass rush win rate is 30th. This tells me that they make the most of their opportunities, turning an average amount of pressures into sacks at a perhaps unsustainable rate.

Coverage appears to be an issue, particularly over the middle of the field. They have the worst pass defense DVOA over the middle of the field, also ranking 28th defending running backs in the pass game and 16th against tight ends. That said, they are relatively solid defending the deep pass.

Player to watch: Alohi Gilman. Derwin James gets all the attention for his physical play, but the Chargers’ other safety has actually been outplaying him this season. Gilman ranks sixth among all safeties with an 84.1 coverage grade, and he’s also defended three passes and forced two fumbles.

Advantage: Lions +2.5. I can’t help but see that good passing offenses have had outstanding days against this Chargers defense, and considering the Lions love to attack the middle of the field and can pass protect against elite competition, I think this matchup pretty clearly favors Detroit. The one mitigating factor, though, is turnovers. The Chargers have been good at creating them (15 takeaways, t-fourth), while the Lions have uncharacteristically turned the ball over more than usual.

Lions run offense (5th) vs. Chargers run defense (20th)

Outside of a little lull during David Montgomery’s injury, the Lions rushing attack has been pretty darn good all season. Some of the numbers in the chart above look worse than they actually are because of the amount of kneel downs from the team. Case in point: as a team, the Lions currently average 4.3 yards per carry. But when you remove Jared Goff’s 18 rushes for 13 yards and Teddy Bridgewater’s two for -2 yards, that average jumps all the way up to 4.64 yards per carry.

And now, with Montgomery healthy, all five starting offensive linemen expected to start for the first time since Week 1, and Jahmyr Gibbs hitting his rookie stride, this rushing attack looks as dangerous as ever.

Overall, Detroit ranks ninth in rush EPA, 11th in rush success rate, 10th in yards per carry, and second in adjusted line yards. They’re good.

This is where things get a little confusing. The Chargers have only allowed over 100 yards and over 4.0 yards per carry twice this season. They rank sixth in yards per carry allowed, eighth in rush EPA allowed, and 15th in rushing success rate allowed.

So why do they rank 20th in DVOA? Well, strength of opponent certainly matters. They’ve faced some truly terribly rushing attacks this season, but that doesn’t really explain all of it, because they’ve also faced the Bears and Dolphins—two of the league’s top-10 rushing attacks.

One of the more simple explanations is rushing attempts. Los Angeles has only faced 193 rushing attempts this year (27th), as teams are just opting to throw like crazy against this defense.

But as the success rate suggests, when teams do run on the Chargers, they find an average amount of success. So while I don’t think this run defense is as bad as the DVOA suggests, they are likely closer to average despite a decent chart.

Player to watch: Interior offensive line. With Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, and Graham Glasgow back in the lineup, this is where the Lions should find the biggest advantage. Chargers defensive tackles Austin Johnson (38.4 PFF run grade) Sebastian Joseph-Day (58.4) are vulnerable against the run.

Advantage: Lions +2. This is a litmus test for the Chargers defense, and they’re catching Detroit at the exact wrong time. I think the Lions expose LA’s run defense for what they really are: an average unit.

Chargers pass offense (8th) vs. Lions pass defense (8th)

It’s been an up-and-down year for Justin Herbert and the Chargers passing offense. He had a career day against the Minnesota Vikings, a solid outing against the Chicago Bears, but they couldn’t get anything going against the Raiders and Chiefs.

Still, the overall results are far more positive than negative. The Chargers rank eighth in dropback EPA, 13th in success rate, ninth in passer rating, 10th in yards per attempt, while Herbert ranks fifth in QBR and 13th in PFF grade.

Speaking to Herbert’s talent, he’s been able to find this amount of success despite losing two of his best receivers in Joshua Palmer and Mike Williams, who have landed on IR.

Additionally, pass protection is just okay. They rank 21st in pass block win rate, 18th in PFF pass block grade, and 14th in pressure percentage. Notably, they’re perhaps weakest in pass protection at right tackle, where Trey Pipkins III ranks 50th among NFL tackles with a 60.2 PFF pass blocking grade, allowing 25 pressures and six sacks. Yeah, that’s the side Aidan Hutchinson will be mostly lining up on.

Of all the Lions’ units, their pass defense is the one I trust the least. The chart above shows some of their crazy inconsistencies. Most importantly, their performance has a pretty strong correlation with the amount of talent in the opposing quarterback. Yes, they were able to slow the Chiefs in the season opener, but when they’ve had to face a serious NFL quarterback since—only against the Seahawks and Ravens—they’ve been absolutely destroyed through the air. With the big disparity in talent level of opposing quarterbacks, it’s hard to get a firm grasp on how good this pass defense really is.

Here’s what we do know: the Lions rank 15th in yards per attempt allowed (6.9), 11th in passer rating (84.5), seventh in EPA, and 11th in success rate. But, again, those are not adjusted by strength of opponent, and I remain skeptical with Herbert under center this week.

The Lions’ pass rush is also untrustworthy right now. With 18 sacks across three games, and just three sacks in the other five, it’s hard to know what the real Lions pass rush is. Mobile quarterbacks clearly give them a hard time, and Herbert can move a little bit. But it sure sounds like the Lions plan to get after him a little bit this week rather than just play contain.

“We have to do a good job of getting to him and when we get to him, we’ve got to get him down,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “Because you see a lot of times, he’s breaking a lot of tackles back there when guys have him corralled.”

Player to watch: Keenan Allen. Among players not currently on IR, Allen accounts for 49.7 percent of the Chargers’ receiving yards. His 83 targets are 44 more than anyone else on the team. He is the team’s receiving attack. With time split in the slot and out wide, the Lions will need several players—including rookie Brian Branch—to step up against the veteran WR.

Advantage: Chargers +1.5. Admittedly, this has more to do with “feel” than objective stats, which is a bit antithetical to this entire preview, but even some of Detroit’s “great” defensive performances have felt more lucky than good. The Lions have been plagued by an inconsistent pass rush and coverage busts that only some quarterbacks have been able to take advantage of, but when they have, they really have taken advantage of the opportunity. If that continues this week, Herbert will make them pay.

Chargers run offense (20th) vs. Lions run defense (13th)

The Chargers started the season hot on the ground, but after losing center Corey Linsley to a medical condition and Austin Ekeler to an ankle injury, it’s been awful. Ekeler has since returned and provided a mild spark, but there is still a lot fundamentally wrong with the team’s rushing attack, and like with most run games, it starts up front.

The Chargers rank 31st in run blocking PFF grade, 19th in run block win rate, and 29th in adjusted line yards.

In terms of overall rushing stats, LA is 21st in rush EPA, 31st in success rate, and 21st in yards per carry.

The Lions run defense was dominant in the first month of the season, but has seen that efficiency slip recently. Still, they’ve only allowed over 100 yards in a single matchup this season, and they’ve held the same amount of opponents under 3.0 yards per carry as they have allowed over 4.0 yards per carry.

Overall, Detroit is 15th in rush EPA allowed, 20th in success rate, eighth in PFF’s run defense grade, but 30th in ESPN’s run stop win rate.

I think it’s fair to call this an above-average run defense, but maybe not more than that. After all, look at some of the rushing attacks they’ve faced this year. Only a single one (Ravens) is averaging over 4.1 yards per carry on the season. The league average is 4.1.

Advantage: Lions +1.5. There’s no reason to believe the Chargers should be able to eclipse 100 rushing yards in this game, as they’ve only done it three times this year and the Lions have allowed that to happen just once. The only real concern I have in this game is Herbert’s mobility occasionally picking up a third-and-long with his legs. But he is very much a pass-first quarterback when he’s on the move, as he hasn’t topped 27 rushing yards in a game yet this season.

Last game’s prediction

On Paper moves to 5-3 on the year and 7-1 against the spread after a very accurate 27-17 prediction against the Raiders. (Actual score was 26-14.)

I was too conservative when it came to the Lions’ rushing attack behind a makeshift offensive line. My apologies to offensive line coach Hank Fraley for ever doubting you. I was also a bit too optimistic about the Lions run defense, which wasn’t bad against the Raiders, but has certainly taken a half-step back from their elite status earlier in the year.

In the comment section, HumanVictoryCigar was just a single point off each team’s score with their 27-13 prediction. JayScott7777 was also just two total points off with their 28-14 prediction.

But we here at Pride of Detroit, we take care of their own first. And with his 27-13 prediction, POD YouTube contributor Meko Scott tied the comment section for the win. Per tradition, if a staffer wins (or ties) the On Paper challenge, they get to request the photoshop of the week.

Here was Meko’s verbatim request, in regards to this meme:

I want a mashup of me and you. My face on the right and yours on the left

He also made sure to add:

And no I don’t really think this of you lol

This week’s prediction

I am a bit surprised to find that the Lions come out with a +4.5 advantage, including an edge in three of the four matchups. To make things really simple here, I think Justin Herbert is going to have to absolutely ball out to win this game. He’s certainly capable of it, but with the Chargers missing their star center and two key receiving pieces, the Lions need to show that they have enough talent defensively to win this matchup.

Meanwhile, with an offense as healthy as it’s ever been, Detroit should have little problem scoring—especially with an extra week to prepare for this one. Lions 31, Chargers 21.

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